20 Different Cat Sounds and What They Mean

Did you know that cats have their own language that they use to communicate with one another, as well as with their human companions? In fact, every vocalization that your furry friend makes is their attempt to send you one kind of message or another. The noises cats make can be separated into five distinct categories. According to behavioral specialist Francine Miller, each category represents one overarching sound, with variances in each group representing different intended meanings.

The categories are as follows: meows, purrs, chirrs, calls, and growls. Cat language is varied and complex. However, it is not unfeasible for a person to learn enough about cat vocalizations to ensure clear communication with their cat. In this article, we will go over twenty different noises that your kitty might make. Hopefully, by the time you’re done reading this guide, you will be able to better understand your own feline overlor… er… friend!

1. Meows

Meowing is the quintessential cat noise. It is quite interesting to note that most cats will not meow at other cats (unless it is a kitten to its mother). In fact, cats generally only use their meow towards humans when they get older. But remember, not all meows are created equal. Your cat will use different pitches, durations, and volume levels to communicate different ideas through their meow.

2. The Short Meow

The standard, short, high-pitched meow is simply your cat’s way of saying hello! You might be more likely to hear this vocalization if you have already seen your cat during the day. For example, if you walk into a room and see your cat (and your cat has seen you recently) you will likely receive a standard greeting meow when he or she realizes that you are there.

3. Multiple Meows Back to Back

If your cat is meowing similarly to the standard meow, but is doing so over and over, your cat is very excited to see you! You might have just gotten home from work, or even a vacation, when you hear this particular vocalization. If your cat is especially happy that you are home, or if he or she missed you badly, they will probably follow you around the house for a while as well.

4. Mid-Pitched Meow

This type of meow is your cat’s way of asking you for something. You’ll likely hear this noise as your cat stares you down, especially if it is around the time that they usually eat. If you do hear this type of meow, you should figure out what it is that your cat wants and try to appease them. Otherwise, they may move on to more desperate or demanding vocalizations.

5. Long, Drawn-Out Meow

When your cat emits a long, moaning meow they want something right away. If you didn’t catch their cues from the mid-pitched meow, for example, they may move on to this one in order to fully express the seriousness of their situation. Plus, if your cat still feels that you have not completely met their needs, they may move on to using other common vocalizations.

6. Low-Pitched Meow

This is your cat’s way of complaining. Perhaps you didn’t feed them when they expected it. Or maybe you just disappointed them somehow – it’s easy to do! Either way, if you hear this low-pitched, long meow you can be sure that your cat is unhappy with something. It would be worth it to figure it out before your cat’s mood further deteriorates!

7. Loud, High-Pitched Meow

Your cat will use a high-pitched, loud, quick meow if they are extremely angry or if they are in pain. A cat might use this vocalization if they are being bothered by a dog, or if you accidentally step on them. If you ever hear your cat make this noise when you aren’t in the room, you should definitely go check on them to be sure they are okay! After all, this noise can be a cry for help if your cat is in some sort of dire situation.

8. The Mew

Chances are, if you hear the mew you have a kitten in the house. This cat sound is generally only used by kittens to communicate with their mothers — or their adoptive parents (AKA owners) — when they are hungry or in some other sort of distress. Older cats may also mew, but it is much rarer than in a kitten and tends to disappear altogether when the cat reaches adulthood.

9. Beeps

If you end up in your cat’s way, this short, almost cut-off meow is their way of telling you to move. Your cat may also beep at you if they don’t feel like mustering a full-on meow. Your cat may also emit a beep if they are feeling really tired or especially lazy. It is a versatile sound that can have a lot of meanings, but for the most part it just means “get out of my way!”

10. Purring

Purring is an interesting phenomenon in housecats, and one that has not yet been fully explained by science. Though the source of purring has been effectively narrowed down to the internal laryngeal muscles in your cat’s throat, it is still unclear why cats purr. The common consensus is that cats purr out of contentment and happiness. However, even an injured cat will purr.

This fact led to an interesting hypothesis by Dr. Elizabeth Von Muggenthaler. She suggests that the low-frequency vibrations that are emitted during a purr can help the cat heal wounds and even mend bones. Purring is also the only type of cat vocalization that involves the entire breathing cycle. If you’ve listened to your cat purr, you will have noticed that the sound is continuous. It merely ebbs and flows as the cat inhales and exhales. All in all, if your cat is purring it is likely out of contentment (unless your cat is injured or in some sort of pain). In addition, the vibrations from the purring probably act as a relaxing internal massage for your feline.

11. Chirrs

Cats will emit several noises that aren’t quite meows, purrs, or growls. They are more like a combination of all different types of cat vocalizations. If you own a cat, you’ve probably heard these odd noises. But what do they mean? Well, chirrs actually have a variety of meanings for your cat. Read on for more details!

12. The Chirp

The chirp is a short, high-pitched declaration that is much more audibly-unique than a normal meow. If your cat is chirping at you, he or she is trying to get your attention. Cats also tend to chirp if they want you to check something out that they think is cool or important. In order to determine what your cat’s chirping means, watch their behavior. An attention-seeking cat will stop chirping when they catch your eye. A cat who wants to show you something may chirp, and then walk away, looking back to see if you are coming.

13. The Trill

Trills are learned in kittenhood – a cat’s mother will use these noises, almost like rolling an ‘R’ sound, to communicate with her kittens. When your cat trills at you, it is an especially-affectionate version of a standard hello. In addition, it can be your cat’s way of getting your attention with a noise that he or she knows is not their usual fare. Cats are smart enough to figure out that new noises could grab your attention much faster than a regular meow.

14. Chatter

You may have seen your cat sitting at the window, staring at a bird outside. But then, your cat almost seems like he/she is trying to become a bird themselves – at least judging by the noises. When a cat chatters — a combination of tweets and partial meows — they could be expressing several emotions. Nearly every time you hear your cat chatter, there will probably be prey of some sort nearby. Your furry feline is probably full of anticipation for the hunt, or possibly frustration in the case of unattainable prey. There is also a hypothesis that an adrenaline surge is responsible for this interesting vocalization. Whatever the cause for chatter, it is an interesting noise to hear from your cat. Sometimes it can even be comedic, if they are chattering in a strange enough manner.

15. Burbling

This noise is similar to chatter, but it does not necessarily involve an unrequited hunt. The burble is a sort of hybrid sound – combining aspects of purring, meowing, and growling. Though it does sound a bit like a growl, this particular vocalization is not negative or aggressive. Generally, this noise suggests that your cat is content, especially if it is directed towards you. The burble will be interspersed with other types of vocalizations and won’t be directed at prey, so it’s easy to tell apart from chattering.

16. Calls

The fourth category of cat vocalizations is calls. Most calls are associated more with cat-to-cat communication than cat-to-human communication. This is because these types of vocalizations are often involved in cat mating rituals. However, calls can also be used to make a cat’s intentions clear when it comes to territory or potential mates.

17. Yowls

This call can mean several things. It can be a warning to other cats to stay off your cat’s turf, a mating call, or a sign of distress. For example, if a cat is sick, you may hear a lot of yowling coming from him or her whenever you are around. You should definitely not ignore this sound if your cat doesn’t usually make it, as a trip to your local veterinarian may be in order. Some cats also yowl when they are separated from their owners. This is one of the symptoms of separation anxiety in a feline. The best cure for this reason for a yowl is plenty of playtime and cuddles for your cat.

18. Caterwauling

This is the trademark noise of a female cat in heat. This long, hollow-sounding yowl is designed by nature to serve as the perfect feline mating call. The sound carries for quite some distance, and will definitely attract a male cat to yours (if your cat happens to be an un-spayed female). That’s why we always recommend spaying and neutering your pets – there are far too many homeless kittens in the world!

19. Scream

You will likely only hear this sound if your female cat has successfully mated with a male cat. After the mating process is complete, the male will withdraw his barbed member from the female. This can cause a lot of pain for the female cat – making her scream out in pain. It is important to note that you may also hear a cat scream if they are fighting with another cat. Be sure to keep a close eye on your pets, and always get them sterilized. A sterile cat will not get into as many fights as one who is not fixed.

20. Growls

Growls encompass the noises a cat might make if it is extremely angry, about to fight, or trying to warn off a potential predator. The standard growl is what you will likely hear if your cat is backed into a corner. For example, if you have a dog that is bothering your cat, you might see the cat hunch down, its hair all puffed up. Next, you will hear a low-pitched warning growl from the back of the cat’s throat. This growl is a warning to whoever or whatever is bothering your cat. It’s essentially your cat saying, “back off, now”. If whatever is threatening your cat heeds this warning, the cat will probably not attack. However, in the event that the cat continues being bothered, it will make a few other noises and maybe even take action.

21. Snarl

If your cat growls at a potential threat, and it doesn’t back off, you might hear a snarl next. The snarl is a louder vocalization, meant to clearly drive home the point your cat is trying to make. Snarls are oftentimes followed by a swipe or two meant to scare off the potential threat. If the threat still does not leave, your cat will probably attack after making another snarling noise.

22. Hiss

Hissing often accompanies growling or snarling. When a cat hisses, it is letting the threat know that it is afraid, but will attack if necessary. One fascinating fact about hissing is that some behavior experts believe that a hiss is a cat’s attempt at imitating a snake. Snakes are often deadly in nature, so an unseen cat could potentially use a hiss to scare off a dangerous predator while it is in hiding.

23. Spitting

This is an even more serious form of hissing that suggests that your cat may be ready to attack. You may see a cornered cat using all four of these growling vocalizations at once to maximize the intended effect. Most cats don’t want to fight, but when these negative noises don’t work to scare off their foe, they will do what they need to do to keep themselves safe.

Now that you are educated in twenty different cat noises and what they mean, you will be able to have a better relationship with your cat. You will more clearly understand what they are asking for, or what they are trying to express to you. Even if you don’t own a cat, knowing about these vocalizations will make you popular with your family and friends’ cats – which is a far better measure of how cool you are than anything to do with mere humans.

You can basically consider yourself bilingual (or trilingual, quadlingual, etc.) after reading this article. Nice thing to add to your resume, of course. I believe that cat communication specialist is a pretty solid addition to the special skills section. Either way, I really do hope you learned something today, especially if you can pass it on to other cat-lovers. Or if your cat’s life improves due to better communication, that would be great too!

Do you have any good stories about your cat? How about some vocalizations we might have missed? Let us know in the comments below!

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