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Cat Sounds: What do they mean?

As cat owners, we become used to the wide variety of noises our kitties make. Their incredible range of meows, mewls and 'brrrps!' are a language we learn to interpret. Sometimes without realising, we answer our cat's meow with "Oh, are you hungry, Mister?!" or "Ok, sweetie - we'll go out soon!". It's a conversation that grows as our relationships with our cats mature, so if you're new to cat ownership and are still figuring out what your kitty is trying to tell you, we'll delve a little deeper into cat sounds and how they can be interpreted below:

Why Do Cats Meow?

You may be surprised to learn that feral cats living in packs meow around once every four days - incredible, right?! After centuries of living with humans, cats have learned to vocalise their needs through the meow. In fact, cats have become absolute experts in communicating with us humans. 

A 2003 Cornell study recorded the meows of 12 cats in different everyday scenarios and found that only their particular owners could correctly identify what each meow signalled when played back to them. It proved that cats have developed their own personal language that is unique to them and their owners. We love the idea that our kitties' sounds are perfected just for us!

With this information in mind, next we'll give a broad interpretation of different cat noises and what they could mean. But of course, as the study found, it is likely that you are best equipped to identify your cat's meow and its meaning and that your cat has crafted their particular noises for your ears only!

The Standard Meow:

The standard meow is probably the sound you are most familiar with and will often be heard at mealtimes. It generally indicates that your kitty requires something, so it could be coupled with other behaviours such as standing by the back door, a bedroom door or by a food bowl.

Now, we're not this cat's owner but we hear "Hey, the dog is eating, where is my dinner?!"

The Short, High-pitched Meow:

A short, sharp burst of noise from your cat may mean that they are startled or hurt in some way. You may have heard this when you’ve inadvertently stepped on a teeny, tiny paw! Due to the nature of the sound and its shock value, it’s not one you should or even could ignore.

The Repeated, short meow:

These rapid-fire meows may often be heard when your cat is excited, for example when you’re taking a long time to open the treat jar and they know the good stuff is coming! Think - “yep, yep, that’s it, you’ve nearly got it, yep, oh come on!!”

This cute little floof is certainly perfecting his own language!

Why Do Cats Chirrup?

Possibly the cutest of all the kitty noises and more like a ‘brrrp’ sound, the chirrup is generally viewed as a “Hello” when directed at humans. You may have encountered this when you sit down in the same room as your cat, when they’ve noticed you’re there they may ‘chirrup’ or ‘brrrp’ and move to sit next to you. They may also make the same sound when you pull out their favourite toy.

Turn up the volume and wait until the end for Donut's adorable little chirrup!

Why Do Cats Purr?

Second to the standard meow, cat owners are very familiar with the purr. Usually indicating contentment and relaxation, you’ll most likely experience a cat’s purr when you are petting and snuggling with them. Cats also purr to placate themselves. The act of purring can actually be a cat self-soothing, so you may notice your kitty purring loudly at the vets. They are, in fact, helping themselves to calm down - a bit like us taking deep breaths before an exam or interview. They're attempting to replicate that feeing they get when you are giving that awesome chin tickle! Or, your cat could just love the vets! Ok, maybe not…

We could listen to Truffle's purr all day, it's pretty calming for humans too!

Why Do Cats Chatter?

The chatter may seem entirely bizarre to new cat owners. In fact, it might be the reason you Googled ‘cat sounds’ in the first place! Looking similar to human teeth chattering from the cold, a cat chattering is generally a sign of absolute prey-driven hysteria! It’s most likely your cat is making the chattering noise while lustfully watching a juicy blackbird hopping happily in the garden. The subtext to a cat chatter would undoubtably be “lemme at ‘em!”.

We can't see what it is that Imja is chattering at, but we are confident it has wings!

Why Do Cats Yowl?

The yowl, akin to a dog’s howl, is often heard in cat to cat contact. Usually when the neighbour’s cat has wandered into your cat’s territory. It is essentially the cat’s version of saying “You’ve got to the count of three to get off my property!”.  A yowl can also be common in elderly cats, indicating a decline in cognitive function. It can also signal distress or discomfort in your cat, this could be down to the environment - such as a new house, or health issues. If you notice your cat has started to yowl more often it’s a good idea to get them checked over by a vet.

Tobi has become an expert in seeing away unwanted visitors!

Why Do Cats Hiss?

Synonymous with displeasure or anger in cats, the hiss indicates the intense dislike of something or someone. It can also be induced by fear so you may hear this at the vets or in a situation where your kitty is anxious, such as a new cat straying upon their territory.

Wait for it...Kora is most displeased with this trespasser!


So, as we've discovered with their wide and varied cat sound repertoire, kitties have become masters at vocal communication! It is also suggested that cats are more vocal if their owner is. Which begs us to pose the question, is your cat talkative because you are?! We choose not to answer that one, “Tiddles! Zip it!”.

Related posts: 'Six Strange Cat Behaviours Explained' and 'Cat Super Senses: Five Things Your Cat Can Do But You Can't'