How to Understand Your Cat’s Meowing

If you’ve got a feline friend at home, no doubt you’ve wondered more than once what they are trying to say with their meows. Despite the strong bond between devoted owners and our cats, unfortunately we just don’t speak the same language – which can make communication somewhat complicated. Luckily, it is possible to understand a lot of what your cat’s meowing and other noises mean!

The sounds a cat makes are known as vocalising. There are lots of different ways a cat might vocalise, which include meowing at different pitches and for different lengths of time, as well as trills, chirps, chatters and purrs.

So, what is your cat trying to tell you?

What Are the Different Cat Meows and What Do They Mean?

Meow

The most common and well-known vocalisation of a cat is the meow. There can be a lot of variation in the different meows a cat does, and their meaning is often unique to them.

Interestingly, meowing is rarely used by cats to communicate with each other; it’s just for us!

This is because cats learn that meowing usually gets the message across to their human and it results in us doing what they want us to, whether that be feeding them or giving them attention. Since owners will all respond differently to their cat’s meows, each cat tends to develop their own unique range of different meows.

For example, if a cat’s short meow resulted in ear scratches, and a more drawn-out, higher pitch meow resulted in their owner feeding them, these are the types of meow a cat would continue to use to ask for these things. You probably already have a unique language between just you and your cat!

Mew

A mew is a kitten’s version of a meow. They use it to tell their mum that they are hungry or unhappy about something. Most kittens will stop mewing when they are around two or three months old.

Chirps and Trills

A chirp is a short, high-pitched sound, a bit like a bird tweeting. A sequence of chirps is known as a chirrup. Trilling is a similar, but more high-pitched sound. Both are mostly formed with the cat’s mouth closed.

Mother cats will chirp or trill to call for their kittens, but cats might also chirp or trill at humans to greet them or get them to follow them.

Chatter

Also known as chittering or twittering, chattering is where your cat’s jaw shudders, producing a stuttered bleating sound. This is usually voiceless.

Cats will most commonly chatter when watching birds or other prey. It’s thought to be a sound of excitement or anticipation as they think about hunting, but could also be a sign of frustration if the prey is out of reach.

Caterwaul

The caterwaul is a loud, shrill, drawn-out yowling or howling sound. You’ll certainly know it if you hear it!

Unneutered cats will caterwaul to attract a mate when they are in heat. This type of meow is very loud and difficult to ignore, so it ensures all the other cats around know that they’re available!

Other cats may caterwaul or yowl to indicate distress. Elderly cats suffering with cognitive dysfunction for example might make this noise because they feel disoriented or confused. Caterwauling can also indicate stress, pain, illness, boredom or frustration.

Purr

Purring is a low, soft rumbling sound that’s produced when the voice box vibrates, and it’s one of the most common expressions of contentment. Cats will purr happily when they’re feeling cosy on your lap for example.

However, as well as communicating pleasure, cats might also purr for the opposite reason. They might purr because they’re stressed or in pain and use it as a way to try and soothe themselves.

A cat’s reason for purring will be clear from their body language – if their ears are back, their pupils are dilated and they look tense, then it’s likely that they are unhappy and it’s a good idea to see a vet if this behaviour recurs.

Growl

A growl is a deep, rumbling throaty sound that serves as a warning to humans and other cats. Cats will growl when they feel threatened and the sound often precedes biting or scratching if the threat persists.

Hiss

Like growling, hissing is an aggressive sound that is intended to frighten off a perceived threat. Cats often hiss at other cats to settle territorial disputes, but if your cat is hissing for no clear reason, it could be a sign that they’re not feeling well and you should see a vet.

Wrapping Up

While we humans may not speak fluent cat, it’s possible to interpret a lot of what our feline friends are trying to say. Now that you understand the meanings behind meows, purrs, mews, trills, chatters, and the infamous caterwaul, you and your cat will have a stronger bond than ever. As well as communicating with us through their meows, cats also communicate through tail language, where different shapes and positionings can indicate different things – read our blog to understand even more about feline communication!