What Your Cat's Meows Mean

Green Eye Cat Meowing
While some cat breeds are naturally more talkative than others, all cats have a broad array of noises they can make to communicate with you, other cats, and anyone else around to listen to them. Spending time watching and listening to your cat is the best way to decipher what Fluffy is trying to say, but there are some general basics that are common to most domestic cats, including:

Meowing

Like human voices, cat meows vary due to different vocal cord length and individual personalities. Cats meow for any number of reasons, but they tend to have personalized meows for their humans. For example, if your cat has a distinctive "I'm hungry" meow that you respond to by putting food in the bowl, then he learns that particular meow gets him food. As a result, he'll likely use that same meow every time he wants to let you know it's dinnertime.
Cats also sometimes meow to themselves for no particular reason. Like us, maybe they too are trying to remember where they put that toy that they just had a second ago!

Purring

Kitten Purring
Besides meowing, this is the other noise most people immediately associate with cats. Purring is the result of a noise made by the muscles in a cat's larynx. The muscles move and contract the glottis, which surrounds the vocal chords. The air vibrates as it's inhaled and exhaled, and the noise produced is called purring.
We usually associate purring with a happy, calm kitty, but that isn't always the case. Cats can also purr when nervous, afraid, under stress, and ill or injured. Thankfully, though, when your cat seemed calm and is purring, that usually means she feels safe and relaxed.

Trilling and Chirping

These noises are like a cross between purring and meowing. They sound almost like an old-fashioned telephone ringing, hence the "chirping" description. Cats seem to use these sounds to convey positive feelings. Most often, they occur when kitty is greeting her human or another cat in the family, or when she hears the treat bag or a can of food being opened.

According to the Humane Society, mother cats trill to get their kittens to pay attention and follow them. Cats of either gender may then carry this behavior with them into adulthood and use it to train their humans, in the same way, to recognize when they want attention or just conversation; after all, not many people can resist that sweet, happy kitty noise.

Chattering

Cat Chattering at Window
Have you ever seen your cat watching birds outside? In addition to the swishing tail and wide eyes, pay close attention to his mouth and you might notice a peculiar clicking of jaws and teeth, sometimes accompanied by quiet noises your cat doesn't make any other time. What does this all mean? Is he just excited? Frustrated that he can't get to the birds? Some theories even hold that he's trying to mimic his would-be prey's noises to lure dinner closer, a sort of evolutionary holdover from his wild hunter ancestors.
There is no definitive answer to this one yet, but it's probably safe to assume your cat is looking at dinner--or something it deeply wishes could be dinner--and complaining about it.

Hissing, Growling, and Yowling

These are pretty self-explanatory. These sounds almost always indicate a cat that is angry, annoyed, or in distress. Cats sometimes growl when playing, but it's typically a noise warning others to leave it alone.
Similarly, yowling is a long, shrill noise cats make to express displeasure about a situation, whether they're simply bored or hungry, or they're injured or ill. Sadly, it can also signal dementia in older cats because the cognitive dysfunction they're suffering leaves them disoriented and confused.
Yowling is also a hallmark of cats looking to mate. This is the noise they use to let other cats know they're available, so to speak. The noise stops once the mating urge passes, either naturally or after the cat is spayed or neutered.
Does your cat make funny or weird meows? Tell us in the comments below!



Christine Whitt
Christine Whitt

Author



7 Responses

Ellen Lohmeyer
Ellen Lohmeyer

August 28, 2018

Our cat is certain that there is another cat in the refrigerator since she saw her own reflection in the front panel of a hydrator drawer. She sits in front of the closed door and “talks” to the cat inside. She also lets us know that she wants the door open so she can see for herself. These noises get very loud and sound just like a regular conversation is going on with her.

Marsha
Marsha

August 28, 2018

Great article! My furkids all have unique was to communicate with me. My one cat, Violet, almost NEVER makes noise unless the dish is empty! I now realize that cute, urgent sound is closer to a trill or chirp, which means follow me! The dish is empty!

Rai Cornell
Rai Cornell

August 24, 2018

@Victoria – Haha! I love your nickname for your cat: “Chatty Catty”. Perfect!
It sounds like your cat is adjusting to “nighttime” when you turn the lights off and she’s looking for her companions. Once she finds you, she’s content and quiet. My cat does this same thing, but in the morning – around 5:00 AM like clockwork. As soon as I come out of my room, scoop him up, and give him some cuddles, he switches to purring and doesn’t make another noise…. until he wants breakfast. Haha! Your cat’s meows are just a way for her to communicate with you. Since she eventually quiets down when she finds you, it doesn’t sound like she’s suffering from any sort of physical pain. It’s wonderful that she’s so attached to you and wants to be near you. Enjoy your happy, purry bond :)

Sandy Green
Sandy Green

August 24, 2018

I found the article very interesting. I had read similar articles before but it’s nice to remind yourself what that sound means or maybe your own interpretation of it. My cat insists on having my undivided attention in the morning by literally squawking at me to follow him down the hall to my office so he can have petting and grooming. If he doesn’t receive it on his timetable instead of mine, oh boy! The attitude kicks in!

Victoria Herbert
Victoria Herbert

August 24, 2018

We call our adopted 8 yr old female cat “Chatty Catty” because she trills and mews and carries on conversations with us throughout the day. Every night, without fail, when the last light is turned off and everyone is in bed she begins to “sing.” This goes on for about 5 minutes and includes long meows and some mournful sounding yowling. Then she climbs into bed with one of us and goes to sleep. She is neutered so we don’t think she is calling for a mate. Any thoughts?

Jenie
Jenie

August 24, 2018

My cat will say “wow!” Really really loud when she gets a bath or her nails trimmed. It’s kind of funny!

PAUL
PAUL

August 24, 2018

I have taken my kitten outside on her leash ands seen the chipping behavior. I was looking at my phone when I noticed she had zeroed in on a bird on a branch. When the bird heard the sound it turn its head to the side, as if it were trying to figure out the noise. I then watched it hop closer to my cat to get a better look. I was amazed to see the hunting chirp in action!

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