Have you ever wondered what your cat was thinking? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could understand what those meows meant? Does he need food, water, a clean litter box, attention, playtime? Learn cat language to decipher what those meows mean. Kristen Hammett, D.V.M., is President-Elect, North Carolina Veterinary Medical Association (NCVMA), and she says, “Pay close attention to your cat, and over time you will learn more than you ever thought possible! Soon, you’ll be able to figure out if your cat is hungry, content or just wants to play.”
Why Are You Meowing?
What is most interesting for humans about the way that cats communicate is that they reserve their meows only for us. Cats only communicate with humans with meows. Your cat’s vocabulary with the use of that one word is extensive.
Types of Cat Vocalization
In addition to meows, cats use these vocalizations as well:
Chirps and Trills: If you have a multiple cat household, you have probably overheard your cats conversing with each other in series of chirps and trills. If however, your cat is chirping and trilling AT YOU, it is likely they want you to follow them – perhaps to their empty food bowl? The story behind this is that the mother cat uses chirps and trills to tell her children to follow her. So, when spoken to you the message is the same – follow me.
Purrs: Mostly, cats are happy or content when they are purring. Cats tend to purr when petted while lying on your lap, and even when eating.
Yowling and Howling: If your cat is in distress, they will howl. It sounds like a drawn out, long meow. If you hear your cat making this noise, seek her out and if you cannot discover the cause take her to the vet. Female cats howl when not spayed. Older, disoriented cats might also howl.
Example: I recently started taking my indoor-only cats outside on a harness and leash. My older one, Buddy (11-years-old) was hesitant at first. My younger one, Cicero (2-years-old) LOVES his outdoor time. He’s beginning to learn the routine of going out at the same time every day, but he tends to howl for hours afterward. He’s telling me to bring him back out.
Growling and Hissing: When your cat is angry, annoyed or upset, they will growl and hiss. It is best not to upset them more at this time.
Example: Cicero will growl and hiss while at the veterinarian’s office. He growls at other pets in the waiting room and hisses at the veterinarian and her assistants. Treats help. Buddy hisses at Cicero when Cicero tries to play with him. Buddy, being an older cat, prefers to nap instead.
Twitters and Chatters: This is a predator noise your cat might make when observing birds or rodents.
Example: My Cicero loves to make this noise while watching birds through the window.
The meow is the form of communication between the mother cat and her kittens. Once the kittens grow the communication with mews and meows ends, and new vocalizations are the feline methods of communication. Cat reserve meows for humans.
Cats seem to use the meow with humans because we respond to it much the same way that the mother cat does. Your adult cat uses meows to mean just about anything – “hello”, “I’m hungry”, “I want up”, “Look at the mouse I caught”. Since your cat is dependent on you as he was with his mother, he learns that meowing will get them the same result from his human as it did from his feline mother. Cats have trained us to respond to their meow. Some scientists even believe that cats have evolved their meows to manipulate humans. They are good at that!
The Different Meows
Cats have a wide variety of meow sounds they use for various needs or statements. They will even make a sentence out of a string of meows.
Pleasant Meows: Cats use gentle and friendly meows for getting attention or asking nicely for something. They might be asking for anything from petting to food to being let outside. These meows are high pitched, and we tend to find these sounds cute.
Loud, Harsh Meows: Cats use unpleasant meows for telling us they are angry with us or scolding us for something, or for demanding something. These meows are low pitches, and we do not find them cute at all. Some sound quick and mean. If your cat wants you to do something for them, they are not likely to ask in this tone of meow because you are not likely to answer them.
Listen to your cat’s meows carefully. Learn his language by taking notes. My cat Buddy lets me know when he is hungry by walking up to me and meowing softly. If I follow, he leads me to hid food dish. I’ve learned my cats different languages by listening to their meows and responding. The meowing stops when I respond appropriately. If I don’t, the meowing continues. You can learn your cat’s language this way too!
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