A cat sound is not quite the same as a human word but can be no less informative. Animal scientists are finding more and more evidence backing up felines' advanced communication skills. Cats use body language and vocalizations to inform humans and other animals about their feelings and intentions but it’s often hard to decode them if you are moving on two feet.
What does it mean when a cat purrs or trills? Understanding your pet is important when you are willing to become the best friend of your fluffy kid. You don’t want to get scratched when trying to pet a hissing or growling cat as much as you don’t want to scare away a cat who tries to joyfully greet you with purring and kneading.
Below you can find information about eight common sounds cats make when they want to speak with us or each other.
The word ‘meow’ was apparently given its name as the closest set of sounds a human ear could distinguish from a cat’s speech. Cat meowing, almost like a human voice, can have various intonations, each one meaning something different.
Have you ever noticed that adult cats only meow to humans and don’t meow to each other? In contrast, meowing is one of the most common kitten sounds when they talk to their moms.
A video for those interested to hear a kitten meowing:
Why do cats meow?
- Asking for something. Kittens produce a long, thin, high-pitched sound to let their moms know they need their attention. Adult cats often treat humans the same way kittens treat their mothers: as a source of food, comfort, and protection. That’s why they maintain their kitten communication habits with us, and almost never meow to other felines.
- Greeting. A short, high-pitched meow can mean a hello. The more meows in a ‘sentence’, the more excited to see you is your cat. Your cat won’t stop meowing? Someone has really missed you! Once in a while, you would encounter a naturally chatty cat who keeps meowing all day long.
- Dissatisfaction. Cats can use a longer, low-pitched meow to show their unhappiness about what we did (shooed them from their favorite chair) or didn’t do (forgot to play with a feather too busy working from home. Sometimes cats are meowing loudly to scold us!
Yowling or Howling
Cat yowling sounds like a long low-pitched moan that comes from a cat’s throat, often drawn-out and quite loud. Unlike meowing, yowling is not only a feline-to-human communication but can be used to speak with other cats.
Once you’ve heard your cat yowling at night, you will never forget the sound.
Why do cats howl?
- Worry or discomfort. Cats might yowl when they are worried about something, not feeling well, or want to complain. Some cats howl more than others, and if yours doesn’t usually make this sound, it might be a sign that your fluffy kid needs to visit a veterinarian.
- Territory issues. Yowling can be a sign that your cat is not pleased with someone invading her territory, which sometimes occurs in multi-pet families. Newly adopted or relocated cats might also howl before they get used to a new territory.
- Mating behavior. If your cat is not spayed or neutered, long and loud yowling can be related to mating issues, as yowling is also meant to attract potential mates.
- Boredom. Sometimes your cat can howl at night out of sheer boredom. Make sure this furry creature gets enough attention and is well entertained during the day.
- Cognitive dysfunction. If a senior cat starts yowling and this behavior persists for a while, it can be a sign of dementia or another cognitive dysfunction.
Hissing is one of the angry cat noises, which sounds like a piece of butter thrown on a hot pan. Cat hissing is often combined with a defensive body language: an arched back, puffed up hair and tail, pinned back ears, an open mouth baring teeth. Friendly and well-socialized cats rarely hiss and growl – unless you really challenge them.
A cat hissing sound clearly saying “Back off!”:
Why do cats hiss?
- Fear. A cat would hiss in the face of a real or perceived threat to them or their little kittens. It can also come as a reaction to pain caused by another animal or human. A cat hiss is a warning to scare away the enemy. If the threat is not removed, a cat will attack or flee.
- Anger. If someone aggressively invades their territory or claims their property, they should be ready for a disapproving hiss. A cat hissing at a new cat is a common issue when your pride expands.
Growling or Snarling
Cat growling or snarling is another aggressive sound, which often comes together with hissing and a change in body language similar to the one described above. A cat’s snarling is usually low-pitched and can start or end with a yowl.
This cat growls to warn you that this meal is not for sharing:
Why do cats snarl?
- Fear or pain. Cats growl for the same reasons they hiss – it is just the next step if hissing wasn’t enough. If your cat is in pain or feels threatened, you will likely hear this sound. If snarling continues for too long, you should take your cat to the vet in case she’s in pain.
- Anger. Territory and property issues can be another reason for growling. Don’t try to steal your cat’s food or toy - cats are very possessive creatures.
Cat purring is a soft, deep, buzzing sound created by contractions of a cat’s laryngeal muscles, accompanied by a mild vibration (although there are other theories explaining how cats purr), generally perceived as one of the happy cat sounds.
Depending on a cat, it can significantly vary in loudness and intensity. Check the video to hear how cats' purring sounds:
Why do cats purr?
- Bonding. Kittens learn to purr a few days after they are born. They often use this sound to form a bond with a cat mom and tell her they feel fine. You can often hear kittens purring when they drink their mother’s milk – and the mom will usually purr back.
- Happiness and satisfaction. Cats purr when they purely enjoy something, either being pet, or watching you taking out their favorite treats, or falling asleep on the lap of their beloved human. If you’ve ever been interested why do cats purr and knead – this is a sign of an absolute affection.
- Healing or comforting. Sometimes cats would purr to comfort themselves if they are worried. Purring is believed to speed up healing after an injury or trauma.
- Feeling tired or overwhelmed. A purring cat is adorable but this sound can indicate that your furry friend is sleepy, tired or overwhelmed with your attention. Playing with cats is great, but they also need some rest.
Cat trilling is a sound in between a meow and a purr, usually quite long and high-pitched. Most often, a cat would trill and look at you (or a kitten) inviting you to follow her.
An adorable cat trills:
Why do cats trill?
- Attention. Trilling is originally used by cat moms to attract kittens’ attention and ask them to follow her. Your cat may produce the same sound to make you notice her, and after she has grabbed your attention, she will lead you – just follow and see what’s so important.
- Greeting and excitement. Sometimes a cat just can’t hide her excitement, so she will produce a short little trill. It often happens when your cat comes to greet you and wants to show a sheer joy of seeing you’re back.
Chirping or Chattering
Cat chirping is a gentle fast-paced clicking sound produced by a cat chattering her teeth, often combined with a faint squeak or meow.
A cat chatter sounds like this:
Why do cats chatter?
- Predatory behavior. The most common place where you can hear cat chirping would be a window sill with your cat chattering teeth while staring at a bird behind the glass. The chatter is caused by a combination of hunting instincts and frustration over not being able to catch the prey.
- Excitement. Cats can sometimes chirp out of excitement, mostly when you play with them, provoking their hunting behavior, for example, during games with a feather.
Caterwauling is a special long hollow kind of yowl produced by an unspayed female cat in heat.
It is a bone-chilling sound:
Why do cats caterwaul?
- Mating issues. An unspayed female cat in heat would produce this sound to attract male cats. Caterwauling can be combined with an anxious behavior with your cat trying to escape the house to meet her mates, who would usually gather in response to the sound.
Believe it or not, experienced cat parents will tell you that their four-legged friends communicate effortlessly with them. The more you observe your cats, the better you understand their mood and feelings, which is key to a strong bond.
If you wonder how much your cat loves you, take this quiz and know where you stand.