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Understanding different cat noises and what they mean

Understanding different cat noises and what they mean
Article checked by a vet
Article checked by a vet

Cats try to communicate with their human families in many ways - the only problem is we don’t always understand the noises a cat makes. It’s important to learn the meaning behind different cat sounds in order to strengthen your bond with your feline friend. By interpreting your cat’s noises into specific cues, you’ll understand more about what your cat feels, needs and wants, and be able to respond accordingly. This will help cat parents provide better care for their pets, which in turn will help your cat feel understood, secure and fulfilled, and ultimately create a deeper connection between you. In this article, we talk all about cat noises and sounds.

Types of cat sounds and their meanings

Although at first it may seem like your cat is just making weird noises, these are actually specific cat sounds that convey different messages. By understanding your cat’s vocalisations, you can significantly deepen the bond between you. Below we have listed some common noises that cats make and what they mean: 

  1. Meow

    The most recognisable cat noise is the meow. However, even meows vary in pitch, tone and length, and each one holds a different meaning. The standard meow will be of medium length and pitch, and you’ll hear it when your cat is asking for something. A shorter meow  could be a simple greeting, while a long drawn-out meow is usually heard when your cat is complaining about something. On the other hand, a high-pitch meow is often a yelp due to pain, like if you’ve accidentally bumped into your cat. If your cat is meowing repetitively whilst looking at you, as well as weaving between your legs, this could mean your cat is hungry. By observing the different types of meow and their accompanying behaviour, it will make it easier to know what your cat wants, which will ultimately be less frustrating for both of you.

  2. Purring

    Purring is a low, soft and rhythmic sound that cats make without opening their mouths, and is often a sign of contentment. You may hear it when you’re petting or grooming your cat, or when they are resting. However, since cats also purr when they feel anxious, unwell or in pain, purring could also be a self-soothing technique for cats. To interpret your cat’s purring, observe their body language. If your cat is in a relaxed posture or kneading your lap or a blanket, they are most likely purring as they are happy. However, if your cat has a tense body, they may be uncomfortable. Once you know whether your cat is purring due to pleasure or distress, you’ll be able to care for them more effectively. Learn more about what it means when a cat purrs.

  3. Chirping

    One of the weird noises a cat makes is a chirping or chattering sound. This is usually created by cats smacking their jaws together in a continuous pattern, without using their voice. You’ll notice your cat makes this noise when they’re looking out of the window and see a bird or another prey animal. Since the sound mimics the chirp of a bird, it’s considered to be a hunting instinct, or due to excitement or frustration about the hunt, which we discuss further later.

  4. Hissing

    Hissing is something you probably don’t want to hear as a cat parent, but may come across nevertheless. It is a common cat noise whereby cats rapidly expel air out of their mouth with their teeth exposed, creating a snake-like hiss. It’s also usually accompanied by other aggressive body language, such as an arched back, flattened ears or dilated pupils. Cats make this noise when they feel threatened or defensive, as a way to warn the other person or animal that they are uncomfortable. This way, cats can tell the other party to back off and avoid a physical confrontation. 

  5. Trilling

    Trilling is another cat noise that is somewhere between a meow and purr. It is a soft sound with a high pitch, created from the vibration of vocal cords. Cats usually make this sound when they are particularly excited, as a way to communicate their glee with owners. You may hear this when your cat is greeting you or thanking you for a treat or pet. Cats also trill to communicate with other cats in a friendly manner. 

The science behind weird cat noises

It’s easier to understand the weird noises that cats make when you look at the science behind it. There are various evolutionary reasons behind certain cat noises, some of which include hunting instincts, territory marking, social interactions and mating calls. 

For instance, when cats make a chirping sound whilst looking at birds or other small animals, it’s thought that they could be trying to mimic their prey. This could be a hunting tactic to lure the animal in with a sense of safety and make them an easier target. It could also represent excitement at the sight of their prey, or frustration at not being able to catch them.

Another noise that cats make that we’ve not yet discussed yet is yowling, which is a louder and longer sound that you may hear at night. This cat sound is made when cats feel physically or emotionally distressed. It can also be a warning to other cats about territory. Cats who are unspayed or unneutered may also yowl when they’re in heat, as a mating call to attract other cats in the area.

Each individual cat is different, and certain cat breeds are more vocal than others. It will take time to learn about the weird noises your cat makes. Your cat may have a specific way of expressing their emotions, and by observing the context, body language and other cues, you’ll soon understand what each of their cat sounds mean. You can also understand how to keep fussy cats happy.

When should you be concerned about the noises your cat makes?

Although not as frequent, other cat noises include growling and snarling, which often occur alongside hissing. These are low, rumbling and voiceless noises that cats make which indicate aggression or fear. This cat sound occurs when cats are feeling afraid or threatened, to warn the other person or animal to give them space as a way of avoiding a physical fight. 

Growling cats may also have an arched back, raised fur or be in the crouch posture, ready to attack. Sometimes cats may also growl when they’re in an unfamiliar environment, such as visiting the vet, in which case the cat noise would represent anxiety or discomfort. 

It’s important to recognise your cat’s sounds so you identify when there is a change. If your cat’s vocalisations change in type, frequency or intensity, there could be ongoing stress, discomfort or health issues. If the sounds persist, it’s crucial to consult a veterinarian to rule out, detect or manage any mental or physical health conditions - particularly if your senior cat’s behaviour changes

The role of vocal communication in bonding

Cats are highly attuned to human vocal tones, especially with their owners once they have bonded. As highlighted by previous studies into social interactions between cats and their owners, it was found that cats were particularly sensitive to emotions through vocal cues from their owners. This suggests that cats can develop a better relationship with their owners based on mutual vocal communication. 

Cat parents can support this connection by engaging in positive vocal interactions with their cats. This includes using a calm and gentle tone during conversation and play, as well as mimicking cat noises. By doing so, cat parents can strengthen their bond with their feline friend, as well as support their well-being. You can learn more about how to train a cat

Training and encouraging positive vocal interactions

You can train your cat and encourage desirable vocal interactions by using positive reinforcement techniques. For instance, when a cat communicates in a preferred manner, such as with a gentle meow for attention, cat parents can encourage desirable behaviour with praise, treats and petting. 

On the other hand, if your cat is meowing excessively, try to investigate which of their needs is not being met - for instance, your cat could want food, attention or time outdoors. Try to refrain from rewarding the meowing, and instead provide distractions as a redirection tactic.

Besides cat noises, you can also better understand your feline friend by learning more about cat body language. Pairing vocal and physical cues together will give you an overall picture of what your cat is feeling and how to respond appropriately. As a result, this will help create a harmonious environment for both you and your cat, where their needs are being met in a healthy manner and you are better informed (and less frustrated!).

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