If you are the human companion to a cat, it’s likely that you’ve heard your feline friend make a plethora of sounds. But what do these cat sounds mean? From chirping to purring, growling to hissing and everything in between, we’ve got you covered on kitty language basics.
While some cats are more vocal than others, they all make their fair share of noises.
Like us, each cat has his or her own voice, so pitch and volume will be different from cat to cat, but one thing is always the same—the reason behind your kitty’s sounds.
Cat Sound: Meowing
This is a broad category, as cats meow for a myriad of reasons. Be it an empty food bowl, a greeting, a friendly wake up call or a warning—different tones can signal different meanings.
The best way to know what your cat means when she meows is to pay attention to the context and her body language at the time of the noise. For instance, if you walk through the door after a day at work there is a good chance your cat’s meow means “hello.”
If you are aggressively rubbing her belly and she is giving you a crankier-sounding meow, it’s likely a threat that she intends to bite you if you don’t stop immediately.
One theory is that cats developed their meow as a means of communication with their newfound human friends. Some scientists believe that cats see humans as large, helpless creatures that are incapable of hunting, which is why some cats will bring us prey like mice and birds. They don’t want us helpless humans to starve!
Cat Sound: Trills and Chirps
Many scientists believe that trills and chirps are a mother cat’s way of getting her kittens to follow her. So if your cat is chirping at you while she walks toward her food bowl she is likely saying “follow me to my food bowl and feed me,” or if she chirps while she is walking out the door she may be trying to lead you to something she found outside.
While this is a great theory, another is that cats simply trill and chirp when they are feeling extremely excited and happy. So perhaps your cat’s trill is a way of vocalizing her love to you in her special way.
Cat Sound: Purring
The majority of the time, cats purr when they are comfortable and happy. The frequency of the vibrations in cats while purring is soothing to humans, other cats and your cat herself. So, when a cat is happy, she purrs as a way of not only making herself even happier and more relaxed, but also to make those around her happier.
Another reason cats purr is to self-sooth. If a cat is stressed, you may find her purring as a way to calm herself down. Oftentimes, when a cat is extremely stressed they may also pant.
In kittens, purring can actually be a means of self defense. The same frequencies of vibration that we find soothing is also soothing to predators. So if a predator has a kitten in its mouth and is preparing to eat it, a kitten may begin purring in the hopes that the predator will decide she is simply too adorable to eat and release her.
Cat Sound: Growling, Hissing and Spitting
A cat that is exhibiting any of these vocalizations or behaviors is one that should be left alone.
The cat may be extremely fearful, or it may be trying to defend its territory. Either way, the cat is likely to enter fight-or-flight mode if it isn’t left alone, and nothing good can come from being the recipient of a cat bite.
While your cat may love you and would never consider hurting you on normal terms, a scared cat doesn’t always use its normal decision-making skills. Most cats will lash out at the first moving object in front of them when they are upset, whether that be a toy, another animal or their owner’s hand.
The best thing to do in this situation is to make sure your cat has a suitable place to hide if she feels the need and then leave her alone to calm down. You can also discuss holistic calming options, such as sprays, diffusers and treats, with your veterinarian.
Cat Sound: Chattering
You may notice your cat making a chattering noise while she is looking out the window at birds or chipmunks. This correlates with her hunting spirit.
Experts believe that cats chatter while watching prey because their instincts tell them how to bite to kill. While our domestic cats may not get the opportunity to hunt much anymore, their ancestors were fierce predators. Our feline friends have since exaggerated their killing move and made it into more of an excited chatter. They are imagining themselves on the hunt and chattering as they kill their intended prey.
The only way to grasp what cats mean when they make certain noises is to pay attention to your cat and try to figure out what she is telling you. Cats tend to be creatures of habit, so how they consistently make a certain sound should help to decipher the meaning behind it.