Cat Sounds and What They Mean [types of cat noises]
Cat communication encompasses a wide range of sounds and postures. Common cat noises, combined with their body language are a cat’s way of communicating with both humans and other cats. Some experts say cats are second only to birds in the range of sounds they can make.
Cats can be quiet and shy but most don’t hesitate to make their feelings known through a variety of noises. Many cat sounds seem to be fairly straightforward.
Others might be a little more difficult to interpret. In addition, there’s another layer of body language that may influence what your cat is trying to tell you.
A cat’s language can be confusing. However, there are some key elements you can follow to get a translation of what your cat is thinking.
How Many Sounds Can a Cat Make?
If you’re a first-time cat owner, you may be wondering just what sounds your cat can make. The cat language has several different noises.
You may be surprised at how many sounds your cat can make! These are the most common cat sounds you’re likely to hear.
A cat’s purr is a deep throaty rumble. You’ll probably feel like your whole cat is vibrating.
Most experts agree that purring is a sign of contentment and safety. In some circles, it is also believed that a cat purr can have a healing and calming effect on the animal and even a human.
The deep continuous rumble is considered by some to be the cat equivalent of a therapeutic massage.
Either way, a deep continuous purr is a sign that your cat is feeling safe and secure.
Meowing is the most diverse sound a cat can make. Of all the sounds you might need to translate, cat meowing is one of the most difficult.
Cat meows are known to change in pitch, length, and tone due to various factors, such as age. They can also change based on level of stress, and gender.
Hissing is one of the clearest sounds your cat can make. A cat’s hiss has a universal meaning: Stay Back!
A hissing cat is an upset cat. If your cat is hissing, you want to leave it alone and give it time to relax. You’ll also want to look for signs of what may be upsetting them.
Chirping is a short sort of squeaking sound. Experts say this indicates a request for attention.
This may also indicate happiness or excitement. Cats will often chirp when welcoming you home, as a sign of appreciation for your presence.
Cat chatter often sounds like bird talk. Short sequences of chirps and other noises that sound like an imitation of avian communication. Experts say cats will make this noise when they see prey animals.
This is an especially common sound for indoor cats. Some say the sound is one of frustration, others of excitement.
A cat’s chattering noise is frequently considered one of the most amusing vocalizations a cat can make.
What Does a Cats Meow Mean?
The cat’s meow is their most common and diverse form of communication. Differences in tone, repetition, and duration can change the meaning.
These are some of the most common variations of cat sound meanings.
This is a mid-tone meow, fairly short in duration. Most experts consider it a basic greeting. It’s a way of saying ‘hello’ or ‘look at me’.
Short Chirping Meow:
A short meow often indicates excitement and affection. Repeated chirps are thought to mean that your cat wants to show you something.
Sharp, High-Pitched Meow:
This is defined as the cross between a meow and the more urgent ‘Rowl’ sound. They tend to be quick noises like a meow cut-off midway.
These louder meows are most often heard when your cat is hurt or startled. For example, if they are surprised or when their tails are stepped on.
As long as your cat isn’t seriously hurt or cornered, you’ll want to give them some time to soothe ruffled fur after one of these meows.
Repetitive High-Pitched Meow:
Incessant meowing is meant to get attention. It means that your cat wants something.
If your cat is repetitively meowing, check their food bowl, water bowl, and litter box. If all these are in good shape, your cat is probably seeking attention. Offer playtime or petting to see what your cat wants.
Low, Throaty Meow:
Low, throaty meows are thought to indicate a type of distress call or anxiety. You’re likely to hear this meow if you’ve just moved, or other things have changed.
Check for injuries and offer plenty of petting and love.
Prolonged Repetitive Low Meow:
This generally means your cat is hurt, sick, or in distress.
Some cats will make this sound under certain conditions that they consider stressful. An example might be if they were trapped, or if you’re traveling.
If your cat is making this noise and there are no obvious stressors, you may need to take it to the vet. It may be a sign of serious health issues for your cat.
Cat Body Language
How Does Body Language Change the Meaning of a Cat’s Sounds?
Cat language is part sound, part body language. When trying to decipher the meaning behind your cat’s noises, new cat owners will need to keep an eye out for other factors.
Body posture can tell you a lot about your cat’s emotional state.
Tail movements are a sure indicator of your cat’s mood, according to experts at PetMd. They say the tail is an essential part of cat communication. These are some common positions you’re likely to see.
- Swishing Tail:
A slowly swishing tail is a sign of happiness and contentment.
A meow combined with a swishing tail is likely to be a greeting, something along the lines of ‘happy to see you!’.
- Lashing or Thumping Tail:
A lashing or twitchy tail is a sign of unhappiness. It can show anger, irritation, or frustration.
A twitch at the end of the tail usually means frustration or irritation.
A fully lashing or thumping tail means anger. It can also be a warning that your cat is preparing to strike.
A meow combined with a lashing tail is a warning. Hissing or growling combined with an agitated tail is a clear statement to ‘Back Off!’.
- Quivering Tail:
A quivering tail is usually a sign of excitement. In male cats, it can also be a sign of marking territory.
A quivering tail combined with a meow is a very enthusiastic and affectionate greeting.
- Straight Tail or Partially Curled Tail:
A straight-up tail or a ‘question mark’ tail are signs of a contented cat.
A straight-up tail is also a greeting among cats. A cat that approaches you with an upraised tail is a cat that is happy to see you.
- Lowered Tail:
A lowered tail is a sign of agitation or unhappiness. It may even be a sign of illness.
A cat with a lowered tail and low meows may be feeling ill.
A cat with a low tail and hissing or growling is likely to be feeling agitated or angry.
Puffed or spiked fur is a sign of a scared cat. It’s also a warning sign, a way of trying to scare off other animals. This is very common in cats experiencing a new environment.
If you’re a new cat owner, you may see a lot of this. Experts say to give your new cat some time to adjust and settle. As they become used to their new home, their fur should smooth out.
An arched back can have a few meanings. When paired with spiked fur and growling, it means your cat is angry or afraid.
When combined with purring and a relaxed tail, this is a sign of happiness. This may also involve your cat rubbing or brushing against you. Most experts say your cat is marking you as family when it does this.
Affectionate meowing may also accompany an arched back if your cat is seeking attention. If your cat is doing this, they want some petting, food, or playtime.
Position of Ears:
Cat’s ears are very sensitive. They’re also excellent indicators of mood.
Ears that are upright and forward-facing mean that your cat is relaxed.
Ears that are arched back or flattened mean that your cat is nervous, frightened, or angry.
Kneading is a behavior common among cats. It involves using the front paws to push and pull against a surface. They’ll often do this with pillows, blankets, or their person.
Experts say this is a way of marking a space as their own, or as a ‘happy space’. Scent glands in the paws help mark a certain area or person as a ‘comfort zone’.
If your cat is kneading, it means they’re very comfortable and content. Kneading is considered to be one of the most obvious signs of a happy cat.
How Does Age Change the Nature of Cat Noises?
As cats age, the noises they make can change too. In part, this is due to the changes in the body as they grow. Some of it may also be due to changes in maturity and desires.
Kitten vocal ranges aren’t the same as adult cats. A chatty kitty will make different noises compared to an adult cat.
Kittens aren’t capable of producing a full-throated meow. To get attention, they’ll frequently voice a high pitched, shorter version that sounds like a ‘mew’
Repetitive mewing is usually a call for food or attention.
Trilling is a sound associated with kittens, though it may be made by their parents instead.
Trilling is a way for kittens and their parents to communicate. Cat trilling is a way for them to find each other.
If your cat or kitten is trilling at you, it’s a sign of affection. It’s an indication that they consider you family.
Adult/Elder Cat Noises:
- Low Yowling:
As your cat gets older, it may tend to vocalize long, low meows. This may hold true even if there is no apparent injury.
Why Does My Older Cat Yowl?
Experts say this is a sign of unease, due to the dulling of their senses and the weakening of their bodies. It’s your cat’s way of protesting getting old.
You may want to take extra measures to make sure your cat is warm and comfortable when they start making these noises.
What Are Some Cat-Only Communication Noises?
Some noises are specific to communication between cats. Noises relating to greetings or mating calls can vary from noises used to offer greetings.
Chirping sounds are the cat equivalent of a friendly greeting. Experts say it’s much the same as a human version of ‘Hello’ or ‘Welcome’.
It’s a sound that indicates no threat is present.
If your cat is chirping at you, it could imply that you’re family…just another cat, so to speak.
Yowling is generally a sound reserved as a mating call for adult female cats. It’s their way of informing males to come investigate a potential mate.
This, along with other mating issues, is why it is recommended to spay or neuter your cats. Especially if you don’t want kittens.
Spitting and Snarling:
Spitting and snarling are sounds most often heard during territorial disputes. Wild cats will use these sounds to warn intruders out of their area.
It’s rare for an indoor or domestic cat to make these sounds. If you have an indoor cat that is snarling, it is feeling threatened by something. You’ll need to take steps to remove the threat and make sure your cat feels secure.
How do Cats Communicate with Humans?
Over the years, some experts have noticed noises that seem specific to domestic cats.
While sounds like chirping or trilling might be unique to cat interactions, other noises are considered unique to cat-human relations.
Experts at sites like Encyclopedia.com agree that cats only meow when communicating with their humans.
Wild cats communicate through scent cues and body language. Domestic cats, however, are more likely to vocalize when seeking attention.
Some experts consider purring to be a sound made mostly by house-cats. It’s made as a sign of comfort and contentment, a way of indicating that all is right with the world.
There is some debate as to whether this sound is made by feral cats, simply because they are rarely ever comfortable enough in the presence of humans to make any sounds of relaxation.
Regardless, it is a well-known form of communication between cats and their owners.
Chattering is a sound made predominantly by indoor cats. While not necessarily directed solely at their humans, it does serve as a form of communication.
When your cat chatters at the window, it’s telling you that it has spotted prey. It’s indicating excitement, and an urge to go hunt. If you have an indoor/outdoor cat, this may be the way they tell you they want outside to chase something.
What Are the More Talkative vs The Quieter Breeds of Cats?
When considering a new cat, you may want to consider how vocal it is. Some breeds of cats are known for being louder than other breeds.
Most Talkative Cats
Some of the More Vocal Breeds include:
- Burmese Cats
- Main Coon Cats
- Siamese Cats
- Sphynx Cats
Quiet Cat Breeds
Some of the Less Vocal Breeds Include:
- Abyssinian Cats
- American Shorthair Cats
- Persian Cats
- Russian Blue Cats
Within these breeds, there are sometimes exceptions to the rule. But if you’re looking specifically for a quiet – or chatty – cat, these breeds are good places to start.
There are other factors that can affect the level of vocalizations your cat makes. For example, a cat that spends time as an outdoor cat may be less vocal.
Likewise, strays and tamed or partially tamed feral cats tend to be much quieter than fully domestic cats.
A cat that has been raised among humans its entire life is most likely to be far more vocal than a more independent counterpart.
Related Cat Sounds Questions
Why is My Cat Making Noise at Early in the Morning?
Cats are nocturnal. If your cat is meowing or making noise in the early hours, they want you to come pay attention to them or let them out!
Why Do Cats Purr When Being Petted and Then Bite You?
Cats like attention, but they can get tired of it fast. The movement of the tail will let you know when they’re approaching their limit.
How Can You Be Sure You’re Interpreting Your Cat’s Behavior Correctly?
Cats generally have very distinct personalities. Even with tips, it will take some trial and error.
Cat sounds may seem like they’re straightforward. The truth is, your cat’s communications involve subtle cues in different tones and body language.
To fully understand what your cat is saying, you’ll need to pay attention to a number of different factors.
However, with a little practice, you’ll soon know whether a cat’s meow means ‘Hello’, ‘Feed Me’, or something else entirely.