Do Humans and Pets Share the Same Emotions?

Yes, according to world renowned, primate behavior researcher, Frans de Waal, who I spoke to in this week’s Raising Your Paws podcast episode, number 39.  Dr. de Waal talks about many animals that experience empathy and that make up with one another after a fight.

During the conversation with Dr. de Waal, he talked about a video about an ape and a man that gave rise to the title of his latest book, Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves.

Here is the famous video of the Chimpanzee named, Mama, close to the end of her life, greeting a man, Jan van Hooff, that she knew  throughout her life – for the last time.

Full Show Notes for Raising Your Paws Podcast Episode 39.

Title: Do Humans and Pets Share All The Same Emotions? & How to Tell When Cats Are Anxious.

When your dog raises its hackles does it always mean they are angry and upset? No, it does not. In this episode, find out what else your dog may be feeling when you see that distinctive sign.

Then, as a pet owner, you know your dog or cat has emotions such as fear, anger and happiness. But what about anxiety, shame, empathy, gratitude? Do dogs and cats feel all these? World renowned primatologist, Frans de Waal, author of, “Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves” talks about the creatures that experience and act on the same emotions that you and I do.

Next, could your cat’s unusual behavior be due to an emotional problem? Regarding their emotions, cats can be surprisingly anxious. Here are some of the symptoms and signs to watch for.

Plus, have you ever wondered where certain animal expressions, such as “it’s raining cats and dogs”? come from? In this new feature, you’ll find out – and I’ll start with that one.

Additional Resources for the Episode.

Source for the story about raised hackles: Why Does My Dog do that? By Sophie Collins.

Amazon link to Fran De Waal’s book, Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves”.

 

Dr. Frans de Waal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information about Frans de Waal: Living Links: Center for the Advanced Study of Ape and Human Evolution.

Fran de Waal’s facebook page.

Blog Article: What Are Cats Saying?

Since we were talking about animal emotions, let’s explore what cats are saying through their numerous vocalizations.

A feline’s vocal apparatus differs from our own and is not designed for actual speech which is obvious, or your cat would certainly tell you the exact kind of litter he prefers to dip his paws into.   However cats do communicate with other cats, other animals and with us, their human companions. Cats “speak”  through body language, communicating feelings and intentions through their body postures and facial expressions as well as the sounds they make.

In 1944, American psychologist and cat lover , Mildred Moelk, wanting to better understand the cat’s vocal language, made a detailed study of cat vocabulary and found sixteen meaningful sounds, which included consonants and vowels. She produced a definitive list of 16 sound patterns made between cats and between cats and people.  She divided cat-sounds into three groups:

  1. murmurs made with the mouth closed
  2. vowel sounds made with the mouth closing as in “iao”
  3. sounds made with the mouth held open.

Moelk organized the vocalizations based on how cats formed the sounds and what she believed they most often expressed, which loosely translates to: “hello,” “pay attention to me,” “give me,” “please give me,” and “I like” or “I don’t like.”  Yep, that about sounds right to me from my experience with my late cat, Willie. And regarding the “Meow”, sound an adult cat uses pretty much for our sake, Moelk, identified, 6 different basic ones that convey: friendliness, confidence, anger, fear, pain and annoyance. I’ve heard that one!

Although emphasizing that these sounds are not words, Moelk said cats routinely change the duration, intensity, tone, pitch, speed and repetition to communicate their goals, desires and emotions:

Here are some interpretations of the various noises and vocalizations cats use: See which ones you recognize.

Kitten sounds:

  • Mew (high pitched and thin) – a polite plea for help
  • MEW! (loud and frantic) – an urgent plea for help

Adult cat sounds:

  • mew – plea for attention
  • mew (soundless) – a very polite plea for attention which is often a sound pitched too high for human ears and barely heard
  • meow – a plea for attention
  • MEOW! – a command!
  • mee-o-ow (with falling cadence) – protest or whine
  • MEE-o-ow (shrill whine) – stronger protest
  • MYUP! (short, sharp, single note) – righteous indignation
  • MEOW! Meow! (repeated) – panicky call for help
  • mier-r-r-ow (chirrup with lifting cadence) – friendly greeting
  • silent meow. Cat opens mouth and produces a sound so high pitched that you cant hear it. The guess is it could be a sign of affection.

Cats on the Prowl:

  • RR-YOWWW-EEOW-RR-YOW-OR – caterwaul – a yowl uttered by the male or a female in heat calling out to the tomcats.
  • merrow – challenge from one male to another male
  • meriow – courting call to a female

Mom cats:

  • MEE-OW – come and get it!
  • meOW – follow me!
  • ME R-R-R-ROW – take cover!
  • mer ROW! – No! or Stop It!
  • mreeeep (burbled) – hello greeting to kittens and disarming greeting to adult cats (also used between adult cats and humans)

Seventy years later, since the work of Mildred Moelk, experts agree that cats are communicating something to us –  although what,  is somewhat unclear. The most widely-held theory, developed over a decade ago by Michael J. Owren, PhD, is that cats use vocalization to influence or manipulate humans, not to deliver specific information.

“Cats produce meows to get attention and rely on the owner to infer what the cat wants,” explained Owren, a psychologist and professor who studied animal vocalizations until his death in January 2014.

“A person can pretty readily figure out what’s going on from the cat’s body posture — whether staring or other behaviors — so the cat doesn’t need to have a particular acoustic meow” for each situation, Owren said. “This is communication because it is using a non-linguistic signal to affect the behavior of others. The human response gets the cat what it’s seeking,” although it’s unknown whether the cat plans for specific reactions.

Loud, repetitive meows resemble general distress cries and do not convey emotions, Owren believed. “Cats are not producing distinct sounds that stand for individual emotions, but these sounds are triggered by the cat’s level of arousal. Like a child’s cries, it’s crude and sometimes counter-productive. It depends on the parent having an inherent level of caring,” he said.

Cats succeed with their vocalizations, whether the sounds are pleasant or unpleasant, Owren added. When cats purr, “which is very appealing to humans, [cats] want the humans to continue doing whatever they’re doing. When cats get excited, their loud meows are so annoying that people will do whatever they think the cat wants,” just to stop the noise.

Besides the meow that a mother cat uses to communicate with her kittens or the meow your cat makes as a  general all purpose attention seeking sound, here are some of the sounds cats make to communicate their state of mind. As cats all have individual personalities and will make up their own sounds as needed, you can probably add to this list.

  • Caterwaul – the cat wants sex!
  • Chatter – excitement, frustration e.g. when prey is out of reach or escapes (involves rapid teeth-chattering jaw movements). There are also other theories for this sound. The jury is still out on this one.
  • Chirrup – friendly greeting sound, a cross between a meow and a purr! (friendly greeting sound with rising inflection; familiar to most cat owners)
  • Cough-bark – alarm signal (rare in pet cats); like us, cats can cough both voluntarily and involuntarily)
  • Growl – threat, challenge, warns others to go away
  • Hiss (with or without spit) – threat, fear, warns others to back off
  • Mew (of kittens) – distress, hunger, cold (to attract mother’s attention)
  • Purr –   Purring is caused by vibration of structures in the throat. Although not strictly a vocalization, the purr is an important means of communication, and depending upon the cat’s situation, it can convey contentment, relaxation, pleasure or be placating  behavior (i.e. “I am not a threat to you”).  A loud purr invites close contact or attention. As well as purring when happy, cats also purr when severely injured, in pain, frightened or giving birth. A cat may even purr when close to death. At the vet, when cats purr, and are being restrained for procedures such as blood samples or X-rays, the cat may be indicating that he is easy to control, co-operative and does not need to be forcibly handled. This purr is likened to the behavior of a submissive cat attempting to avoid conflict with a larger, more powerful animal or human.
  • Scream – fear, pain, anger, distress
  • Squawk – surprise, shock (somewhat strangled sound)
  • Yowl – a threat, offensive or defensive, but also used in a modified form by some cats seeking attention when owner is out of sight
  • Squabble – a series of short and long meows and grunts made in a complaining tone that occur when a cat is moved or made to do something it would rather not do

The exact meanings of all of these sounds may be modified or emphasized by facial expression, tone/volume, frequency and body language depending on the current situation. Cats will use these sounds in different ways when communicating with humans and only your familiarity with your own pet will tell us for instance that a certain type of growl is a playful noise and not warning of an imminent attack.

One feature common to both cats and people is the use of a slightly raised tone of voice to indicate friendliness and a lowered tone of voice to indicate displeasure, aggression etc. Friendly chirrup and food-seeking miaow are usually uttered in a raised tone of voice while the low-pitched growl of a cross cat is undeniably unfriendly.

Volume is sometimes used for added emphasis (e.g. a strident miaow for urgency, a gentle “burp” for contentment). Cats which simply feel compelled to add their personal point-of-view to a conversation often do so in a neutral tone of voice to indicate that they are not being particularly hostile, nor unduly friendly, and that there is no great urgency about the subject matter.

Is your cat very talkative?

Oriental breeds, such as Siamese and Burmese cats are well known for being quite vocal and more talkative than others.  Siamese vocabulary includes “a very long mew of medium pitch” which is often emitted soon after the cat is let into a room. This is possibly purely conversational, serving to inform those in the room that it has arrived and is passing the time of day. A far more plaintive sound is made when cats wish to be let in or out, or to attract attention to themselves if they feel they have been unjustly ignored.

One Siamese cat I knew, named Shalom, could sustain his meow from the top of the stairs he had just climbed all the way down the long hall to my boyfriend, Steve’s bedroom. All without taking a single breath. It was one continuous, loud, monotone, plaintive  sounding merowwwwwwowwwowwwwwwwwowwwwwwowwwww lasting endless minutes. I think he was announcing to Steve – Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh, I”ve had a rough day……all the mice got away………….where are you, need to lie dooooooooooooown, hope there is foooood in there……..I’m tired. You better open the door and let me in the room by the time I get to the end of this damn hallway, rrrrowwwwwwwwwww.

In cats attempts to communicate with us on our own level – we are quite vocal after all, talking to our cats like they are human, some cats even put together full “sentences” of noises and pauses. They might simply be joining in, encouraging and inviting you to talk back to them as most  domestic felines really enjoy this sort of attention and interaction from their owners.

 

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