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The Danger Zone

The Secret Language of Cats

What The Sounds Your Cat Makes Mean

Cat vocalizations explained—with accompanying audio and video clips!

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Videos courtesy of Susanne Schötz

Swedish phonetics expert and cat sounds researcher Dr. Susanne Schötz has devoted her professional career to the study of feline vocalizations and the role of melody in human-cat communication. She uses phonetic science to categorize the many different cat sounds into distinct types, and provides analysis. Here, she shares videos and audio clips from her cat phonetic research project, Meowsic (Melody in Human-Cat Communication)  to help you better understand your cat. Are you familiar with each of the following vocalizations and do you know what they mean? Listen/read on to test your knowledge.


purr(ing): The cat is content, hungry, stressed, in pain, gives birth or is dying; probably signals, “I do not pose a threat”


Domestic Cat Vincent Purrs:


Domestic Cat Donna Purrs:


Domestic Cat Rocky Purrs:


Domestic Cat Turbo Purrs:


Soft Squeak Embedded Within the Purr:


Domestic Cat Turbo Snores & Purrs:


Turbo Meows & Purrs Demandingly:


Caine the Purring Cheetah:



trill, chirr, chirrup, grunt, murmur: used during friendly approach and greeting, and during play. Grunts (murmurs) are usually more low-pitched, while trills or chirr(ups) are more high-pitched. Sometimes cats combine a grunt or trill with a meow sound, thus producing more complex vocalisation types.


Donna Trills by the Door:


Kompis Trills by the Window:


Visman Trills Softly:


Donna Squeaks, Trills, and Purrs on Lap:


Turbo Meows & Grunts:


Donna Meows, Trills, and Trill-Meows:


Meowing Sounds:

meow: Meows can be assertive, plaintive, friendly, bold, welcoming, attention soliciting, demanding, or complaining, sad, or even be silent. Adult cats mainly meow to humans, and seldom to other cats, so adult meow could be a post-domestication extension of mewing by kittens.

trill-meow: a combination of a trill (chirrup, chirr, murmur) and a meow


Visman is Mewing Sadly:


Visman Mews Because She is Wet and Hungry:


Donna Squeaks Demandingly:


Donna Squeaks and Trills:


Donna Squeaks and Purrs:


Donna, Rocky, and Turbo Moan at the Vet’s:


Kompis Moans, Meows, Howls, and Growls:


Rocky and Turbo Meow to Solicit Food:


Turbo Meows and Purrs:


Zoran Meows by the Cellar Door:


Donna & Turbo Meow to Solicit Food:


Donna Trill-Meows, and Trill-Squeaks:


Howling, Yowling, Moaning and Anger Wailing:

howl, yowl, moan or anger wail: long and often repeated vocalic warning signals. During a threatening situation, they are often merged or combined with by growls in long sequences with slowly varying tone (melody) and intensity.


Komis Yowls at an Intruder:


Red and Intruder Howl:


Two Cats Howl and Cry (Scream) in Haapsalu:


Donna Hisses and Howls, Visman Growls:


Kompis and Teddy are Howling and Moving in Slow Motion:


Phonetic Characteristics of a Howl-Growl (or a Howl-Growl-Howl):

mating call (mating cry): long sequences of meow-like sounds, sometimes similar to howling and/or the cries of human infants, usually in spring during the mating season. These sounds are often associated with either offensive or defensive aggression (agonistic vocalizations), but also with prey-directed vocalizations.


Mating Calls (and Other Sounds by Cats in the Mating Season):


Red Calls and Meows:


Kompis Calls for Female Cat:


Kompis Meows at Donna: 


Visman Coos and Trills Softly:


Visman Trills Quietly:


Visman is in Heat and Mews Softly:


Female Cat Mating Call #1:


Female Cat Mating Call #2:


Growling (Snarling):

growl: Used to signal danger or to warn or scare off an opponent, often intertwined with howls/moans/yowls and hisses.


Visman Growls in her Carrier:


Visman Growls Softly:


Hissing and Spitting:

hiss and spit: involuntary reactions to when a cat is surprised by an (apparent) enemy. Hissing and spitting are agonistic (aggressive and defensive) sounds.


Donna Hisses and Howls:


Hissing, Howling, and Growling:


Snarling, Screaming, Crying, (Pain) Shrieking:

snarl, cry or pain shriek: loud, harsh and high-pitched vocalisations produced during active fighting.


Visman Snarls, Hisses, Spits, and Growls:


Visman Growls, Snarls, and Spits:


Chirping and Chattering:

chirp and chatter (prey-directed sounds)a hunting instinct where cats copy the calls of their prey, for example, when a bird or insect catches their attention (by making a sound) and the cat becomes riveted by the prey and starts to chirp, tweet and chatter.


Rocky Chatters and Chirps:


Turbo Chirps by the Window:


Donna Chirps by the Window:


Rocky Tweets at Birds:


Rocky Tweedles:


Read Next: Cat Sounds Explained

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