Of all domesticated pets, outside of birds, cats possess the widest range of vocalizations. In fact, our feline friends can produce up to 21 different vocalization patterns. But even though they can make such a wide range of sounds, cats meow almost exclusively when they’re communicating with humans.
Your cat is doing their best to communicate with you, but you have to learn how to speak their language. Need some help deciphering what your kitty is trying to say? Keep on reading to learn how to understand what your cat wants when they meow.
Why Do Cats Meow?
When cats are kittens, they meow to communicate with their mother that they’re hungry, hurt, or cold. Mother cats will also meow back in response to their newborn kittens. Because a kitten’s senses are still developing and their eyes remain closed for several weeks, the sound of their mother is all they have to work with at first.
When cats get older, they learn to rely on other methods, especially scent, to communicate with other cats in their group. Because humans lack the same sense of smell as cats, our domesticated cats must use different methods to communicate with us.
Scientists believe that meowing at humans is a partially learned behavior that cats have developed because we respond so positively to it. And a recent study found that feral cats were far more likely to use other vocalization methods like growling to communicate. If they did meow, it was indiscriminate and not an obvious communication method.
In a nutshell, cats meow at humans because they’ve learned that it works. Your cat makes a sound, so you get up to investigate what they want, or you give them the attention they’re seeking.
8 Different Meows and What They Mean
The key to understanding what your cat is trying to tell you is to notice the differences between the length and pitch of their meows. It’s also important to note that a cat’s voice and language are as unique as our voices are. This means that your cat may have a different way of communicating when compared to another cat.
In addition, a cat’s meow is specific to your relationship with them and the learned behaviors they’ve picked up from interacting with you. However, there are still some generalizations we can make about the meaning of different meows. Here are 8 of the most common meows and what they typically mean:
1. Short Meow
The most frequent meow you’ll hear is a short, simple meow. It’s used as a greeting, much like your cat saying “Hi” to you. This is also the same noise that a mother cat uses when they return home to their kittens.
If your cat makes this noise, it’s a sign that they’re happy to see you and looking for a small token of attention in return. So, give them a few scratches or a quick pet to acknowledge their greeting.
2. Mid-Pitched Meow
A mid-pitched meow is a question from your cat, and it typically means they want something. This could be playtime, or it could mean that your cat’s food bowl is empty and they’re ready for their next meal.
Context is always important when deciphering your cat’s language. If it’s close to dinner time, and your cat is meowing, they’re likely hungry.
3. Long, Drawn-Out Meow
Long, drawn-out meows are typically also mid-pitched because they’re another indication that your cat wants something.
With long meows, there’s more desperation in your cat’s voice. Instead of asking for what they want (“Can I have some food?”), they’re now demanding that they get what they want (“Give me food now!”).
4. Low-Pitched Meow
The lower-pitched your cat’s meow becomes, the more unhappy they are. Your cat is most likely to use a low-pitched meow as a complaint when they’re upset.
If it’s past your cat’s typical mealtime, a door is closed that they’d like to go through, or another pet in the house has annoyed them, your cat will break out this meow to air their grievances.
5. High-Pitched Meow
High-pitched meows sound like yowls and are typically used to voice pain. Cats tend to hide their pain and discomfort, but one of the primary indicators is when they vocalize excessively.
A sudden high-pitched outburst from your cat could mean they’re injured or in pain, so check them over for any physical signs that something might be wrong. Don’t hesitate to call your veterinarian if you’re concerned.
This is a very specific meow that female cats produce when they’re in heat and looking for a mate. It’s a deep sound that crosses a yowl with a whine, and it’s distinctive enough that you’ll know immediately when you hear it.
If your female cat hasn’t been spayed, you can expect to hear this sound at irregular intervals when they go into heat. The only way to stop this is by spaying your cat. Please speak with your veterinarian for more information about this common procedure.
7. Low Growl
This is a warning sound. Your cat is letting you know that something in its vicinity is making them uncomfortable, or they feel like their territory is being threatened.
If a cat growls, they’re angry, and they’re likely to fight if pushed to that point. If you have more than one cat, be on the lookout for this sound and separate them immediately if possible.
8. Repeated Meow
If your cat repeats the same “meow” greeting over and over, this is usually an indication that they’re excited. Cats that repeatedly meow at their human companions are comfortable with them, and it’s a sign of the bond that the two of you share.
Just like the greeting meow, acknowledge your cat’s excitement with some petting or scratches. They’ll be happy to know that you’re just as pleased to see them as they are to see you.
Is Your Cat Meowing Too Often?
Meowing is a cat’s main form of communication with humans, but excessive meowing can be a sign of more serious issues like illness, injury, separation anxiety, or cognitive dysfunction.
Some cats are chattier than others, and some cat breeds (like Siamese cats) are more likely to be vocal. It’s not necessarily an indication that something is wrong if your cat is vocalizing a lot. However, it’s always a good idea to check with your vet, especially if your cat’s meows are sudden, loud, or incessant.
So, what does your cat’s meowing mean? Now that you know the different types of meows and their meanings, you’ll be better equipped to interpret your cat’s vocalizations. And that can only lead to a better relationship between you and your feline friend.
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