Cats do not usually meow to each other—they do that with humans. That is, except when they are in heat or mating or when they are still kittens. So when your feline friend vocalises in your presence, it means he is talking to you. In fact, by meowing, he is likely ‘training’ you to understand what he is saying to you. Why? So he gets what he wants!
Felines typically communicate with each other through facial expression, touch, scent, and body language. However, cats observed that we humans are unable to read these cues, which is why they have turned to vocalisation. They have evolved to meow in order to interact with humans better. Author Nicholas Nicastro, who engaged in meow research, said, ‘Sweet meows evolved over millenniums as people selected house cats that made nicer noises.’
To help you decode cat chat, here are the usual sounds they make and what they mean.
- A short meow is likely to mean, ‘Hello!’ If your cat utters this as you arrive home, it is his way of greeting you.
- Multiple meows usually translate to an excited greeting. However, if he meows too much and successively, it is probably due to illness or ageing. Senior cats tend to meow more often because of anxiety, inability to see or hear well, or lack of coordination.
- If the meowing is at rapid-fire pace, your cat is likely insisting that you pay more attention to him.
- If the meow is throaty (a mrrow) and drawn out, it can mean annoyance, resistance, or worry. The low-pitched mrrow usually indicates complaint.
- If your cat wants you to feed him, he is likely to vocalise a mid-pitched meow.
Chirp, Trill, and Chatter
Some cat breeds’ normal vocalisations sound like chirrups and chirps (e.g., Maine Coon). However, all felines are able to vocalise this way. And that is usually when they are excited or happy. Mother cats usually use chirrups to communicate with her kittens.
Chattering may also indicate excitement as well as frustration. Felines are likely to do this when they see small animals outside a window, triggering their predatory drive.
This soft and deep rumbling in your pet’s throat does not only indicate contentment or happiness. Sometimes, it is also a way to tell you that he is not feeling well and he needs you near. This is especially when the purr is done with the cat’s ears pressed backwards.
- A hollow-toned yowl is usually vocalised by female cats in heat and is addressed to toms.
- A prolonged yowl can mean discomfort, anxiety, or territorial issues.
- It can mean agitation and anger, as well as separation anxiety.
- Yowling also indicates boredom or a dislike for something in the cat’s environment.
- Repeated yowls may be a sign of illness, like feline Alzheimer’s, deafness, and other health issues. Bring your cat for a check-up at the vet when this happens.
Snarl or Growl
Sometimes accompanied by a hiss, snarls and growls are uttered by cats who feel threatened, fearful, or angry. This can begin or end (or both) with a yowl.
Scream or Shriek
This is the high-pitched, very loud, and strained meow, usually indicating anger, mating call, or territorial threat. When felines are in a fight, this is the sound they usually make.
Custom Cat Language
There is no universal cat language, although there are feline sounds that generally have universal meanings. According to anthrozoologist John Bradshaw, pet owners and their cats develop a ‘secret code of meows’ that only they can understand. This is supported by a study by Cornell University. It revealed that humans are only able to translate meows correctly when they are coming from their own cats.
That considered, the person who can best understand what a cat is saying is the feline pet’s owner. So if you think your cat’s meow means a certain thing, you are most probably right.
Have these tips been helpful for you? Spread the word to other cat owners!
You may like to read: Brow-Raising (but True) Facts About These 6 Cat Behaviours
WATCH this video to know a surprising truth about cat purring and meowing: