What do your cat's sounds really mean?

Understanding the needs of our cats is the key to a happy and healthy cat, but sometimes we’re just not sure what they’re trying to tell us. Cats have one of the most varied ranges of vocalisations amongst household pets, and while you might recognise the dinner time meows and the contented purrs, there are many other sounds our cats make. We’re going to do our best to decode them - just think of us as your cat to human translation service! 

Some cats are more chatty than others, and many of the noises your cat makes will be individual and specific to them, and their meanings too. But there are approximate human translations for a lot of typical cat sounds, so from the basics to the more advanced, let’s dive into the noises our cats make - and what they might actually be trying to tell us.

 

a light coloured kitten photographed outdoors

 

Meowing

If you had to name a cat sound, it’s probably the meow that comes to mind. It’s perhaps the most commonly heard cat sound, and cats use it to communicate with humans. It’s often your cat’s way of telling you they want something (dinner, anyone?) but its meaning can differ depending on the length and tone of the meow. 

The classic meow is often a request for something, be it food or attention - or maybe they want you to open a door or let them outside. You might be familiar with this meow early in the morning, when your cat is trying to tell you,“hello, it’s 5am, it’s definitely breakfast time.”.

There are other types of meows, too. A higher pitched meow might be a little like a human yelp - used if your cat is scared, startled, or hurt. A shorter little mew sound, meanwhile, can be your cat’s way of greeting you and saying, “hi, you’re home!” when you walk through the house door.

 

a longer haired tabby cat sitting on a window sill

 

Purring

We have an entire blog post dedicated to why cats purr, explaining both the how and the why. The most common (but by no means only) reason for purring is contentment or happiness, and if your cat’s purring while happily curled up on your lap, you can be pretty sure that what they’re saying is “I am having an excellent time, this is great.”. But depending on the context, a cat may also be purring if they’re in pain or trying to self-soothe, so keep an eye out for other cues too.

 

Chirping

When kittens are young, their mothers chirp at them to get them to pay attention or follow them, and it’s likely that our cats use these sounds to get us to do the same thing! These high pitched chirps can be a form of greeting, or they can be your cat’s way of saying, “hey, hi, hello, look at me!”.

 

a short haired tabby cat looking out of a window

 

Chattering

While chattering is not as common as the meow or purr, this funny little sound can translate into either excitement or frustration, and it’s thought to be related to their hunting instinct. Some experts even think that it might be a cat’s way of imitating the bird’s own noises. You may hear it if your cat’s watching birds through the window, so it can likely be translated to something like, “oh my goodness, look at those little birds, I wish I could get my paws on them…”.

 

Hissing

This cat sound is pretty unmistakable. Cats will hiss if they’re angry or feel threatened, or if they’re in pain, and their hissing is often used towards other animals. It can often be translated into something like, “no!” or “back off!” but can also be a sign of illness. If your cat is hissing with no obvious cause, it could mean that they’re in pain or feeling unwell, so it is always important to speak to your vet about this. 

 

As always, this is just a guide. Every cat is unique, and you know your cat best - if your cat is suddenly making different noises, or more noises than usual, it’s always best to speak to your vet!

02/06/2023 by NatuTeam

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