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August 22nd, 2018 | 0 min read

What Your Cat's Meows Mean

Written by
Sharilyn Vera
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.

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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.

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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.
Written by
Sharilyn Vera

Sharilyn is a proud cat owner, long time storyteller and researcher. Her work spans beloved podcasts, television shows, media outlets, and independent documentaries. She likes to strike a balance between education and comedy, which you can hopefully tell when you read her articles!