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Understanding "Cat Talk" – What is Your Kitty Saying?

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Does your cat make a variety of noises? Many cats will have a variety of vocal sounds to communicate different needs and meanings. Here are some common sounds with the meanings that they often convey.


Chatter - In people, to "chatter" is to talk noisily or conversationally. In cats, it is often a unique sound that is from the throat and often associated with a very quick fast movement of their lower jaw. It is most commonly made when a cat is excited about its prey –either outside or looking out the window. They often make this sound while stalking and just prior to attacking their prey.

Chirp - A chirp is often a high-pitched sound that is often a surprised greeting. My cat does it when I come home and he sees me walk in for the first time. It is something between a squeak and a "chirp". It is often like a surprised "Hi"! Some cats will also do it when they want some attention as if to say – "Hey there, what about me?"

Growl - A growl is a low guttural vocalization produced as a warning. It is a sign of aggression or used to express anger. Some cats that growl will strike with their claws or bite and others use it as an expression of anger. Some people consider the growl like "kitty cussing".

Hiss - A "hiss" is a sharp sound similar to a sustained "S". It is often used to communicate disapproval or dissatisfaction with their situation. Many cats will hiss at another cat saying "Hey stop it" or "Get away". Some cats will also hiss if they are frightened. Often a hiss is an initial response to help scare away a threat. If that doesn't work, many cats will follow-up the hiss with a growl or attack.

Purr - A purr is a throaty vibrant sound made by a cat. The sound varies in tone and loudness from cat to cat. Some cats purr so loudly you can hear it across the room and their entire bodies vibrate. Other cats have a very quiet purr. The purr can mean different things to different cats. The most common meaning of the purr is that a cat is happy and content. It is most commonly seen when cats are being fed, starting to eat, being petted and adored.

However, some cats will purr when they are sick or scared. Some cats will purr at either situation. For example, I have a cat that purrs when he is content and happy and will also purr when he is scared such as when he is having blood drawn. The purr is often different. It is a slower relaxed pace when he is content and a faster pace when he is scared. Some behaviorists believe that the purr is comforting to the cat and in situations such as when they are scared, do it to for "self-comfort".

Meow - A kitty meow is a sound that is unique to every cat and many cats will have several types of meows. Meows generally are calls for attention of some sort – either to say, "watch it", "what about me" or "watch me". Some cats will have a short quick meow when they meet eyes with you across the room as if to say – Hi – I see you too. Some cats meow when they are in pain, which is often a high, pitched loud guttural meow.

Listen to your cat and pay attention to what he or she wants and is trying to communicate at the time. This will help you to better understand his "cat talk".

Does your cat talk to you? Email me and tell me your story.


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