It can be hard to be a pet parent. Sometimes it just feels like your pet is speaking a whole different language! Take cat sounds, for example. A cat’s meow is not a simple thing. The tone of the meow can denote many different things.
Thankfully, most cats communicate by following a similar vocal pattern. Here is a guide for humans to help us better understand our furry friends.
Different Types of Cat Sounds
Here are some of the most common variations of cat sounds and what these vocals actually mean. You may hear just one of these cat communications, or several combined.
The stock standard “meow” is like an Italian Ciao! It’s a multi-purpose expression. A cats meowing…
- Can mean “hello” or “goodbye”
- Can be a command for you to do something for them (“Food, please!”)
- Can be a complaint that you didn’t do something for them
- Can be an announcement to you: “Hey humans! I brought you a nice, juicy mouse!”
Both domestic and wild cats often meow at each other as a greeting.1
One of the simpler cat sounds, purring usually means you have a happy cat on your hands. But purring doesn’t always mean contentment.
As it turns out, felines sometimes purr to comfort themselves if they’re feeling anxious or unwell. So, if you suspect that something else is up with your cat, excessive purring may be a useful indication to visit your vet.2
The Chirp or Trill
Chirping or trilling are unusual cat sounds that can be hard to describe. It sounds, at times, like a bird’s chirp or a squeak. House cats may communicate with each other in this way.
Chirping or trilling is the language a mother cat will use to talk to her kittens – to get them to follow her instructions. And, a cat will often use this same language to give humans instructions (often, “Feed me”).3
The Hiss or Growl
If you hear hissing or growling, kitty is not happy! A hissing or growling feline may be extremely annoyed, scared, threatened, or angry. Hissing is an intentionally aggressive statement that may stem from a territorial dispute with another cat or animal.
Now, if you seem to have a hissing or growling cat for no apparent reason, pay attention – they may be in pain. If you’re concerned, it’s time for a visit to your vet.
The Chatter or Twitter
If your cat is making a chattery, twittering noise, you can bet that they’re probably eyeing a bird, squirrel, or other prey from their vantage point. This is one of the more unique cat sounds.
Experts believe that this sound could be the result of frustration (not being able to reach their prey) or excitement and anticipation of a hunt.
But some also believe that it’s direct imagery in their mind’s eye of their “killing bite.” Yes, your cat could be playing out that thrilling moment when they snatch their prey and work their teeth through its neck bones! Creepy! 4
The Drawn-Out Meow
The drawn-out meow sounds more like a yowl or a howl. It’s supposed to make you stop and pay attention – which you should, as your cat may be in distress. They could be in pain, or they could be stuck somewhere and unable to get out.
If your cat is meowing in this manner, and hasn’t been neutered or spayed, these howling cat sounds could also be part of their mating behavior.
Of course, cats will be cats. The long, dramatic meow might also mean they want something from you… “I want to go outside!” or “It’s breakfast time! Get up!” 5
When it comes to cat communication and cat sounds, caterwauling is often the most shrill and disturbing. Your instincts will tell you that your beloved pet is screaming in pain. But actually, caterwauling is a sound made by a female cat in heat to attract a mate.6
If you know that your cat is definitely not in heat, a really shrill sound like this could be a sign of pain. You should get your cat checked out by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Assessing the Mood: Cat Sounds
Cat sounds are a unique language that can be challenging to interpret. But the longer you listen to your feline friend, the better you’ll get at understanding what they’re trying to tell you.
Turns out, there’s another important clue to watch for in the way cats communicate – their body language. The look in your pet’s eyes, the position of their ears, and how they move their tail can all reveal just as much as their vocal sounds. So, pay attention!
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