Behaviour Cat Care Cat Life

12 Sounds Cats Make and What They Mean

The conversational cat decoded

Think your cat’s meows, chirps, yowls, and purrs are just random gibberish? Think again. She’s actually communicating to you information about her world and about how she feels toward you. The good news is that if you listen closely, you just might begin to understand what all the meowing is about and use that understanding to your advantage.

Next to birds, cats possess the widest range of vocalizations of any domestic pet. Though best known for their meows, purrs, hisses, and growls, the list of sounds they regularly make is more comprehensive than this. Depending on the situation, your cat is capable of making many distinct utterances, with multiple nuanced variations of each, according to importance. Some reflect contentment and ease, while others expose worry, fear, or even anger. All, though, are indicative of your cat’s emotional state of mind.

Perhaps the most commonly heard cat sound, the meow of an adult cat is almost exclusively used to communicate with humans, and not other cats. First uttered by kittens when in need of their mothers, this juvenile vocalization fades away as wild cats mature. But, as cats in domesticity tend to think of themselves as our eternal offspring, they maintain this endearing vocalization throughout their adult lives. Generally, a meowing cat wants something—attention or food or perhaps access to a room. Sometimes though, meows simply serve as a “welcome home” salutation.

Occasionally, a meow can signify loneliness or even illness. Older cats often meow more because of failing senses or due to anxiety over not being as nimble as before. In younger cats, the meow often gets shortened to an interrogative “mew?” when lonely or hungry. And the frequency of meowing is an indicator of a cat’s frame of mind; rapid-fire meows mean hey, pay attention to me, I’m talking here!

A longer, more plaintive “meowww” can indicate worry, annoyance, or objection to something. This version will often have a throatier quality to it, almost as if she is saying, “oh, come on.” And incessant meowing could indicate illness or injury; if you suspect this, consider a trip to the veterinarian.

Perhaps the most enjoyable and hypnotic of cat sounds, the purr is a soft, deep, throaty rumble, most often made when your cat is in the best of moods. Gently petting your cat while she nests in your lap is a sure way to bring forth this motoring sound of utter contentment.

On rare occasions, purring can occur when your cat is agitated over something. It’s similar to how you might nervously whistle or hum while waiting for in-laws to arrive for dinner. The key to discerning this “worry-purr” is body posture; if your cat’s ears are back and her body seems tense, the purr denotes concern over something.

Chirps, Trills, and Chirrups
Learned in kittenhood, these birdlike utterances are slightly more declarative than a meow. Originally used by mothers to tell kittens to pay attention and follow her, your cat may chirp in an effort to get you to pay attention to her or as a way to get you to check out something she deems important. Chirrups and squeaky little trills might also happen when a cat is excited and happy.

You might have heard your cat chatter her teeth while longingly staring out a window at a sparrow or squirrel in a tree. Sometimes accompanied by a chirp, squeak or faint cry, the chatter is thought to be an indicator of a cat’s predatory excitement and of her stress at not being able to get to the prize. Some claim the chatter is actually a mimicked bird or rodent call, but this is anecdotal at best as the hunting prowess of cats is dependent on silence and stealth.

There is no mistaking the intent of a cat’s hiss. Sounding like of a steak sizzling on the grill, it means your cat feels threatened and is ready to fight if need be. A big, goofy dog who gets too chummy with your feline is sure to provoke a hiss and perhaps more. Along with the threatening sound comes an arched back, puffed hair, twitchy tail, flattened ears, and an open mouth, fangs ready to strike. Spitting can also occur with a hiss. When your cat takes on this serpent-like guise, back off, and do what you can to remove the perceived threat.

Hissing depends very much upon the individual cat’s perception and level of comfort. Some friendly, outgoing felines might hardly ever hiss, while a more shy, reserved cat will resort to it whenever unsure of a situation. Abused, stray or feral cats are much more likely to go into “hissing mode” than is a well-adjusted, sociable pet.

Unlike the reasonably happy, searching sound of a meow, the yowl is a longer, more drawn-out moan that denotes, worry, discomfort, territorial concern or mating issues. The yowl is often a cat-to-cat communication; it can mean “I want to mate,” or “I don’t want you coming around my place.” It can also occur when a cat isn’t feeling well, when senses or cognitive functions decline, or when something in her environment (perhaps a new cat on the block) isn’t to her liking. Cats who get relocated to new territories or adopted out to a new home can often yowl out their regret at the lost digs. And some cats will yowl simply out of boredom.

If your cat begins to incessantly yowl, check for signs of illness; a trip to your veterinarian might be in order. If he or she has not yet been altered, see to it as soon as possible, especially if you let your cat outdoors. Be aware of any cats who might be “invading” your cat’s territory; in some cases, strays or feral cats may need to be trapped, neutered, and hopefully adopted out to the right home. Be sure your cat has ample toys and that she gets enough attention from you. Sometimes all it takes to end a case of the yowls is just an extra play session each day.

Uttered by females in heat when calling out to prospective mates, this abbreviated, plaintive, hollow-sounding version of a yowl has an almost “ahh-roo-ugh?” sound to it. During the caterwaul, the un-spayed female will do all she can to get outside to meet up with males cats, who will most likely be milling about, yowling and fighting for the honour.

If the un-spayed female is outdoors, her caterwauling will draw in a male, whereupon mating will surely occur. She will assume a head-down, rear-up position (called lordosis), while the male bites her neck and begins the mating process. When removed, the male’s barbed penis evidently creates pain for the female, causing her to emit a blood-curdling scream. The moral here: have your cats sterilized!

Cats in the midst of a fight may also scream. These primeval shrieks often come after a long, ominous yowl, and usually punctuate a climactic paw swat or vicious bite. Whole cats are more likely to fight, though even fixed pets will actively defend their territories. To avoid fighting injuries to your cat, consider keeping her indoors.

Snarls and Growls
Often accompanying the hiss are random snarls and growls, usually indicative of fear, anger or territorial threat. Unlike those of larger cats, such as tigers and lions, the domestic cat’s snarling and growling are of a higher pitch and can start or end with a yowl. Generally, just leave this cat be, unless she’s in imminent danger from another cat. A snarling or growling cat will have the classic defensive body posture—puffed up fur, arched back, ears back, tail twitching.

Breed Talk
Some cats are by nature more talkative than others. As a general rule, shorthaired cats tend to be more talkative and outgoing than longhaired felines. And if you are looking for an instinctively chatty kitty, consider certain breeds of Asian origin. These include:

If you’d prefer a less vocal cat, consider a Persian, Russian Blue, Chartreux, Norwegian Forest Cat, or Maine Coon. These breeds tend to be on the quieter side. But breed-specific guidelines are not failsafe; you could end up with a noisy Persian or a silent Siamese!

By knowing what your cat is trying to say, you’ll be better able to predict her mood, intentions, and needs. Whether she is hungry, sick, happy, lonely, playful or mad, you’ll understand and be better equipped to give her what she needs. And the two of you will be able to have a nice, friendly cat chat whenever the mood suits!


Is your cat especially chatty at night? Click here to learn more about pesky night time meowing. 

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  • paula lovell-payne

    my cat was very shy when we bought her and she kept herself to herself for three years its only lately shes come out of her shell… she seems to love me to bits as she sits on my shoulder and while she purrs she seems to hum at the same time ,,, any one know why… i’d love to know

  • Christine Wilson

    What about snorting? I think it’s a frustration or irritation expression… anyone else have thoughts?

  • Ginger

    My 8 yr old , very lovable male cat does an odd short , low meow whenever he sees me or my husband . We determined it’s his greeting . But he also does almost the exact same greeting to our 3 mth old female cat every time she comes to visit him or lay with him when he is visiting with us . I often wonder if he is saying “not now little one” or just hello . They get along fine , play sometimes , cuddle , but sometimes it just seems like he is just being tolerant of her , so it’s really hard to tell if the short low meow is a warning to her or a hello. He doesn’t hiss , his ears don’t go back , just the sound . What do you think ?

  • Kitville

    Above, in the ‘Breed Talk’, there seem to be no talkative breeds mentioned.

  • Mollimay A Ismail Martell

    My cat is part Maine coon. He yells at me when he wants something. If i say shoes me, he takes me to what he wants, did, water, bed time, out side, etc. Is this normal?

  • Mollimay A Ismail Martell

    My cat is part Maine coon. He yells at me when he wants something. If i say shoes me, he takes me to what he wants, did, water, bed time, out side, etc. Is this normal? Also he lost his entire leg to cancer and is not friendly to anyone but me now. It’s been 3 yrs.

  • OliviaAndLuna💕

    Well my cat has never done that but of course she is not a maine coon so maybe its a maine coon thing? Also i’m sorry about the his leg.

  • AbbyandSadiesMom

    Most of what’s written I agree with; however, there are exceptions. I chortled when I read quieter breeds include MaineCoon and Chartreux. Oh really? My two never shut up, lol! The MC is a diva and when the Chartreux bugs her like most sibling brothers would, she hisses at him – nothing serious, just a warning and maybe a swipe now and again, but no one gets hurt. He likes to smell the ruff around her neck or her butt and she’ll hiss, but on occasion, she’ll smell his neck and butt. Go figure. Both are fixed. The MC was a rescue from our shelter and the Chartreux was a stray who waltzed into our home and refused to leave, lol! Eight years later, we’re a happy family. Sometimes the MC will park herself in a doorway and if I don’t say “excuse me please” and just try to step over her, she’ll hiss at me. If I say excuse me please, she gets up and moves. If the Chartreux wants to get by, she won’t move, so he’ll just jump OVER her and keep going. It bugs the bejeepers out of her. Ah yes, it’s interesting around our house.


    My cat does low yowling, she is 16/17 years old and I find it disturbing. She has lost her sight. She eats her food ,not the bits but the soup! Vets will only say she is old

  • Natalie

    My kitten sounds like a kettle boiling water? Why? Help?

  • Amelina

    My kitten is fixed but every morning at 6:00am on the dot she is caterwauling, meowing, yelling, purring and head butting me and trying to smoother me with cuddles and kneading my chest. It’s sweet but I have no clue why she only does all this In the morning!! She is a 6 month old Domestic Shorthair.

  • Rachel

    My cat thinks she’s a watchdog.. She comes by me and growls when she hears an unfamiliar car or someone at the door! It’s as if she’s trying to protect me! We also have ritual games where we play hide and seek and chase each other. ❤

  • Ann Abel

    I find that “painful sex” theory to be garbage. I have 2 female cats (11yrs old) who were not spayed and think I am their “lover”. They make the yowl when I press on their back just above their tails (when they are “satisfied”). They have never been around non-neutered males, so never had “real” sex.

  • Lord-Xanthor

    One of oir 4 cats have the strangest behavior. He talks to my wife and daughter constantly in the same manner a cat chatters at bird’s through a window but meows to me and my son when talking. Hissing has always been a warning to stay away from the cat, but with my daughter, ever since the cat was a kiyten and hissed for the first time, it picked up my daughter’s giggling and always hisses for her, which is so out of place. Whats even stranger is when he wants to be alone and I pick him uo and place him in a room he doesnt want to be in. He starts a low growl and then goes woof. Hes a mixed tabby/simese breed with blue eyes. He also has this game he plays with the entire family that my daughter started years ago. Cat will be on the inside of window and my daughyer on the other side runs her finger over the glass and her cat acts like a viciouse tazmanian devil pretending to attack. My neigubor freaked out the first time seeing this then watching as my daughter opened the door and the cat runs out and sits in her lap nuzzling her face and puring.

  • Linda Lewis

    I love cats, and found the more I learnt, the more there was to know! Cats are incredible and unique. Sadly, I was unable to fix behavior problems and think my cat is “just born that way”. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon this goldmine guide on how to communicate with your cat I found HERE ( ). I now understand exactly how my cat is feeling and what he has always been trying to tell me.

  • Gabriel

    My cat meow scratchy and hissing alot

  • Deana Rupe

    Our cats are very talkative in times of trouble or when living conditions change. We had a cat who would come and get us to follow her when a baby kitten got into a situation that needed our help. We as humans need to pay close attention to our fur babies when they speak. The world is much richer when we really listen to them.

  • Maren Ziegler

    Rags, they have always been part of our lives….as soon as some piece of cloth is considered worn, then I choose to finish wearing it out, by finding a new use for it. Either cleaning with it or using some “chosen rags” to wipe my paint brushes on while enjoying one of my favorite pastimes, painting gifts for other’s. Let me know if you need some ideas or might need some help with a gift.Debbie Grigsby Lynch

  • JLNedimyer

    I have had both pure Maines and 2 halfies, all males, all almose incessant talkers- to anyone, anything including the fishtanks, birdcages and out the windows. Our pure ginger MC outlived 2 of the other three, and made it til #4 was 11 and a half before needing assistance over rainbow bridge at the tender age of 21 yrs and 8 days. We got him the day he weaned from his mother. My brother had a female Maine who hardly made a squeak….he thought she was defective!

  • […] If your cat is watching squirrels through the window, their tail lashes and they might emit a staccato chatter. The meaning is just what it seems: excited frustration. […]

  • Lisa stacy

    My Male kitty makes a sound when he’s playing that sounds almost like when a human roles their tongue against the roof of their mouth. Almost a growl but not really. It varies in tone. It goes up and down. He also has ran up to me and done it. Do you know what that is

  • Lauri

    You don’t list the sound my cats make a lot: hum. It’s like they are saying “Hmmm?” in various intonations. I live alone and do that a lot with them myself so maybe that’s where they picked it up. Wondered if it was a common cat sound.

  • Cate S

    This is such a great detailed post. Cats sounds communicate different messages. I came across this book and it has really helped me in my cat parenting journey I can now understand so much about my little cute feline friend. I can recommend it to anyone whose cat meow constantly either during the day or night. It will help you eliminate this behavior for good.

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