What are cats really saying?

July 14, 2009 5:42:32 AM PDT
When a cat purrs, the message might not be, "I'm happy."

A new study suggests that some types of purrs send cat owners a different message: "I'm hungry."

Researchers found that purrs of hungry cats included a higher-pitched sound, somewhat like a cry or meow.

They played recordings of these purrs from 10 cats to 50 human volunteers. Even people who'd never owned a cat found them to be more urgent and less pleasant than contented purrs from the same animals.

The researchers think that these food-seeking purrs may exploit the way humans naturally respond to a baby's cry.

Not all cats use this strategy, but a researcher says some cats apparently learn to turn it on when they see it's effective in getting a human to feed them.

The work appears in the journal Current Biology.

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