Marc Morrone Newsday columnist Marc Morrone

Marc Morrone was born in 1960 in the Bronx and, when he was 2, his family moved to

We adopted a kitten a month ago. He is now 5 months old. He is a healthy, happy bundle of energy and joy. One thing that we wonder about is his lack of vocalization. We have only heard him "meow" three times since we brought him home. We heard him let out a very loud cry when my husband accidentally stepped on his tail. He has already seen our vet and she found him to be healthy. We have raised two other cats, from kittenhood to 16 and 17 years old. Both of them were very vocal. Is this something that we should be concerned about? -- Beth Dehler, Wantagh

The "meow" that we typically associate with cats is actually only used by kittens to communicate with their mothers. Adult cats never meow to each other. They growl, hiss or use body posture to communicate. Adult cats do meow to humans as they typically think of us as their surrogate mothers. Since they are dependent on us for food and comfort, some may communicate in this manner for their entire lives. Certain cats, like certain humans, are more needy and dependent than others. The more secure the cat is the less it will meow at the humans who care for it. Since many cats these days never lack for food or attention, they do not feel the need to meow. This may be the case with your cat.

I have had cats like yours that were very happy and content and thus never felt the need to meow to me, and some that no matter what I did for them would never stop asking me for something in their loud and piteous-sounding meows.

The breed of cat may have something to do with this, as well. I notice that my Maine coon cats and ragdoll cats meow very little. Even as kittens they did not. It may be because those two breeds are so laid back, easygoing and apparently optimistic that their members do not feel the need to express their needs via meowing.

 

My yellow head Amazon parrot is 5 years old. He says more than 15 words. I have had other talking birds in the past and I noticed with all of them that their pupils contract when they talk and vocalize. What is exactly happening when he talks that causes his eyes to do this? -- Sandy Walker, Garden City

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Vocalizations in birds is a complex science that has been studied extensively in laboratories. Scientists have wondered how and why birds sing for hundreds of years. A parrot's talking is actually similar to the singing of a robin or cardinal that you will hear on a spring day.

Without getting too technical, when a bird is singing the neurotransmitter called dopamine floods the animal's system -- sort of like an adrenaline rush in us. Dopamine is a potent motivator in a bird that causes it to seek rewards and learn complex associations, and it seems to rush into a parrot's body when an important food or valued partner is encountered or there is a challenging situation. In parrots you can tell when they are feeling this rush as their pupils start to dilate. Since parrots have the physical ability to imitate human sounds due to their remarkable syrinx (the part of their respiratory system that produces sounds), they quickly learn while they are in this dopamine high what sounds to make to get the food or attention that they are craving. If these sounds are the same ones that they hear us making, then that is what they do. The fact that you respond to the bird in the same manner reinforces the situation. Some birds will say a few small words when they are not excited in this manner but most parrots talk best when they are wound up like this with their eyes dilating over and over again.

 

We have a mix-breed Lab puppy that is 8 months old. We also have three teenage boys. The dog and boys love to wrestle together, and everybody seems to be having a good time. However, our vet told us that this is not a good thing to do as it teaches the dog that we are equals and not leaders. We have no issues with our dog tussling with the kids thus far and wanted your thoughts. -- Cindy Benjamin, Smithown

As a kid some of my happiest times were spent wrestling with my dogs on our front lawn. We were so energetic about that one time a police car that was driving by stopped and the officers got out, concerned that my dog was trying to hurt me. I never had any issues with my dogs in this manner. Your vet is correct that a dog should not think of humans as equals or playmates, which with some dogs can lead to dominance issues later on. This is not to imply that your sons should not play with the dog -- just not as they are doing now. There are so many other games such as fetch and agility training that they can play with a young dog that lead to satisfaction and happiness for both human and canine.