- What Does It Mean When a Cat Meows?
- What Does It Mean When Cats Meow at Night?
- What Does It Mean When a Cat Meows a Lot?
- Understanding Your Cat's Language
Domestic cats make so many noises that it’s hard to keep up with all their possible meanings. Plus, some sounds are multifunctional, making them hard to understand at times. But no matter the type of cat meow, context clues can help you understand what your cat’s trying to say.
Here’s the low-down on different types of cat meows and what they mean: Cat sounds have a long list of meanings, from affection and playfulness to aggression and discomfort. The “meow” is pretty versatile. But other cat noises like “squeaks” and “gurgles” often signal affection or joy. Still others, such as the “caterwaul” might be a warning to stay away.
Cat vocalizations can seem pretty random. But really, there’s a method to the madness—cats have mastered communication with humans. After the 5,000 years that cats and humans have spent together, experts have defined a handful of vocalizations. Here are the most common and what they mean.
What Does It Mean When a Cat Meows?
“Meow” is the most well-known sound that cats make. It’s one of more than 21 distinct cat sounds that scientists have recorded (and there are believed to be more). Each has a unique meaning.
For example, sometimes “meow” indicates fear or loneliness. Other times, it could signal hunger. And at times, your cat might not even be talking to you at all. If you live in a multi-cat household, it might just be chatting up another cat.
In any case, here’s what you need to know about various cat noises and what they mean, complete with video examples for your thorough understanding.
Caterwaul or “Mowl”
This is a long, drawn-out whine that can be low- or high-pitched. Males that are ready for mating will usually do the caterwaul when they’re feeling a bit frisky.
You might also hear females do this when they’re stressed or feeling defensive. She might do this to warn a person or animal to keep their distance.
Chirp or “Chirrup”
A lot of people think this sounds similar to a bird’s chirp. Your cat might chirp once or multiple times at once. If it does the latter, they’re called “chirrups” collectively.
Generally, the chirp means the cat is trying to find you or another cat. For example, a nursing cat will make this sound when searching for her kittens.
It could also mean that your cat wants something, such as food. Many cats do this when they’re bird-watching from the window or inside a catio. So, the chirp could indicate a level of excitement or anticipation as well.
“Gurgles” sound similar to the noise you make when gurgling mouthwash. It’s expressed in short pulses. You’ll usually only hear this from a cat that either knows you well, or at least, is somewhat familiar with you. This is because the gurgle is a somewhat affectionate, pleasant noise that the cat loves the attention they’re getting.
This is the sound we all know and love; the one that cats seem to make all the time, no matter what they’re trying to say. They’ll do it when they socialize with other animals, when they search for lost companions, and seemingly everything in-between. Because it’s so versatile, cat meow meanings are highly context-dependent.
Cats’ squeaks typically sound very high-pitched and raspy. They’re expressed in bursts, similar to chirps. Expect to hear this around dinner time or during play, as it usually means the cat is hungry or feeling playful.
Cats “yowl” when they’re agitated. It's one of the many cat “meow” sounds meant as a threat. It warns the listener to back off or stop the offensive behavior.
In the absence of a direct threat, the yowl might instead mean that your cat is under another sort of stress. The possibilities depend on its health and age. Here are a few examples:
- It’s ready to mate
- It’s stuck somewhere and can’t get out
- It’s disoriented or lost (this is most common among elderly cats)*
*This is even more likely for cats suffering from cognitive degradation or visual impairments that interfere with their ability to navigate.
What Does It Mean When Cats Meow at Night?
Cats meow at night for plenty of reasons. Senior cats often do it because they can’t see as well in the dark. On the other hand, some cats are simply more active in the evenings and have a lot to say. Here are some possible answers to the question countless cat owner asks themselves nightly, “Why is my cat so vocal?”
- Elderly cats can easily become disoriented if they have cognitive or visual impairments. Navigating the darkness can make these impairments harder to deal with. Meowing could be your cat’s way of asking for help.
- Many cats are more active at nighttime than in the day. Because of this, it can feel like your cat is intentionally waiting for you to get into bed before causing a ruckus. In these cases, your cat might just be asking to go into its catio or to wander the house as you sleep.
- Some cat owners complain that their cats scratch at their doors and yell at night. The specific reasons for such behavior vary. However, a common reason for this behavior is poorly defined boundaries. For example, if you’ve let your cat sleep in your room for several weeks, it might be unhappy when forced to sleep in the living room. So, it’ll scratch at your door and cry to get back into what was once its bedroom.
What Does It Mean When a Cat Meows a Lot?
You can usually tell the difference between a stressed “meow” and casual cat noises. But when your cat seems to be vocalizing so much that it’s unusual, that can indicate potential health or wellness problems.
Excessive vocalizing is often due to high stress and illness. Cats with a lot of pent-up energy or frustration will become abnormally vocal. This is why cats that are settling in after a big move, adapting to a new baby in the house, or experiencing other significant life changes often make a lot of noise.
On the other hand, your cat could be sick. Feelings of intense pain, dehydration, or symptoms of thyroid and kidney diseases often cause suffering cats to vocalize often. If you think something might be wrong with your cat, take it to the vet as soon as possible.
(Additionally, note that some cats are just more “talkative” than others. This is why it’s imperative that you know your cat well enough to distinguish excessive meowing from normal chatting.)
Understanding Your Cat’s Language
Cats make all kinds of noises. They each have unique meanings, some with more than one. From expressions of affection to “back off” signals, these cat sounds can tell you a lot about what’s on your feline friend’s mind.Refer back to this in-depth guide the next time you need to decipher your cat’s chatter. It doesn’t hurt to sharpen your knowledge of cat behavior either, to put your new knowledge in context. Gain insights on cats’ natural tendencies and how to cope with them here.
About the Author
My name is Jazmin "Sunny" Murphy, and I am a science communicator and web content writer. Since 2015, I've been producing scientific content that is written in plain English. My love for life science has influenced my professional and academic aspirations since I was a kid. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Zoology and 21 units of a Master's education in Environmental Policy & Management (concentration: Fish and Wildlife Management). You can learn more about me and my science writing and reporting work at my website, Black Flower Writing Services.