My cat makes different sounds depending on what is going on. What are the most common things this could mean?
The most common meows my cats make are loud, insistent meows, clicking or chirping meows, a “normal” meow, or a kind of “trill”. Occasionally, they will also have a weird kind of in-between meow, and a meow I can only describe as “cut it out”!
A loud, insistent meow is clearly designed to get us to pay attention. These are clear cat sounds meaning either “feed me meow” or “get me out of here!” The “get me out of here” meow is the one you will hear when a cat is put in a carrier. I also heard this meow from my cat when we first got her and when we moved. It was clearly a meow to tell us her displeasure and that she wanted us to do something about it.
When we first adopted her, we thought that was her normal meow. At the time, we only had one cat, so the meow didn’t change in response to another cat in the house. And, since this cat is a talker – she meows all the time – the meow was quite annoying at first. As it turns out, it wasn’t actually until after a couple of weeks went by, and she settled in, that we realized she actually quite a few different meows.
Generally, a “feed me” meow isn’t as harsh and insistent as a “get me out of here” meow. However, it will be accompanied by a lot of contact – my cats will come up and act like they want to be petted, but then not sit still. They will come back if I put them down on the floor and generally be really annoying. Sometimes my cats will then walk to the food bowl to help me get the idea.
There is the clicking or chirping meow. This one is for watching prey and is only heard when they are watching birds they can see outside the window. This is an excited sound and a desire to be let loose to “have at” the birds.
Then there is what I call the “normal meow”. Of my three cats, two are talkers and the third is not. I rarely hear the third meow unless she wants me to know something. However, the other two have a kind of “greeting” or “hey there!” meow. My most expressive cat has a few talking meows that I swear sound just like English, and even match up appropriately with the situation.
There is one meow that sounds like “no” as in “no, I didn’t do that” or “no, Mom, that’s not right.” Then there is a two part meow with a lift at the end, that seems to say “want me?” The third meow she uses frequently seems to say “Hey, Mom! You free?”
My newest cat, who is a stray rescue, is still getting the lay of the land, so’s to speak. He will make a trilling noise, not quite a meow, when he seems to be trying to talk to the other two cats. It’s like a “Hey, guys, what’s going on? Can I talk to you?” or like the new guy at school: “Cat I sit with you guys at your lunch table?”
Sometimes I will a weird kind of “inbetween” meow. This has meant that something is wrong. Sometimes it’s a meow that starts within a few seconds of them throwing up. This is clearly a “I don’t feel good!” meow. Just this morning, I heard one of my other cats use this meow because the mouse she had wasn’t moving any more. Putting aside our ongoing (that we thought we had won) struggle with mice, she seemed to be saying “Hey, get up and play! Why won’t you move anymore?”
If you’ve ever seen a cat play with live prey, you can see that is what this meow meant. They like to chase it, pounce on it, then throw it up in the air. When it lands and tries to run away, the game continues. As a human, my thought is “yuck!” But, my cats think it’s great. Even better than a cat toy. Except when they stop moving that is!
The last meow that I hear most often is a “leave me alone” meow. My one cat has moods where she wants petting and picking up and general loving. But, then she gets into a mood where she wants us to just leave her alone. Then the meow is harsh, high pitched, and uses her whole mouth. The pitch, harshness, and showing of her teeth is her way of sending a clear message to back off.
Because she knows we won’t hurt her she doesn’t immediately turn and scratch or bite us. However, if you don’t leave her alone, she will escalate her message. First she will swat you with claws sheathed. Then the swat will have claws out, and if she is really mad, the teeth will get involved too.
I know about this progression not because I deliberately bug her, but because this is the same progression she follows when you need to make her move for some reason, like getting her off the chair, or even worse, getting her into a carrier.
Another common sound a cat makes is a purr. A purr is created in the larynx, or voice box. The muscles vibrate, therefore creating this sound. While this works on both the inhale and the exhale, not all cats have a continuous sounding purr. With one of my cats, you can hear the purr change slightly as she breaths, although the sound itself doesn’t stop.
Also, the volume of a cat’s purr varies from cat to cat and sometimes from day to day. Usually, a cat’s purr will consistently be the same volume. Some cats, including one of my current cats, has a purr so quiet you can’t hear it. They only way you know he is purring is if his throat is vibrating. With my other cats, if they are really happy, their purr can get quite loud.
I know they are happy because they extend their neck, encouraging scratching under their chin. They also lean into my fingers, reaching for more petting and scratching.
Finally, a common sound you hear a cat make is a hiss and/or a growl. These are clear “watch out!” signs and should be heeded. They can be directed at other cats, or at you. Cats can also tranfer aggression, so if you startle a cat who is growling at another cat, or try to break up the impending fight, they may turn on you. If you are lucky, you will only get hissed at. If you are unlucky, you will be attacked.
Cats will also hiss, growl, and lash out if they are cornered. Or, possibly if they are trying to defend another cat. Case in point – the other day, I had to pin down one of my cats for an emergency paw washing. She had no wish to be restrained and was telling me with hisses and attempts to scratch me. I finally pinned her down and was wiping her paw, when seemingly out of nowhere, my other cat attacked me! When I looked over at her, her fur was standing on end, and all the hair on her tail was puffed up. She hissed at me and scurried away.
I don’t know if she did this because she felt cornered between the wall and me with the hissing cat, or because she was defending the cat whose paw I was cleaning. She has been known to run into the room when we are causing the other cat to protest loudly (cat’s don’t like to be held down for important things like getting medicine or emergency paw washing) and meow at us. While this is the first time she’s attacked me, it’s quite possible that she was instinctively reacting to the other cat under duress.
Cats are very unique creatures and they can make so many sounds. While certain sounds are clear – such as hissing and growling – other sounds can mean different things depending on the context. As you learn to know your cat, you will be able to figure out what many of their cat noises and what they mean and come to know how they like to communicate with you. At other times, we have to use our best guess.