What Is Cat Chirping and Why Do Cats Do It?
Chirping: It's not just for the birds. In fact, cat chirping is one of several ways that cats communicate with their pet parents. But why do cats chirp and what's the meaning behind this distinct cat noise? Let's find out.
Cat Chirping: One Way Cats Communicate
They don't chat much with each other, but after thousands of years of domestication, cats have realized that "speaking" is the best way to communicate with their pet parents (and to get them to do what cats want them to do).
According to a talk published by the Veterinary Information Network, cat and human communication have a lot in common. "One reason that cats and people are able to get along so well [is that] both species rely on vocal messages and visual signals." Cats and people just get each other.
What Do Cat Chirps Sound Like?
The cat chirp, also known as a chirrup or a trill, is a short, peep-like sound that's very similar to a songbird's warble.
According to International Cat Care, cat vocalizations fall into three categories: murmuring, meowing and aggressive. A chirp is considered to be a type of murmur (the other, more common murmur is purring), described by ICC as a sound that's "mostly formed with the mouth closed."
Why Do Cats Chirp?
ICC notes that chirps are "generally ... used for greeting, attention, acknowledgment and approval." A chirp is basically a high-pitched "Hello!" to their person.
Cat behaviorist Dr. Susanne Schötz, on her research site, Meowsic, points out that cats also pull out the chirp when their hunting instinct kicks in while watching — you guessed it — birds. Schötz says that cats employ this vocalization "when a bird or insect catches their attention ... The cat becomes riveted to the prey, and starts to chirp, tweet and chatter." Sometimes, your cat may sound like the very bird they're tweeting at through the window.
And it's not only real-life prey that riles up your furry friend. They'll chirp and trill at toys, too. Supervise a play session with a feathered toy on a string and keep an ear out for fun chattering.
Chirping and Body Language
When the friendly cat chirping starts, notice how your cat's body language reflects their chipper mood: bright, blinking eyes, tail swishing, ears up and pointed to the side and gentle head-butting. While chirping at an unwanted guest such as a bird, however, your furry friend will probably adopt an alert stance such as a crouched stalking pose. They may also have dilated pupils, sideways pointing ears and an arched back.
Engaging in interactive play is a terrific way to see if your cat is a chirper. Cats are mimics, as Schötz points out, so try your best trilling and see what happens. If your cat isn't a chirper, do not worry; this doesn't mean that they don't love you and can't find their own unique ways of communicating with you!
Christine O'Brien is a writer, mom, and long-time cat parent whose two Russian Blues rule the house. Her work also appears in Care.com, What to Expect, and Fit Pregnancy, where she writes about pets, pregnancy, and family life. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien.