What is My Cat Trying to Tell Me?

Cats don’t speak English but communicate with other cats and humans through a series of vocalizations. By understanding the common cat sounds and the meaning they often convey, you can better understand your cat’s emotional state and what he is telling you.
Because some cat sounds, such as the purr, can indicate both contentment and distress, pay attention to your cat’s posture and current situation. This can help you better understand what your cat is communicating to you.

Nine of the Most Common Cat Sounds

  1. Meow

    The most common sound adult cats make is meow, which can convey different meanings. A cat often meows when he wants something, such as food or to be let outside.  When your cat meows, listen to the sound’s intensity and length. A short meow or a “mew” often means “good to see you” or “hey, pay attention to me.” An intense, repetitive meow may say, “I want food right now.”

    Cats may also meow when they are unhappy. When a cat is riding in a car or being brushed, he may meow out of displeasure. If a cat is meowing incessantly, he may be sick or injured.

  1. Purring

    The soft, throaty purr is a favorite cat sound. Rhythmic and hypnotic purrs usually indicate contentment. Cats may purr while sitting on your lap, being petted, anticipating dinner, or when they rub against your leg. Kittens often purr when nursing—and adult cats may purr when kneading a blanket.

    But not all cat purrs are signs of contentment. Cats may also purr when nervous or in pain, during a vet visit, or when delivering kittens. Usually, the cat’s body posture indicates if he is purring out of contentment or distress. Relaxed body posture usually means contented purrs, while tense posture indicates distressed purrs.

  1. Chatter

    Cats often emit a chatter, or short, high-pitched notes accompanied by a trembling jaw, when their prey drive kicks in, and there is a barrier between them and the prey. It’s prevalent for cats looking out the window at a bird feeder to chatter. The cat is both excited about seeing the prey or birds and frustrated or stressed at being unable to get to them.

  2. Trill

    One of the happiest cat vocalizations, the trill is a short, ascending tone that combines the meow and purr. Usually, kittens and mothers exchange close-mouthed trills with each other. Adult cats, too, may happily trill when greeting humans or other cats.

  3. Hiss

    When threatened or trying to defend himself, a cat may open his mouth, expel air and emit a hiss. A spit may also follow this. Usually, a change in body posture accompanies the hiss. The cat may puff up his hair, arch his back, flatten his ears, and twitch his tail. Cats learn how to hiss at a young age. Often, 12-week-old kittens can be seen arching their backs and hissing.

    If a cat is hissing, be extremely careful about picking him up or touching him, as he could bite or strike at you.

  1. Yowl or howl

    These long, drawn-out, common cat sounds could be happier vocalizations. Often, a cat will yowl or howl to communicate with another cat. He may be saying, “stay out of my territory.” He may also be saying he wants to mate with another cat.

    A cat may also yowl to indicate he doesn’t feel well. If you have an older cat that starts yowling or howling, it may indicate he is in physical or cognitive decline. Yowling is also common when cats are moved to new territories or homes.

  1. Growl

    Deep-toned and threatening, the growl can be short or drawn out. Cats growl when they feel threatened, protect their territory, or are angry. Usually, a defensive posture, flattened ears, and puffed-up hair accompany the growl. Growling cats should be handled with care, as they could scratch or bite someone approaching them or trying to pick them up.

  2. Scream

    The cat scream is a distinctive, attention-getting, high-pitched vocalization that can wake you from a deep sleep. Cats scream when they are in intense pain or while in a fight with another cat. At the end of mating, a female cat may scream. Because intact or unsterilized cats are more prone to fighting than neutered or spayed cats, they are more likely to scream.

  3. Other mating calls

    In addition to the scream, intact cats have a series of mating calls. Standard mating calls are intense, prolonged moans and caterwauls that can go on throughout the day and night. Because these common cat sounds can be disruptive, cat owners often sterilize or neuter their cats.

By listening to your cat’s sounds and paying attention to his posture, you’ll be better able to tell what he is communicating with you. If you’re concerned that your cat is telling you he is anxious, doesn’t feel well, or is in pain, contact us to schedule an appointment today.