Animal Speak

Do You Know What Your Pet Is Saying?

According to an Associated poll, 67 percent of pet owners say they understand their animals’ woofs, meows, or other sounds. But how do we really know what our pets are trying to tell us? Pets communicate with us by using various sounds, facial expressions, and body movements. In this column, I’m going to tackle the sounds that our pets make trying to communicate with us. Next week’s column will embark upon facial expressions and body language.

Just as a baby cries when hungry, scared, and tired, dogs will bark to tell you when they are ready to have their dinner, when they need to go outside, when they aren’t feeling good, when they would like a treat, and more. It’s learning to decipher just what that bark means that could take you some time. Once you have had your dog for awhile, you will begin to develop an understanding of what the barking behavior means much more clearly. Most dog owners will tell you that their dogs have several different barks. Some barks will be ways of alerting you that there are intruders present, while other barks are happier and are looking to greet you. A bark that is high in pitch and getting higher means that a dog is getting upset, while a bark that has a slightly more bell-like tone is a dog who is trying to say hello. Noisy barks usually relate to defensive threats, social insecurity, and physical distress; whereas harmonic barks are used as a signal for social play or in passive submission to another dog or person. Aside from barking, dogs also communicate by the self-explanatory growling, howling, yelping, whining, whimpering, and moaning.

Believe it or not, a device exists that attaches to your dog’s collar and supposedly tells what your dog is saying based on its bark. The device is called Bowlingual and is billed as a “translator” but it might more precisely be called an emotion analyzer. It claims to use technology to categorize dog barks into one of six standardized emotional categories-happy, sad, frustrated, on-guard, assertive, or needy. But the product package notes that the phrases “are for entertainment purposes only” and it seems that they are not meant to be true translations of each bark. When the product first came out, a representative came to the Michigan Humane Society where I was working and tried it out on several of the shelter dogs. I was impressed with some of the translations, though if there was a phrase stating, “Please get me out of here, I need a home!” I would have been completely convinced the device worked.

When it comes to cats, it has been said that there are more than 20 variations of noises that cats make. A short, soft-spoken “mew” is your cat’s way of saying, “Hi, how are you?” A loud and drawn-out “meo-o-o-o-ow” is a demand for food or attention. A low pitch “MRRRoooowwww” is a complaint. A high-pitch “RRRROWWW!” is anger or pain. Chatter (rapid teeth-chattering jaw movements) indicate frustration or excitement-especially associated with prey. A chirrup (a cross between a meow and a purr with rising inflection) is a friendly greeting, often used by a mother cat to call her kittens. Certain breeds of cats talk more than others. Ask any Siamese cat owner and they will tell you that their pet holds long conversations with them. Other breeds, such as the Persian, tend to use their voice more sparingly and are less often heard talking. Of course there is also the hissing, growling, and spitting of an annoyed or angry cat.

Purring is more complicated than you might expect. It isn’t voice-generated as most believe; it comes from two membrane folds, called false vocal cords that are situated in the larynx behind the actual vocal cords. Cats can purr both on inhaled and exhaled breaths, with their mouths completely closed. Scientists think purring is produced by blood in a large vein in the chest cavity that vibrates and is then magnified by air in the windpipe. Most people associate a purring cat with a content cat; however, cats don’t purr just for pleasure-a deep one can indicate pain or distress. Sometimes cats purr in order to calm themselves down, as I’ve seen many do in veterinary clinics.

One thing is for sure, while humans can say one thing and mean another, dogs and cats are incapable of this. Whatever our dog or cat is communicating is real and true to their emotions.


Adoptable Pet of the Week

Blackie is an 11-month-old, male neutered German Shepard mix with lots of energy! He was relinquished by his former guardians because they did not have a yard for him. Now he is living in a kennel and all he really wants is to run and play in a new home. Blackie is lovable, friendly, and very striking with his beautiful black coat. He is a good ball chaser just waiting for the right person. For more information, call 964-4777 or visit

Lisa Acho Remorenko is executive director of Animal Adoption Solutions,


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