Cat Sounds: What Do They Mean? June 10 2017
Cats make many sounds - chirps, purrs, meows, hisses. We often think they are just sounds or that we know what our cat wants, but do we?
The different sounds a cat makes is their way of communicating with you and the world around them. It's important to try to understand these vocal sounds so you know what your cat is asking, but with so many it can be tricky! Next to birds, cats have the widest range of vocalizations of any other domestic pet.
It's not just the meows, purrs and hisses, the list of sounds they actually make is much larger and more comprehensive than that. There are around 100 different cat sounds/utterances with multiple nuanced variations. Some reflect happiness and contentment, while others reflect worry, fear and anger. Did you know that even cats experience jealousy like humans and could be trying to communicate this to you?
Kittens tend to be more vocal than adult cats, and domestic cats more so than feral. Evidence has even shown that certain breeds such as Siamese and Burmese, tend to be far more vocal than other breeds. With that being said, every cat is unique in the way they choose to communicate with you.
Lets look at the most common sounds cats make:
Kittens will meow to their mothers but generally stop doing this after they grow older. In adult cats, meowing is specifically used to communicate with humans. Not all meows are alike though. Your cat could be telling you he or she is happy, angry, hungry and demanding food, or they just want your attention. Some owners can definitely tell the difference between their cat meows and what they want.
Meowing can also just be a "hello, welcome home" when you walk in the door, but generally if your cat is meowing it wants something. They could be telling you they're lonely, or even sick. Older cats tend to meow more often due to deteriorating senses and not being as nimble. Just like humans, older cats do feel aches and pains and a meow could signify some discomfort. With younger cats, the meow often gets shortened to a specific “mew?” when lonely or hungry. The frequency of meowing is a good indicator of a cat’s mind frame; rapid-fire meows mean "hey, I'm here so pay attention!".
Purring is perhaps one of the more soothing and enjoyable feline sounds. Most of the time it's signalling that a cat is happy and relaxed, but on rare occasions it can be a sign that they are frightened or feel threatened. Research has shown that purring is also a cat's way of self-healing. The key to noticing the difference, is a cat's body posture. If they are laying around belly-up, you can be sure they're displaying utter contentment. If their ears are back and their body looks tense, the purr is telling you they're concerned about something.
Chirps, Trills, and Chirrups
Starting from kittenhood, these birdlike sounds are a more declarative statement. Mother cats would make these sounds in order to get the attention of her kittens, asking them to follow her. As adults, cats will chirp to humans for the same reason. It's basically a cats way of saying "hey, I'm here!". Chirrups and loud trills generally mean a cat is excited and happy. Those weird little noises you hear just before feeding your cat...yup, that's an excited chirrup or trill!
You might have heard your cat chatter their teeth while obsessively staring out the window at a bird or squirrel climbing around in a tree. Often accompanied by a chirp, squeak or faint cry, the chatter is thought to be an indicator of a cat’s predatory excitement or the frustration of not being able to reach their prey.
There is no missing the sound of a cat's hiss! It can either be a slow, soft warning hiss, or a full on loud spitting sound that would scare off even the bravest of animals. Along with the hiss comes an arched back, standing hair, twitchy tail, flattened ears, and an open mouth with teeth ready to strike. It tends to be a cat's response to fear. When a cat is hissing, it’s best to give them their space.
Snarls and Growls
If you've ever heard a cat snarl or growl at you - you know they mean business! Cats will often start with a hiss, but if a growl follows it's best to leave them alone. Like hissing, it's a cats way of protecting themselves when they feel threatened and challenged. It's a clear indication they are not happy, and they want you to back off!
Different from a softer, shorter meow, a yowl is a longer, more drawn-out moan that indicates worry and discomfort. It could also mean they are feeling territorial or having mating issues. This sound is often a cat-to-cat communication tool rather than to humans. A yowl sound made to another cat can mean "get the hell out of my space!" or "I'm ready to mate". Be careful when you hear these sounds, as it could be a warning sign that a fight is about to kick off or some unwanted mating is about to occur.
Cats can also yowl when they've been re-homed. It's their way of communicating that they're uncertain with the new surroundings and smells. There could even be a neighbouring feline which has put your cat on guard. Incessant yowling can be a sign of illness, so be sure to take your cat to the vet if this continues.
A caterwaul is a shrill, wailing noise that is the cry of a female cat in heat. During the caterwaul, an un-spayed female will do her best to get outside and find males cats. An un-spayed female will stay in heat for 4 to 10 days, and the cycle can repeat itself every few weeks. Spaying or neutering your cat, is often the best course of action for the sanity of both yourself and your cat. Research has also shown that it can extend your pet's lifespan.