Understanding Cat Sounds (Includes Video Examples)
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!
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!