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Why Cats Meow

Cat Purrs, Growls, and Other Language

By Madeleine Burry. January 09, 2013 | See Comments

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Why Cats Meow

Cats make a whole bunch of strange noises. From purring to meowing, each sound each sound out of your cat's mouth is likely denoting a different emotion. Learn what your cat is saying to you.

What does that sound mean?

Your cat can’t talk, but they likely express themselves frequently, from meows to purrs and from hisses to yowls. Get a sense of how to interpret the noises that you’ll commonly hear coming from your cat.

Meowing:

Like human babies who cry, kittens meow to their moms to tell her about hunger, cold, or other newborn concerns. Meows are not used between grownup cats as a way of communication -- other noises are put to use when cats talk amongst themselves. However, cats do meow to their human owners; these meows to people have widely varying meanings. Some cats are more prone to meowing, while others are more reserved. Siamese cats in particular are known to be very vocal.

A cat may meow to indicate that they’re hungry, in pain, feeling lonely, or as a symptom of illness. There can be more positive reasons for meows, though, like wanting to play and socialize, or just greet you. Meowing in the middle of the night can be a sign of aging or stress, and if cats aren’t spayed or neutered, the meowing can indicate that they want to breed.

Purring:

When a cat is purring, it usually means they are happy, comfortable, and content. Unless of course, the purring indicates that your cat is upset, uncomfortable, and in some kind of distress.

Purring is a little mysterious in its nature, but in time, you can get used to when your pet is purring from happiness, and when they’re letting you know about an empty food bowl. If you’re puzzled by the meaning behind your cat’s purring, try taking it as only one piece of their communication method, and also observe your cat’s body language. Purrs that accompany arching into your hand while being petted probably indicate a deep contentment. But if their tail is flicking back and forth to the sound of purring, it’s a safe assumption that your cat is feeling a bit unhappy with their current situation.

Hissing, Growling, and Chittering:

These sounds indicate that your cat is feeling territorial, defensive, and angry. Chittering, a noise which sounds a lot like teeth chattering or gnashing together, is often made when prey is nearby. If you have an indoor cat, you may find them at the window, hissing and growling at the birds and other cats in the area. When your cat makes these noises, it’s a way to warn off other animals.

Chirp:

Not all cats chirp, but the ones that do generally are saying hello. You may find that your cat chirps when you arrive at home, or, if you enter the kitchen, your cat may find it a friendly way to let you know that their food bowl is empty.

There is a certain amount of variety in how every cat will communicate. Some cats will consistently purr to inform you of their wants, while others prefer to meow for attention. As your familiarity with your cat’s personality grows, learning all the meanings behind their communications will become easier.

More on Caring for Your Cat

Diets to Treat Cat and Dog Stress
Treat Your Cat to a Catnip Surprise
The Benefits of a Playful Cat

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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