Apr 142012
 

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.

Think Like a Cat: How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat--Not a Sour Puss

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.

Understanding Cat Behavior

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.

  13 Responses to “Cat Noises And What They Mean – Purrs, Growls, And Meows”

Comments (13)
  1. Thats a lovely post:)
    helps a lot!!

  2. There is concern here because some of the behaviour you describe as common, like growling, is extraordinarily rare. Most people would never have hear a growl. I wonder if what you describe as a growl is actually a growl. A growl from a female cat is as loud and as deep as that from a large male dog. To hear it and experience it is utterly shocking. I think you mean a common noise they make to show discontent or impatience, but a growl, no way.

    I only found out about this by chance when in an emergency I had to put our 5mth old kitten in the same carrier as our softest nature natured female cat. She was already stressed because all these strangers were running around the house, rolling up the carpet and grabbing other familiar things for removal to our new house. The older girl did this almighty growl like a lion and my jaw dropped. I have no doubt the kitten got the message. It is the only time I have heard such a growl and it conveys immense anguish. Cat’s don’t even do this growl when fighting, it is extremely rare.

    When I have seen a cat of mine putting mice in their mouth and running around, letting them go, pouncing on them again, tossing them about, running around some more with the mouse in their mouth, I rescue the mouse from the torment. It must be tremendous stress for the mouse to be transported around in a closed, dark mouth, then thrown around, put in the mouth again, and so on. I personally cannot witness this cruelty without helping. You say your cat attacked you. They attack if they think you are a danger to the other cat. Why would your cat think you are a danger to the other cat? I can rant, shout and charge at my cats with a baseball bat and the don’t flinch. They just look at me like I’m nuts and like they are bored.

    You say about these different sounds, but any cat lover will tell you that the a cat communicates with its tail. It conveys anger with the tail, it herds you with the tail, it shows ecstasy with the tail, it shows with its tail when you are aggravating it, with sweeping swishes of the tail he can show the magnitude of the annoyance, it shows when it is content, when it is suspicious and when it is very undr the weather by the tail. The sounds you describe all mean different things when heard in context with the tail communication.

    There is also physical communication like the touching of their nose on your nose, the gentle nipping of your skin somewhere all means something, as does any licking, the speed of these things, the persistence of these things and the context of all of them with the sounds they make at the same time, if any.

    After observing and understanding these forms of communication and importantly, reacting to them correctly, the cat learns that you can both communicate and this makes you bond. It’s the same with any pet. They all bond with the human who they can communicate with. In time, your cat and yourself will know the routine of the other and predict in advance the needs of each other. I can communicate with my cats by clicking my fingers, by using different laughs. They particurly love it if you mimic their sounds. My favourite sound is when they chirrup while their tail is upright and quivering while the back is arched. It tells me this cat is totally chilled, content and happy to see me.

    I love my cats, I love all cats and they all know it. Even cats I have never met before know I am a total cat person and come to me. I’m 6’4″ and loud, but they judge people by their sixth sense, not their stature. They also tell you about other people by the way they react to them.

    • There is concern here because some of the behaviour you describe as common, like growling, is extraordinarily rare. Most people would never have hear a growl. I wonder if what you describe as a growl is actually a growl. A growl from a female cat is as loud and as deep as that from a large male dog. To hear it and experience it is utterly shocking. I think you mean a common noise they make to show discontent or impatience, but a growl, no way.

      While I respect your point of view, I have to disagree with you. I’m a cat lover as well and have had cats all my life. And they do growl – it’s not rare. Cats growl at other cats when they want them to go away; my two female cats have standoffs just about every day and the noise that comes out of Licorice’s mouth/throat is most definitely a growl. Cats growl at humans when they don’t want to be approached. This can be accompanied by hissing if you push too far. I’ve been growled at this week when I’ve been having to pin one of my cats down for a few moments to give her a pill.

      As for a “growl from a female cat is as loud and as deep as that from a large male dog,” they range in volume. A warning growl can be quiet, while a full on “get the f* off of me” growl is loud. In addition to cats, I’ve also had dogs for most of my life, and I can tell you that the sound a dog makes that you would describe as a “growl” is exactly the same as the sound my cats make.

      The older girl did this almighty growl like a lion and my jaw dropped. I have no doubt the kitten got the message. It is the only time I have heard such a growl and it conveys immense anguish. Cat’s don’t even do this growl when fighting, it is extremely rare.

      That sounds like it was one pissed off cat – understandably, don’t get me wrong. So, yes, I can see that the growl you heard that day was remarkable. Again, however, that doesn’t mean the reaction/noise you heard is the only noise that can be defined as a “growl.” As for cats fighting, they growl, hiss, and yowl, usually fairly loudly.

      When I have seen a cat of mine putting mice in their mouth and running around, letting them go, pouncing on them again, tossing them about, running around some more with the mouse in their mouth, I rescue the mouse from the torment. It must be tremendous stress for the mouse to be transported around in a closed, dark mouth, then thrown around, put in the mouth again, and so on. I personally cannot witness this cruelty without helping.

      Nowhere in my post did I say I stood by and watched my cats be cruel. I saw them playing with the mouse once, which is how I know what it looks like. At that time, I was able to get the mouse away from the cat, although it wasn’t easy and by then the mouse was pretty much dead anyway. When I went to get the mouse away from my cat, she held on and didn’t want to let go. She wanted to get away from me, but I had to hold her from running out of the room. And guess what? She growled. And, yes, it was a growl, not some other noise that needs some other name because you think I don’t know what a growl is.

      The time I was referring to when my cat meowed that she seemed to be upset that the mouse wasn’t moving anymore was when the mouse was already dead. I was in another part of the apartment and went to find out what was wrong when she meowed, since she doesn’t do it that often and it was an unusual meow. That’s when I found her standing over the dead mouse.

      Years ago, I pet-sat a snake. I got to the point where I couldn’t feed it live food anymore because it upset me too much; I’ve also had pet mice and pet gerbils.

      So, I didn’t stand by and “witness such cruelty.” Or hand out popcorn or something, either.

      You say your cat attacked you. They attack if they think you are a danger to the other cat. Why would your cat think you are a danger to the other cat? I can rant, shout and charge at my cats with a baseball bat and the don’t flinch. They just look at me like I’m nuts and like they are bored.

      I’m really getting the impression that you didn’t read my post very closely. I clearly said why my cat would “think I’m a danger to the other cat.”

      As for ranting, shouting, and charging at your cats and they don’t flinch – you should take them to the vet’s ASAP. Sounds like they have hearing and/or vision problems. When I “rant” at my cats, they scurry. When I throw things (pillows, balled up paper, other stuff that won’t hurt them) in their direction, they scurry. In fact, I’ve seen my cats avoid people because of previous experiences where that person yelled or make other threatening gestures towards them.

      You say about these different sounds, but any cat lover will tell you that the a cat communicates with its tail. It conveys anger with the tail, it herds you with the tail, it shows ecstasy with the tail, it shows with its tail when you are aggravating it, with sweeping swishes of the tail he can show the magnitude of the annoyance, it shows when it is content, when it is suspicious and when it is very undr the weather by the tail. The sounds you describe all mean different things when heard in context with the tail communication.

      So, because this post was about cat sounds, not behaviors, I’m not a cat lover? Well, I am well aware that cats use their tails to communicate. In fact, I wrote a whole post on cat behavior. It’s Cat Behaviors And What They Mean – Tail Flicking, Nipping, Kneading, And More. Maybe you should read it and see that I’m not just spouting out stuff as if I have no idea what I’m talking about.

      I love my cats, I love all cats and they all know it. Even cats I have never met before know I am a total cat person and come to me. I’m 6’4″ and loud, but they judge people by their sixth sense, not their stature. They also tell you about other people by the way they react to them.

      Agreed, the stature of a person has nothing to, ultimately, do with whether a cat likes you or not. However, all cats have distinct personalities. Dogs are different individuals, but are much more like each other than cats are. It’s really impossible to take a cat’s first impression as gospel. One of my cats will run and hide when a new person comes in the room. This same person, if they stay around for awhile, or make regular return visits, will become someone that he will want petting from.

      And, guess what? None of my cats like the vet. Does that mean it’s a condemnation of her? Not at all. She’s very nice – gentle, understanding, easy to talk to, and I like her a lot. The cats, not so much. But I guess I wouldn’t like someone if they poked and prodded me either, even though I don’t have a way of really understanding what is going on.

      And what does it mean when the avoid you the rest of the day after you bring them home from the vet? Does that mean that suddenly you are a terrible person? No, of course not.

      I will get pictures of my cats up on this blog eventually. In the meantime, you’ll just have to believe that I actually do have them and that I do know what I’m talking about. Cats do growl, I don’t make sport out of them playing with mice, I don’t torture them, and I am a cat (and other pet) lover.

      • I have two cats, one purrs when she’s content, joyful, and when she is scared.
        My male will poof out his tail when excited, but growl when he’s getting his nails clipped.
        Growling is not rare at all, but I think it depends on the cat. Each has a unique personality. My sisters cat barks at birds while watching them from the window. I haven’t heard my cats do that.

      • Yes cats do growl. I have 2 cats and my first cat May is aggressive mean well thts what everyone besides my husband and I say. He doesnt lke new people. He only likes to be pet, scratched, massaged when he wants it. I will sometimes go up to him and pet him and he will make this annoyed growling sound and if I continue he will hiss and either run away or try to swipe me. So I learned not to do that anymore. My second cat puffs is very cuddly purrs when I pet him follows me around jumps on my lap but ive never heard him growl besides when my brothers dog approaches him to fast. And may will growl and hiss if he just hears the dogs paws coming. Lol but cats do growl and one of mine does everyday.

  3. My cat has a most intriguing purr-growl which I believe shows ambivalence. It happens when he is being brushed. If he is brushed too long he will just growl and swat at the brush. During the purr-growl he is docile and permits, albeit reluctantly, the brushing.

  4. My cat GrOwlS like a dog at dogs and her daughter. since my kitten came back from the vet 3 months ago the mum cat goes mad at her like really mean meows and just goes for the kitten and i dont understand it as before they did everything together and were very close. My cat turned mean once she was neauterd and has turned on her kitten since she was neuterd My kitten is so lovely and affectionate she fights back when the mum attacks her but dont seem bothered by the meows n growls but i feel sad for the kitten as u can tell she just wants to get close to her mum but the mum cat wont let her :( Whats happened to my older Cat?

    • That does sound like a frustrating situation. You say this started when your kitten came back from the vet? My first thought is that maybe she sensed something different about the kitten.

      Another thought I had is that you may have spent time fussing over the kitten because she just came home, and the older cat is jealous. Then, you took her to the vet to get spayed. Maybe she’s now come to associate the smells of the vet on her kitten and the smells when she got “hurt” and felt really bad. That may be making her lash out at her kitten.

      This is speculation on my part, of course. One thing that may help is to spend extra time with your older cat. You could put the kitten in another room so that she won’t interfere. Do all the things your older cat likes to do – play with her, pet her, brush her if she likes it. Fuss over her and let her know that she is still loved.

      One thing I saw on “My Cat From Hell” that may be at work here – your older cat may be trying to establish dominance. Even though the younger cat doesn’t seem to mind the growling and hissing, this could be the case. Again, speculation, but on that show he had the cat parents make sure that the older cat was fed first. He had them put the cats on opposite sides of a partially closed door (one they couldn’t see through). Then, they fed the older cat. A few minutes later (about 5 if I recall correctly), they fed the younger cat. That was one thing that helped them.

      It’s clear your older cat has something against her kitten, even though it’s not clear what that is. Even if they don’t fix the problems the suggestions above shouldn’t make the situation worse.

      Good luck!

  5. Hello I have a very important question!! Im really worried right now, because one of my cats is acting different she wants all my attention and she wants me to be near her, she is usually always fighting with the other cats that I have but not this time she seems to be eating fine but when she purrs it sounds very strange sort of loud and heavy like double purr and when she meows it sort of sounds like when someone has a sore throat its hard to explain this morning she was fine I just would like to know if there is any home remedy for what im thinking she could have-stomach pain, sore throat, temperature. Please do let me know I would really appreciate it alot!!!!

    • I’m sorry to hear that your kitty is acting strange. Wanting you to pet her and being very “clingy” definitely seems to me that she isn’t feeling well.

      Unfortunately, I don’t know what could be going on. My suggestion, if you haven’t already by now, is to take her to the vet. They are trained to recognize what is going on and will often see things we missed because they know what to look for.

      I don’t know of any home remedies for cats, and any for humans could be dangerous for your cat. I understand that the vet can be inconvenient and expensive, but it is sometimes necessary.

      Good luck and I hope she feels better soon!

  6. Hi was just wondering If anyone could help me I have just moved into a new home with my 3 cat (mother and her 2 kittens) and she has started to growl when ever she is in the home she has never done this before and she is starting to attack kittens for no reason at all she is fine anywhere else but my new home could she be able to sense something in the home because I have heard noises which she and kittens have went to investigate and found nothing please help ! X

  7. Ok my first cat used to lay with me and purred and now he wont hes mean sometimes. He doesnt like being loved on and pet well he does sometimes. He makes a rooowwwww sound when I pet him below his middle back sometimes and hisses. And im afraid its because my ex grabbed him by his throat for growling at the new dog and then he attacked my ex so my ex through him and choked him. I got rid of the dog the next couple days. Do u think maybe thats why he acts the way he does now? I cant stand it it hurts my heart to knw tht he was choked. And Also got a new kitten for him to have a playmate and he made this little cute vocalized purr I had never heard him do before. It sounded happy but then id come home and 2nd kittys fur was ripped out well pieces of his furr on the carpet. And theyd roll around fighting and id have to yell to stop them cus it scared me. They still do that today but also they lick and clean eachother and lay together as well. But I thnk maybe getn a new kitten upset him and now he dont trust me….idk can u please help me!!

  8. we just got a new cat and when it wals around the house it growels and we dont have any other pets in the house and we try to pet it it shows love and growels too why do they do this.

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