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!

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Christine Whitt
Christine Whitt

Author



20 Responses

Brenda
Brenda

March 18, 2019

My cat Ozzy just turned 18yrs old and for most of his life he’s had 2 main words that he says very clearly “Out and Hello”. almost every night he grabs a shoe string and walks around with it in his mouth saying hello over and over. there’s been a few times we awoke abruptly to one of his Hello’s convinced someone was in our home, he sounded just like a person speaking. He says “out” when he wants to go outside but if we don’t let him out (because it’s 2am) then he says a full sentence “wanna go out”. he also says out when he’s at the vet’s office but this version is an angry "out ". his brother Spazz (sadly passed away July 2018) also said “out” but he would only say it at the vet because he knew how to use the pet door at home.

Cindy
Cindy

March 18, 2019

I love and have cared for cats all of my life. They are and have been my children. There is a peculiar type of ‘cat speak’ I have seen over the years. I found it quite disturbing. It’s the silent/very soft meow. The mouth is about 3/4’s open so you can see the kitty kitty meowing. It’s so soft and subtle you may miss it at first. It makes me feel like he or she is in some kind of distress. I check all around for anything ‘distressing’. Food is available and mostly eaten, water is good, no wounds and I know they are in Great health because I have routine visits to the Vet as well as Vet visits for just about anything like a cold, runny eyes, etc.. In other words, I take no chances with my babies health. I have observed this ‘silent’ cry when she is laying on the floor on her side while extending her front legs and kneading her paws. Or she might be sitting in front of me and looking into my eyes with hers politely half open and softly blinking. It makes me very uncomfortable because I feel she is asking for something and I don’t know what. When she is looking at me, I talk softly to her and pick her up and cuddle gently. This seemed to help her somewhat but she may continue when I let her go. :( When she is lying on the floor, she’s not looking at me or anything else but her eyes are doing the soft blinking. Has anyone else observed this behavior or have some thought as to what she’s trying to say? Thanx a lot for your feedback!

H Price Jessup
H Price Jessup

March 08, 2019

Our 19-year-old BLACK Alley Cat Pussy Galore sleeps on our bed, gets up in the night to pee, we presume, and frequently SCREAMS when she walks down the hall away from our bedroom. She SCREAMS at other times of the day as well. It is possible she is getting a little hard of hearing. This SCREAMING has been going on for a couple of years. Maybe she is entering THE LAND OF THE BUNNIES? She is in command of our 7 Labrador Retrievers who live in the two rooms off our kitchen. We show, hunt and breed our dogs.

Lynn
Lynn

March 08, 2019

My 2 yr old Russian Blue is a talker!!!! She runs to meet me when I get home with the loud trilling every day…soooo Cute….but when she is meowing for me to get up in mornings or come play late night and I’m tired….she will kinda stomp off and make sounds like we would if we were saying, huhhh, ugggh, loud sighs…just short sounds not really meows, or chirps or trills, it’s like her own kind of little frustrated impatient words…..she’s so funny!

Karen
Karen

March 08, 2019

One of my cats favorite word was NO! when I would tell him to eat his cat food. Occasionally he would say one very long word, think "antidisestablishmentarinism

Vicki
Vicki

March 08, 2019

I had two cats that were litter mates and after 17 years together the brother became sick and eventually had to cross to the rainbow bridge (he was the vocal one always) now his sister has become quite vocal at time in a really long and loud voice and walks around at times like she is looking for her brother. I really contribute it to grief since she hardly ever meowed when her brother was alive. It can be annoying now but do understand it so try to soothe her as often as I can. It usually works!

magnusfl
magnusfl

March 08, 2019

My mom cat is broken as she very happy well fed with clean litter and all the attention she wants but never once in her purred

Darryl Sankey
Darryl Sankey

March 08, 2019

My black cat meow when she wants food or treat, but when she roll on her back want tummy rubby you can see tail move. Then gray and tan cat she totally different she run around or don’t say anything just her sofe meow.

Gail Basile-wiffler
Gail Basile-wiffler

March 08, 2019

My cat is a long haired neutered tuxedo! He grooms frequently and develops fur balls! I have bought him a dry food especially for fur ball problems! When he is in distress he makes a very loud yowl, a painful sound! I run to him with a towel to catch the vomit and hairball! The sound Is a cry of pain…

Kathryn L Bales
Kathryn L Bales

March 08, 2019

You neglected to mention the “I’m bored and you’re ignoring me”, meow. This tone is typically followed by the sound of a shattering glass object hitting the floor.

Adelle
Adelle

March 08, 2019

My fur son does not speak alot. He is full blood Burmese too. But my 2 grand fur babies talk all the time. One calls me on the phone and talks and talks, answers every question I ask him. We think they are MURS (?) not sure of the spelling as she got them at a shelter when they were about 5 weeks old. They are now 13 yrs old and in excellent shape, healthy and happy. Luke can play computer games and Leia can stand on her twos, and twirl like a ballerina. My daughter has raised them like they are human and they don;t know they are cats.

Barbara Ianno
Barbara Ianno

March 08, 2019

You might find this weird I know I did , but here goes : last night or should I say early am today while we were sleeping my cat Kiki starts howling loudly waking up the household..that’s not New its happens occasionally .Whats surprising is she was actually verbalizing quite clearly I want food! I want food ! I Want Food! several times It was not just me but my husband also heard this very distinctly and we were well awake by then and he fed her ..she then quieter down ! This is strange we don’t have an explanation and are looking for one!

Cate Smith
Cate Smith

November 21, 2018

This is a great piece. I have been online for a while trying to read more about cat sounds and I can say this is really helpful. My cat has been constantly meowing and I have been trying to find a solution for this. My friend recommended a certain book https://www.catsmeowings.com/2017/03/the-cat-language-bible-review-how-to.html and I have heard such good reviews about it but I am yet to buy it. What do you think about it?

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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