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What do the noises your cat makes actually mean?

Do you have vocal cat with plenty to say that often makes you wonder, what do cat noises mean? If you do, it could be because you haven’t been paying attention to all the other ways your favourite feline has been trying to communicate with you. “Cats vocalise so well to us because they’ve learned that we humans are really not all that on the ball in figuring out what the tail swish means, what the ear twitch means,” says Gary Weitzman, president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society and author of How to Speak Cat.

And it’s a strategy that works. While felines communicate by a combination of body postures, vocalisations and scent signals – which operate on a level way beyond the capability of the human nose – clever, adaptable cats have learned that the best way to get human attention is to make a noise.

From the all-purpose ‘meow’ to growls, twitters, chirps and trills, some cats have developed a whole range of sounds to inform their human about how they’re feeling – and what they want. And, as a cat becomes more insistent, their noises may grow more strident and lower-pitched until they get the response they require.


What do your cat's different sounds and pitch levels mean?

  • Meowing is an all-purpose sound used as a greeting, a request – Let me OUT. Let me IN. Pet me. Play with me. FEED me! – or an objection to something that’s going on.
  • Chirps and trills – This is how a mother cat tells their kittens to follow them. If it’s aimed at you, it probably means your cat wants you to follow them, quite possibly to the food bowl...
  • Purring is usually a sign of contentment, although cats may also purr when they're worried or feeling unwell, as a way of comforting themselves.
  • Growling, hissing or spitting – this is a cat saying they’re annoyed, angry or frightened by something and it’s best to give them some space until they’ve calmed down.
  • Yowling or howling – This is your cat telling you they’re in some kind of distress – stuck in a cupboard or somewhere up high that they can’t get down from, or in pain. If your cat is making this noise, find them and see what the problem is. Unneutered cats looking for a mate will also yowl incessantly...
  • Chattering, chittering or twittering – these sounds suggest that your favourite feline is excited about something – quite possibly the birds or squirrels they have spied through the window...

DID YOU KNOW?

Although kittens meow to their mothers, adult cats don’t meow to other cats – probably because their mothers stopped responding once they were weaned. Grown up felines reserve this vocalisation purely to communicate with humans. Find out more about a kitten's milestone moments >>


Understanding how to speak cat

Listening to your cat, along with observing their body language, is the best way to understand exactly what your favourite feline is trying to tell you – and probably the nearest you can get to speaking cat!

  • Hello you! Cats often give a verbal greeting to their human when they come home, or even when they just meet them in the house.
  • Let’s get together Despite what some people think, cats don’t like being alone too much. Cats often meow to initiate play, petting, or to get you to talk to them. Spend quality time each day with your feline friend, playing, grooming, and having a chat.
  • When’s dinner? Some cats meow every time a person walks in the kitchen, hoping to get a bite to eat. And many cats become very vocal when it gets close to their feeding times.
  • I need your support Cats that are experiencing stress often become more vocal. A new pet or baby, a move or changes to the home, an illness or the loss of a loved one can turn a quiet cat into a talker. Try to discover what is stressing your pet and help them adjust to the change by giving them extra attention when they ask for it, along with some quiet time when they need their own space.
  • I’m feeling hot, hot, hot! If your cat isn’t spayed or neutered, then it’s likely you’re going to hear a lot more noise. Females yowl when in heat, and males yowl when they smell a female in heat. Getting your pet neutered will prevent this.
  • I’m getting on a bit – in case you haven’t noticed Cats, just like people, can suffer from deteriorating eyesight, mental confusion, or cognitive dysfunction, as they age. They may become disoriented and cry plaintively for no apparent reason, especially at night. Your vet can prescribe medications that help with these symptoms. Hearing loss can also cause a cat to vocalise louder than usual because they can’t determine their volume.
  • I’m not feeling very well There are numerous diseases that can cause a cat to feel hunger, thirst or pain, including overactive thyroid or kidney disease, which can result in excessive meowing. If your cat exhibits this behaviour, take them to the vet for a thorough check-up.

DID YOU KNOW?

Not all cats are vocal. Persians tend to be rather quiet, whereas Siamese and Oriental-type breeds are especially talkative, enjoying long, drawn-out conversations where they insist on having the last word. Find out more about some of the UK’s most popular breeds of cat >>


Taking the time to understand how and why your cat is communicating with you is extremely rewarding and benefits both humans and felines alike.

Feline charity Cats Protection says: “It is important to remember that a cat’s requirements are not human based, so understanding their needs can enhance our own relationship with them. It is very rewarding to see things from their point of view to make a positive change in their welfare. By understanding the behaviour, the cat has developed to enable it to thrive in a changing world, we can learn how to best provide for our cats, meet their needs, maximise their welfare and ensure long-lasting friendships for happy cats and owners.”

And that’s just purrfect!


CARE MORE Get more advice on caring for your cat from Burgess, the pet experts. Training, nutrition, grooming and general care. It's all here >>

Is your cat a Burgess cat? Join the Burgess Pet Club for exclusive offers and rewards.

At Burgess, all our cat food is made using premium ingredients and is high in protein, to ensure excellent quality and superior taste to help keep your cat happy and healthy – from kitten, to adult and mature and our award-winning variety for neutered cats.


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