The Meaning Behind Your Cat's Meow: 5 Distinct Cat Sounds & Noises

When you share a home with a feline friend, you hear many different cat sounds throughout the day. And although the meaning of some noises is easily discernible (circling her food dish while looking up at you, for example), it's not always that obvious. In some cases you may be the pet parent of a particularly chatty kitty. This is especially true with older furry friends, as cats become more vocal as they age or their hearing worsens.

Here's what she is expressing with the following distinctive cat sounds:

1. Meow

As a pet parent you already know your cat emits a classic meow for a variety of things. But cats don't do this between each other, so what is she trying to tell you? She may use her meow for a food or water refill, greet you when you return home, or request a soothing pet or tummy rub (she'll roll over for that one). Cats also speak to you with different kinds of meows depending on the situation, such as "I want that spot on the couch"–something they always seem to want.

Although incessant meowing when eating, using the litter box, or a similarly odd time could mean she's not feeling well, your furbaby is usually just coming over to say hi.

2. Purr

Life doesn't get much better than when your cat snuggles up to you, nuzzling and purring at the end of a long day. As Trupanion notes, purring is how kittens who are born blind and deaf communicate with their mom, but all cats use this method throughout their lives–even with you. Pay close attention to your own cat's purrs and you'll notice subtle changes in tone and vibration, all of which help her express that she's happy and doing just fine.

A lesser-known motive: Cats may also use this vocalization to comfort themselves when they're scared, so be sure to give your furbaby lots of love when you hear her little motor running.

3. Hiss

When a cat hisses and or even growls, it's not because she's being mean; she's frightened and therefore defensive. Your pet may hiss at a stranger who visits your home (or, for that matter, someone she knows but just doesn't like) or even at another cat as a warning to "back off." Ultimately she's reminding everyone who the real boss is (hint: It's not you).

"If you can," advises Animal Planet, "ignore the hissing instead of yelling or staring down your cat." Just allow time and your inherent affection for her to resurface, and the hissing will dissipate. Giving her the space she needs to calm her nerves will always help her feel more secure.

4. Howl

If you think howling is just for dogs, think again! The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) points out that "some breeds of cats, notably the Siamese, are prone to excessive meowing and yowling," so you may just have a loud little girl. Any cat who is "reproductively intact" will howl to attract a mate as well.

If your cat doesn't fit these criteria, she may howl because she's in an emergency situation, perhaps trapped somewhere or even injured. In other scenarios, cats howl because they want you to come right now to see the prey they brought you (and it's not always a toy). In any case, give your vocal housemate your immediate attention to ensure everything is alright.

5. Chirp

This is one of the odder cat noises reserved for very special occasions. Oftentimes your cat will chirp, or trill, to alert the household when she sees a bird, squirrel, or bunny outside the window. It's not a full-length meow but rather a command kittens learn at a young age, according The Humane Society, when their mom uses the sound to keep her babies in line. If you have more than one cat, you may also hear them converse with one another the same way. She'll eventually use this trick on you to lead you to her food dish or herd you to bed

Paying close attention to these cat sounds will create an even more meaningful bond between you and your best pal. It will also help you better understand her needs so you can provide her with everything she needs to feel happy, healthy, and safe.

Contributor Bio

Christine O'Brien

Christine O'Brien

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.

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