The dominance of male cats is decided by the following; the bigger, stronger and younger cat wins his place in the hierarchy. He does not always have to fight to work his way up the ladder, because older or weaker cats may submit peacefully; nor does any one cat have to fight every other cat in a group where the hierarchy has been well established. As he matures, a strong young cat may become dominant to one who was dominant to him previously, therefore working his way up the ladder.
At the same time, an aging cat will likewise work his way down. In any group of feral cats, the most dominant will be a male. Dominance in wild-living female cats is usually, though not always, linked to the number of litters she has produced; the more litters, the higher she stands in the hierarchy.
In the average group of house-cats, the balance of power may well be different. Sometimes neutering can alter the hierarchy, or in any household the most dominant cat may be a neutered male or female. Where there is a mixture of neutered and entire cats, the most dominant may still be the neuter cat; it may be the one which has lived there the longest, or perhaps a more assertive young cat. Cats can make over a hundred different sounds, from the pleasant purr, to a wide variety of miaows, to the fierce growl. They create a range of sounds by passing air over their vocal chords, varying the extent to which the mouth is open, and altering the muscle tension in the throat and lips.
Every owner will be able to distinguish between, and to understand, various miaows, which will be indistinguishable to another person. House-cats converse much more than feral cats because they have discovered that language is important to us. For instance, most of us talk to our cats as we prepare their food, telling them not to be impatient or greedy; if we open a door to let them into the house, we say hi, or when we complain about their wet feet on the carpet. In this way, cats associate language with action, and will then train us to understand their language.
A cat will miaow in a certain way and run to the door, which obviously means 'let me out'. When we go into the kitchen, a cat will give a quite different miaow sound which means 'I am hungry'. The owner is not the only one who can understand; if there are other cats in the home which hears the 'I am hungry' meow, they will rush to the kitchen also in the hope of being fed. Their own 'I am hungry' meow may sound quite different to the one they have responded to, but they understand it nevertheless, just as we do. We soon learn to distinguish between the different calls if we listen and watch our feline teachers.
Tristan Andrews writes useful articles about cats and kittens. Discover and explore the feline world. Find out how to better care for, train and live with your cat at http://www.i-love-cats.com