The Meaning Behind Your Cat's Meow: 5 Distinct Cat Sounds & Noises
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When you share a home with a feline friend, you hear many cat sounds throughout the day. And although you can easily figure out the meaning of some cat noises (circling their food dish and meowing while looking up at you, for example), it's not always that obvious. What do cat meows mean? You may simply be the pet parent of a chatty kitty. This is especially common with older furry friends, as cats become more vocal as their hearing worsens.
Here are some distinctive cat sounds and what your cat might be expressing through them.
Why does my cat meow so much? As a pet parent, you've likely asked yourself this many times, and you've already concluded that your cat emits a classic meow for a variety of reasons. But cats rarely meow at each other, so what is your cat trying to tell you? Cats speak to you with different meows depending on the situation:
Their Breed Is More Vocal
Some cat breeds meow more than others. Siamese, for example, famously "talk" a great deal with distinctive raspy meows. The 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 pal. The quiet Chartreux breed, on the other hand, rarely meows. Knowing your cat's normal helps you recognize if increased or decreased vocalizations signal problems.
They Want Something
Beyond breed, what do cat meows mean? Meows can express delight, especially when mixed with other vocalizations like trills. A typical cat meow demands something. It starts out polite, short and sweet in a moderate tone. Common meow demands include: fill my bowl, open the door, clean my litter, play with me and pet me now. Meows may become longer and more drawn out as your cat waits to be addressed. Pitch lowers as cats get more insistent and grows more strident when they feel ignored.
They're in Heat
Intact female cats meow loudly with a unique tone during estrus. These cat calls and yowls announce her receptive state and alert male cats that she's ready for romance. Spaying eliminates estrus-related cat sounds.
Stressed cats meow repeatedly. Any change to your usual routine — a different work schedule, moving or adding new pets to the home — could cause your cat to meow more than usual. Health issues can also increase meowing. Cats might cry in the litter box from painful elimination. Old cats who are losing their hearing may cry loudly when they can't hear you. Increased meowing can also signal hypertension, or high blood pressure, so see your veterinarian to screen for potential health conditions.
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, kittens are born blind and deaf, and they first communicate with their mom through purrs. All cats use this method throughout their lives — even with you. Pay close attention to your cat's purrs and you'll notice subtle changes in tone and vibration.
Purrs express emotion. In most cases, they mean your cat is happy and doing just fine. Cats also use purrs to calm themselves when they feel stressed, scared or in pain. Cats may even purr in their final moments. On a happier note, the frequency of vibration in cat purrs can promote bone healing. Think of purrs as a kind of feline vibrational medicine that makes cats and their humans feel better. Give your fur baby lots of love when you hear their little motor running.
A cat hisses or spits when they're feeling frightened and defensive. A spit compares to a human's gasp of surprise, while a hiss draws out the warning to keep your distance. Cats may hiss at a stranger who visits your home, at someone they know but don't like or at another cat as a warning to back off. Ultimately, they're reminding everyone who the real boss is (hint: it's not you).
Cats hiss when they can't escape perceived danger, such as when they feel cornered or intimidated by another cat, human or situation. Forced handling or petting or simply staring at a fearful cat increases their fear and their hisses. So back away, stop staring and give your cat time to calm down. Otherwise, hisses could turn into growls — a threat to attack if you refuse to listen to your cat's request. Respect their need for space to silence the hisses and maintain your loving bond.
If you think howling is just for dogs, think again! Any reproductively intact cat will yowl to attract a mate.
Cats that don't fit this criteria may yowl out of fear, aggression or pain, especially if trapped or injured. Older cats with cognitive disorders exhibit behaviors similar to dementia and may yowl when they become confused.
Cats also yowl to announce they've captured prey — sometimes a toy, but other times actual critters. A feline yowl demands that you check in to ensure everything is alright.
Cats save chirping for special occasions. Often, your cat will chirp, or trill, to alert the household when they see a bird, squirrel or bunny outside the window. This sound can express excitement and happiness, and cats can trill and chirrup to each other. Mother cats also use a chirp to communicate with their kittens and keep them in line, according to the ASPCA.
Paying close attention to your cat's special sounds will help create an even more meaningful bond. The better you can understand their feelings and demands, the more you can provide them with everything they need to feel happy, healthy and safe.
Christine Brovelli-O'Brien holds a Ph.D. in English and is an accomplished storyteller and lifelong pet lover. A professional member of the Cat Writers' Association, her work has received Muse Medallions and Certificates of Excellence. When she’s not exploring pet health and behavior, she’s busy mothering one child and four pets.