Why Do Cats Meow and What Do Different Cat Sounds Really Mean?

Learn to decode all your cat sounds and the meaning behind them

why do cat meow

Cats are the second most popular pet in the world after dogs. According to a recent poll, nearly all of New York State pet owners talk to their pets.[1]

Many pet owners believe that their cats and dogs can respond with meows or barks to show hunger, fear, or the need to pee. Cat’s meow is her way of communicating with people.

Why do cats meow?

Cats use “meows” primarily for talking to humans and getting their attention. Different Cat meows can mean anything. Most pet cats meow to ask for food or petting. Sometimes they meow when they are fearful or want you to open a door. Feral kittens meow to get the attention of their mother when they need food.

At what age does a kitten start meowing?

Kittens can start meowing almost immediately after birth, while they are still blind. Kittens use meowing to get the attention of their mother when they are hungry or lost. However, it’s not a full-blown ‘meowing’ sound like older cats make, but a high-pitched plaintive crying sound called ‘mewing’.

Meaning behind different cat sounds

If you want a healthy relationship with your pet cat, you need to be able to communicate. For that, it is important that you learn to interpret catspeak. Your cat’s vocabulary is limited but you can learn to associate different moods or desires with her sound.

  • Simple meowing can mean a greeting, an announcement, affection, a command or an objection. Usually, the cat meows when it wants something.
  • Chirps, Trills, and Chirrups are used by mothers to tell kittens to follow her and pay attention. Chirrups and little trills can also suggest that your cat is happy or excited.
  • Purring is the most common and perhaps the most relaxing of cat sounds. Cats purr when they are in a good and positive mood but on rare occasions, it can also mean that your cat is agitated over something or is ill.[2]
  • Chatter shows cat’s predatory excitement. Cats make ‘chattering’ noises while observing or stalking prey.[3] It is not unusual to see domestic cats making these sounds while stalking a bird or squirrel.
  • Growl, snarl, hiss, and spit vocalizations are all used by a cat to show either offensive or defensive aggression. It is also followed by a postural display. It shows that your cat is frightened, annoyed, or angry.
  • Yowl or howl is a longer, sad sounding “meow” which shows annoyance, fear, worry or pain.

Why do cats only meow at humans and not at other cats?

Cats use different vocalizations and signals to communicate with other cats but reserve ‘meow’ only for human communication in general. Except in specific circumstances, they do “meow” in the wild like for mating calls and as a last ditch attempt to communicate with the lost one. Feral kittens “mew” to let their mother know they’re cold or hungry, but once they get older, they no longer meow to other cats.

So meowing is not actually a natural behavior in many cats after their infancy. It is the cat equivalent of a baby crying. Humans are biologically wired to react to infant crying. It is also somewhat similar sounding to the sound of baby crying. Domestic cats quickly learn that meowing will get them attention and food, so they continue this habit in order to manipulate their owners past the normal age of meowing.

References   [ + ]

1.Siena Research Institute, Siena College Poll: Special Pet Survey 2015
2.Dennis C. Turner, Patrick BatesonThe Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behaviour, pp. 71, 72, 86 and 88.
3.Susanne Schötz, A phonetic pilot study of chirp, chatter, tweet and tweedle in three domestic cats. Fonetik. Linköping University.


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