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Understanding Cat Sounds (Includes Video Examples)

Updated on July 18, 2017
Learn to interpret your cat's meowing.
Learn to interpret your cat's meowing.

Cat's Meowing and Other Cat Sounds

Cat sounds are the way felines communicate with humans, with other cats, and with other animals. Although domesticated cats can make more than a dozen different sounds, adult cats in the wild are mostly limited to non-vowel sounds. Kittens in the wild use meows with vowel sounds, but adult felines don’t. Domesticated cats of all ages have a fairly large repertoire, however, as a form of learned behavior. These kitties have learned that insistent meowing can quickly get their human owner’s attention.

All cats make sounds, but some are more vocal than others. For example, kittens are usually more vocal than adult cats, and cats with close associations with humans are usually more communicative than feral cats. Some breeds are also more gifted with their cat sounds, including Siamese, Burmese, and Korat. These breeds generally vocalize and use cat meowing more often than other felines, but remember that each cat is a unique individual. You might have a Siamese that’s very quiet, or you might find a Maine Coon that’s loud and almost constantly meowing.

Below are the major cat sounds made by felines, with a short description of each. Use these as a general guideline, but learn to understand your own individual pet – unless you can get it to read and emulate the following sounds and situations!

Cat meowing

The most common cat sounds, especially with domesticated pets, is the cat meow. If you own a cat or two, you know that not all meows are equal. Different meows mean different things, and meowing is your feline’s most important way of communicating with you. By the way, have you ever noticed that cats don’t meow with each other? Nope – they reserve these cat sounds for their humans.

If you’ve had much experience at all with cats and cat sounds, you’re probably pretty good at figuring out if your cat is angry, happy, or demanding, just by paying attention to its meowing. You cat might have a chirp-like sound it uses as a greeting, a longer, whining “meow” when it wants something like food or water, and an exaggerated “yowl” when it’s seeking a mate.

Generally speaking, low-pitched, long cat sounds are used when a cat is unhappy, while shorter, high-pitched cat sounds mean that your furry friend is happy. Why is this so? In the wild, deep cat sounds might make the cat seem larger and more threatening to potential predators. High-pitched cat sounds make the cat seem more vulnerable and more endearing to us humans. For example, a short, high-pitched chirp is often how your cat says hello. If your cat wants something, the meows are usually louder in order to get your attention.

Murmuring

Murmuring is similar to a closed-mouth meow and is often heard in conjunction with purring. Murmuring is a sign that the cat is content and at ease.

Chattering

Among all cat sounds, chattering is perhaps the most unusual, but it’s somewhat difficult to describe. Think of it as a cross between a meow and the bleat of a sheep or goat. It’s kind of like a stuttering meow. Chattering is usually a sign of excitement, frustration, or a combination of the two. You might hear these cat sounds when your pet felines see something that they want but can’t get to it.

Growling

Growling cat sounds are deeper and more insistent that murmuring and are meant as a warning. Growling might be used as a response to humans, other cats, other animals, or to situations. If your cat growls at you, leave it alone. If your cat is growling at something else, discover the source of the cat’s displeasure. Cats growl because of fear, anger, and territoriality.

Squealing

These high-pitched cat sounds are unmistakable and are a cat’s version of screaming. Squealing or shrieking is usually a reaction to sudden pain, surprise, or aggression. Squealing is more of an unintentional reaction than it is a form of communication.

Hissing

Cats don’t use this sound much, but when they do, you need to pay attention. Hissing is most often a response used when the cat feels frightened or threatened. The sound is usually used with other felines and other animals, but it might also be used with humans. When a cat hisses at you, give it some space. Move away slowly. Once the cat feels that the threat or danger has been removed, it will calm down.

Purring

Animal experts are still a little perplexed by purring cat sounds. For long years, most people assumed that cats purred only when they were happy and content. While this is true in many cases, there are exceptions. Injured cats and very nervous or fearful cats have also been observed purring. Now animal behaviorists believe that cats might purr as a form of self-comforting when they’re in physical or emotional distress.

Interpreting cat sounds on your own

By paying close attention to your cat’s meowing and other vocalizations, you’ll soon learn to interpret the various sounds on your own. In addition to the specific sounds, use other physical clues to decipher your feline’s efforts at communicating, including a twitching tail, laid-back ears, and other body language that helps you tell whether or not your cat is happy, in pain, fearful, or angry. When you put these together with the various cat sounds, you’ll have “felinese” down in no time!

Cat chattering:

Whining, pleading cat meowing:

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    • profile image

      Laura Foster 3 years ago

      My Cat was in love with my male partner who died a week ago. He was sick a long time that got progressively worse and she laid on his legs while up in the chair he had and he would pet her and she purred. They were very close and she comforted him. He passed away last Monday. She looked for him and saw me mourning and crying. She curled up to me a few nights and others laid where he sat with her and some nights stayed under the bed. Sunday she started making sounds like vibrating in her gut. I was crying before this and then started listening to church through the speaker phone. Songs came on and she laid on the floor sitting up right. She was making whining and vibrating sounds. I have no clue what it was. I picked her up holding her comforting her and checking out her body and sides gut for pain. She showed no signs of distress when checking her. I held her rocked her and the sounds stopped and she purred. I put her down started listening to the sermon and she made the sound again. A body sound not voice. Tremble from her back and a grumbling type whine. I picked her up again and it subsided and she purred. After petting her for 20 minutes it stopped and hasn't occurred again. I'm worried of its a health condition but it seems like she was deeply crying. I googled for this and found nothing resembling it. I think she was crying deeply. But want to make sure it's not a serious health matter. I'm going through a lot right now and need reassurance.

    • macteacher profile image

      Wendy Golden 5 years ago from New York

      I love the explanation of the different sounds. I have three cats and they all vocalize differently. My large male is constantly demanding food at ungodly hours - and he makes sure to let out long meows in my ear. The two females chirp and purr a lot. I hear chattering from everyone when a pigeon is spotted on the windowsill. Thanks for a really informative hub. Voted up!

    • profile image

      Nicole 6 years ago

      If anyone is interested in helping our cause check join our team and help us raise money for our feline friends. All you have to do is register and play games online. The points/coins you earn is added to the teams coins and its free. At least check it out, thank you to anyone who at least gives it a try =)

      http://www.iwon.com/teamInfo.jhtml?teamId=830449

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      Helengi 6 years ago

      I have read every cat behaviour book I can lay my hands on as I have 4 kitties and wanted to understand them as best I can. I read that cats have a different purr/meow for food than for being cuddled and I've found that this is true with my cats. Again, I think that this is learned behaviour as a way of getting us to do something when they want it done. They have me so well trained now that I know what each noise means and it usually means food! But really, I am delighted to be owned by the 4 best bosses I've ever met! Thanks for the hub - I really enjoyed reading it.

    • B. A. Williams profile image

      B. A. Williams 6 years ago from USA

      Loved this article and you're so right my male cat wakes me every morning at 4am and nothing stops him. He has a special meow for this it is low and almost like a kitten, but not so loud to be commanding.

      Maybe its a sound that says, wake up but don't be mad at me. Love cats, always liked dogs best but I am hooked on cats now. They are such individuals, and have great personalities.

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      lol, Bill!

    • profile image

      Bill 7 years ago

      My 21-month old Maine Coon look-alike walks around the house growling like a grumbling old man; maybe he's making fun of me?

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Angela, beautiful cat! Thanks for reading about cat sounds.

    • AngelaKaelin profile image

      AngelaKaelin 7 years ago from New York

      I love this! My cat is really vocal. He meows and he "talks"... you'd have to hear it, but there is a difference! (That's him in my avatar pic!) Thanks for the smiles!

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      All the Siamese we've had were very vocal!

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      We had a Siamese in the family years ago. Jasmine was never quiet, not even while sleeping. I think "Crazy Talking Cat" above is her reincarnation. Nice work describing the different cat sounds and encouraging folks to observe. There's no doubt cats can make themselves understood to humans.

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Good for you, AR! That shows you're in tune with your cat.

    • A.R. Gonzales profile image

      A.R. Gonzales 7 years ago from Oregon

      Great explanations. My kitty is my best little buddie and loves to talk to me. I have always been able to tell what it is that she wants or needs. It's cool to see that I've actually been right about it.

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      You're welcome!

    • nikitha p profile image

      nikitha p 7 years ago from India

      Great hub very well presented, thanks for sharing this.

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Christy, don't you wish our pets could talk? lol

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Aw, shucks, HH! Thanks, pal!

    • profile image

      Christy Zutautas 7 years ago

      Very interesting hub! It's fun to actually figure out what my cats are trying to tell me!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      A great hub and brilliantly written as always. Thanks for the interesting read.

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, Pamela. We always need a vote-up! lol

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 7 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      I enjoyed your hub, Habee. Very informative and imaginative -- for you to ever have thought of this topic. Voting you up -- not that you need it.

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      A "cat house," drbj? Your sis must live in Nevada. lol!!

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Right, Rob - I mentioned that in the last paragraph!

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Lol, Dallas! I've known cats like that, too.

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Oh, Lucky, you're probably right! lol

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Gary, those are the best kind of cats!

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Too funny, Alicia! Your cat liked the youtube cat sounds!

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Hi, Pam! Sounds like you have a loveable cat.

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Charlie - shame on you! How can you hate sweet little kitties??

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Athlyn, your kitty was excited about eating!

    • habee profile image
      Author

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Ah, Katie, you always leave the nicest comments!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 7 years ago from south Florida

      Thanks for immensely enhancing my cat knowledge, habee, since I have always owned only dogs. But my sister used to raise cats - we used to tell people she ran a cat house.

      Enjoyed the videos, too.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      To understand cats, listening to their sounds is only half the story. 50% of their communication is through body language. Pairing up their movements with the sounds they make is the key to deciphering their moods.

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Not to be "catty," but some of the cats communicate by the-numbers. One meow means "move it." Two meows mean get out of my way and three meows with a slap of their paw means Now!

    • Lucky Cats profile image

      Kathy 7 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Interesting hub. I have several cats who make sounds similar to these. I am guessing the "angry cat" is at the Veterinarian's awaiting a neuter? No hating cats here, my friends!

    • garynew profile image

      garynew 7 years ago from Dallas, TX and Sampran, Thailand

      I'm one of those people who love both cats and dogs, but my last cat who acted like a dog (came when I called, etc.) was the best!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      As I was reading your hub I was recognizing the sounds that my cats make from your descriptions. One of my cats came up to my computer to see what was going on when I was watching the second video – he was very curious about the sounds! Thanks for an interesting hub.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 7 years ago from United States

      I love cats and mine makes various noises but mostly murmurs or purrs. He will let you know when he wants something and he is the most loving cat I have ever owned. Interesting hub.

    • profile image

      ralwus 7 years ago

      I don't like cats and my wife knows it. I hate her two the worst.

    • Athlyn Green profile image

      Athlyn Green 7 years ago from West Kootenays

      Our cat used to make that chattering sound whenever we opened a can of tuna.

    • katiem2 profile image

      katiem2 7 years ago from I'm outta here

      Oh how cool we have a cat that is always murmuring. She is no doubt talking, if you walk by her she murmurs and jestures as if to say how ya doing. She murmurs all the time. She's very vocal. I don't think she has ever meowed, she hisses at cats passing by outside. She's so cute. Cats are awesome. My daughters and I really enjoyed your understanding cat sounds,

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