The Cat’s Meow! Understanding Feline Vocalization

Despite some claims to the contrary, cats possess an extensive repertoire of verbal communications.

In fact, along with tail-movement, vocalizations are one of the primary ways they communicate.

From soft contented murmurs and vowel patterned sounds to growls and trills, no one meow is the same.

Here are the most common examples of a cat’s vocabulary and what they probably mean.


The purr is an endearing sound and one of the main signals of a cat’s satisfaction.

But while it usually indicates contentment, cats also purr to self-soothe during times of fear or illness.

How its produced has had experts scratching their heads for some time.

Current research suggests that the purr is created by contractions of the laryngeal muscles which in turn create pressure in the glottis.

Whatever the case may be, scientific research indicates that purring might help cats with pain relief, promote healing and even increase bone density.


So what makes a cat meow? Well, the standard or basic meow is a common communication that’s often used to get the attention of the owner.

Rarely is it used to communicate with other cats.

The meow can mean many things ranging from “I need attention” to “Please Feed Me”.

To decipher precisely what your cat is after, observe its body posture and surrounding environment.

We’ll be going into a bit more depth about this later in the article.


The mew is usually a cat-to-cat communication that’s used for identification purposes.

However, mewing and meowing are often used interchangeably.

But they actually relate to different sounds. Mewing is a soft, high-pitched sound while meowing is a more assertive vocalization.

It’s worth noting that many cats use a combination of mews, meows and other sounds depending on their mood and the situation.

Chirp and Chatter

The chirp is a soft vocalization that felines often use in anticipation of receiving something pleasant like a treat or meal.

Similar to chirping, cats often chatter when they spot prey.

You might be familiar with this sound if you’ve observed your indoor cat perched on the windowsill watching a squirrel or bird.

It is believed to be a sign of excitement and interest, with some experts suggesting that cats chatter as a way to express their hunting instincts.

It’s also possible that cats chatter as a way to release pent-up energy or to express frustration, if they’re not able to reach their prey.


The trill is a kind of musical version of the chirp and is usually a friendly greeting.

Trilling might occur when a cat sees their owners after a while or when they want to be petted.

Cat will often trill when playing or interacting with their human companions.


A caterwaul is a loud, often prolonged vocalization that often occurs during mating season.

Unneutered male cats make a loud, mowing sound to attract a mate and to let other males know that they are in the area.

Females also use a similar two-syllable version when in heat to signal their availability to males.

Caterwauling can also be an expression of distress or discomfort. However, this sounds more like a yowl and isn’t quite as prolonged.

Older cats sometimes yowl if they’ve become disorientated. Indeed, a lot of owners wonder why their cat meows at night.

This can happen if the cat has been left in the dark with the lights off.

Sometimes cats often yowl prior to vomiting as well.


Shrieking is commonly associated with female cats following copulation. Male withdrawal causes pain which often leads to a sudden shriek.

It can also be heard when the cat is angry, feeling defensive or is embroiled in a defensive or aggressive encounter.


Cats will often hiss as a warning when they feel threatened or want to protect themselves from an attacker.

It’s often accompanied by arching of the back and the brisling of fur (piloerection) as the cat attempts to make itself appear bigger and more intimidating to the perceived threat.

Growl or Snarl

This is a low-pitched sound that a cat produces with an open mouth.

Intended as a warning or a sign of aggression, cats often growl when threatened or if they want to assert dominance.

As with hissing, a growl is sometimes accompanied by piloerection.

Snarling is similar to growling but is usually expressed with upper lip curling.


The spit is a quick popping sound often produced with hissing.

This is also a response to a threat or surprise and is sometimes emphasised by a swat or slap to the ground.

Understanding Cat Meows – The Importance of Body Language

To further understand cat meow language, pay attention to the context in which the cat is vocalizing.

If your cat starts meowing loudly after you’ve been away for a while, it’s likely the he’s expressing excitement or happiness to see you again.

Remember to take note of the situation and the body language of your cat. Here’s a general guide:

Body Language

As well as vocalization, cats express their emotions through their eyes, ears, tails and body position.

By paying attention to these, you’ll gain some important insights into the meaning behind their vocal expressions.


The position of a cat’s ears can indicate its level of alertness and interest.

Ears that face forward and stand up straight indicate that a cat is alert and aware of his surroundings.

Ears flattened against the head are a strong signal that your cat is feeling threatened.

When they’re turned backwards or to the side, it’s likely that your cat feels content and relaxed.


A cat’s eyes provide plenty of clues about mood and intention.

Dilated pupils typically indicate that a cat is excited or alert, while constricted pupils usually signify fear or aggression.

The eyes are also used to communicate – direct eye contact is sometimes a sign of aggression.

On the other hand, a slow blink usually suggests relaxation and contentment.


A tail that is held high and moving back and forth is a sign of confidence and alertness.

If your cat holds his tail low or tucked between the legs, he may be feeling  scared or submissive.

A fluffed up and puffed out tail indicates that your cat is feeling defensive or angry.

Final Thoughts

To conclude, understanding the different types of cat meows and what they mean is an important part of being a conscientious cat owner.

By correctly interpreting what makes a cat meow, you’ll be better placed to cater to your cat’s needs, thus providing the best possible care.

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