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Translating Your Cat's Meow

Updated on June 15, 2020
Shewster profile image

Shelley is a vegan who has worked professionally and as a volunteer in animal welfare organizations for the past 30 years.

A talkative cat means it's time to learn what he's saying

Stevie is sitting in the middle of the kitchen, his stare steady, paws planted beneath his chest. Without blinking, he emits a one-syllable, “Meow.” It rolls from his opened mouth where his prickly tongue keeps clear of pointed teeth. Although the “meow” is long and drawn out, its volume unnecessarily loud, it is Stevie’s eyes that are most disturbing. The yellow irises surrounding the fully developed black pupils are boring into my own eyeballs. The “meow” sound is let loose again, and again, and again. Since he was a kitten, Stevie was always a talkative cat. My motto regarding all the meowing he directed towards us is, “Poor Stevie. He has so much to say but he only knows one word.”

Dr. Dolittle is a hero of mine. Because he was able to communicate with animals and because he was a veterinarian, his ability to stop animal suffering knew no bounds! Our animals try so hard to make us understand their thoughts and feelings. Whether through their actions (skipping the litterbox means I don't like that new kitten you brought into our house) or a simple swish of the tail that means, "Stay back, I'm getting annoyed."

Cats rarely meow for each other. These sounds are reserved for people, so be sure to pay attention. Here are some interpretations of common cat words and sounds:

Types of Meows

A SINGLE MEOW could mean the following:

“I know you are here, and so am I.”

“Hello, what’s up?”

“Oops, didn’t see you there.”

SEVERAL POINTED MEOW’S strung together as Stevie has demonstrated could mean:

“I am starving, and you are taking too long to open that can!”

“I am exhausted, and I am imploring you to lay down this instant so I can have your body as my mattress.”

A cat who emits a YOWL that sounds similar to “WOW, WOW, WOW” otherwise known as caterwauling is saying this:

“This is a warning! I am about to attack! This is your final warning! Attack!”

“This is my 'hood. I am the king, so you had better retreat.”

“Let’s make kittens!” (said by cats ready to mate)

Senior citizen cats, those over the age of 15, can sometimes suffer from hearing loss. That ear-splitting caterwauling could be their way of making their voice heard, even to themselves. It could also mean that they are disoriented and may have some cognitive dysfunction (dementia). Making an appointment with your cat’s veterinarian is a good start towards understanding an older cat’s yowls.

The CHATTERING SOUND you sometimes hear coming from a cat may mean:

“There is a bird outside, and I would catch it if I were not stuck inside these four walls.”

A cat who TRILLS – mouth closed, the sound coming from his or her throat, is saying:

“Oooh, I like you. Please come closer and we can get to know each other.”

Communication leads to happiness

Interpreting your cat’s language correctly will help the two of you develop a deeper more meaningful relationship. Just like people, when an animal feels understood, their stress is reduced and their behavior improved. Bringing in a scratching post, adding to the toy collection, or just making sure to scoop the litterbox, will keep the meowing at bay resulting in a more contented cat.

Listening to your cat’s verbalizations could also hint towards a health issue, so a visit to the vet could bring answers too. If your cat is elderly, then a senior blood panel could explain why he or she is vocalizing more than usual.

Experienced cat guardians know, our cats are generally the ones making the rules so they don’t need to learn our language. Practice listening and interpreting your cat’s meows every day and soon you too will be fluent in Meow and your home will be a happier place.


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