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Why Do Cats Meow?

tiny kitten

Cats start meowing at an early age, in the first week of life. This way, they are trying to communicate with their mom, us and with other animals, using different types of vocalization, and this comes out in different kinds of meowing sounds. Let’s see why do cats meow?

It is estimated that cats emit over 100 different types of vocalizations, and even if some are barely audible, we can put all of them in different categories to better explain them.

Cat Communication

1. The Meow

As I already mentioned, cats start meowing short time after being born, and they do this while trying to find their mom’s nipple. Their eyes are closed, so they are sending out vocalization and then mom responds by helping them to find that nipple.

Adult cats use this sound (meow) when they want to draw their owner’s attention. There are many meanings behind the meow sound, but to better understand your cat, you have to pay attention to the tone, intensity and frequency of the meow, and also to the body language of your feline.

2. The Purr

Cats purr when they are happy showing that they are in a state of relaxation and comfort (when they eat or are petted).

However, cats also purr when they are sick or wounded. The oscillator in their brain will adjust that purr to the right vibrational range, to facilitate the knitting of bones, and the healing of wounds.

3.The Chirp, Trill and Chirrup

A chirp or trill is a very cool sound, and is produced by female cats when they are trying to communicate with their children to gather them for breastfeeding. A trill or chirrup can also be heard when a mother cat tries to tell her weaned kittens that they have to follow her for feeding.

However, adult cats can use this sound from time to time to send their owners friendly greetings.

4. The Chatter

Cats produce this sound when they are looking at prey (like a bird or something else) through a window, so they don’t have direct access to the prey. If the window wouldn’t be there between your cat and an outside bird, the cat would move much slowly and would be way more quiet while hunting the bird.

The excitement and the wild instinct grow in cats when they see the prey through the window, so they start making these sounds while shaking their jaws.

5. Snorting or hissing

Cats produce this sound when they are in self-defense, and they are trying to tell you to stay away to avoid being bitten and scratched.

They open their mouths wide and expel air abruptly to produce a frightening sound that warns people and other animals that they should stay away.

Cats start producing this warning sound at a very young age (only three weeks old).

6. Caterwauling

This sound is made by female cats before they go into heat, and they do this to attract mates. Of course, that only cats that haven’t been spayed will produce the sound.

So, if you suddenly start hearing this sound from your cat and you live in an area with a lot of intact toms, you should spay your cat right away to avoid seeing the toms fighting to impress your kitty.

Males also produce a similar sound when they are trying to attract females, and to warn other males in their territory.

7.The Growl

This is another warning sound produced by cats, and is used to warn people and other animals that they don’t want to be disturbed.

Growling cat

Growling cat, image source: pixabay.com

The vocalization in this case can be short or long, but the meaning is the same and is made to warn you that if you don’t stop, they might charge you.

If your cat growls at you, it is best to give her some space.

However, if the sound is frequent, it could be a sign of mental or physical health issue, so you should call your vet for advice.

8. The Yowl

The yowl is a sound produced by cats that are in distress, when they are feeling cornered. If you hear this sound coming from your cat, she is only trying to tell you that she’s in trouble.

Check right away if your cat isn’t threatened by another cat or other animals, and try to help her if you can, because she is asking for help.

The same sound (yowling) is produced by a cat that is trapped in a room or closet, and she is trying to tell you that she’s there and needs help to get out.

Very old cats that may be suffering from dementia, could yowl during the night when the lights are out, to tell you that they are lost.

9. The Scream or Cry of pain

Cats usually scream when they are injured, and they can scream and cry when you take them to the vet.

The sound can be heard when the doctor is trying to consult your cat or give her an injection.

A finer scream can also be produced by tiny kittens during their first weeks of life to call their mothers for help.

The scream will be similar to a prolonged meow, but more loudly, showing that the kitten is in imminent danger (is an emergency call).

10. Shrieks and Howls

The purpose of this sound is not to warn other animals or people, it is produced to show the others that they are ready for combat if necessary.

This would be the reason why these sounds are mostly produced by unneutered adult males.

11. The Murmur

This sound is produced by cats as a combination of purring, grunting and meowing and has a positive meaning.

Both young and adult cats may produce this sound to show gratitude and satisfaction, in return for receiving their favorite threat or being given some caresses that generates much pleasure.

The Pallet of Cat Sounds

The cat sounds presented above are only a group of common sounds heard by scientists and cat owners while studying cats in everyday life.

The meaning of these sounds was also explained through observation and study over time.

However, cats produce a much wider pallet of sounds, but most of them are hardly perceptible by the human ear.

Kittens that grew up without their mom or siblings (bottle kittens), are completely dependent on us to grow up, so they may completely use these sounds in an inappropriate way because their mom was not there to teach them how to properly use them.

The sensitive phase of social development in cats takes place between the age of two weeks old and nine weeks old, and in that seven week period of time, young kittens learn and use just about the entire pallet of sounds described above.


The number of sounds produced by cats is pretty impressive, however, if you got a new kitten that is very young, and when you are trying to touch or grab her, she starts hissing, don’t be afraid, because she is only trying to warn you not to touch her because she might bite or scratch you.

Grab her bravely and you will quickly realize that she was only bluffing to impress you, because she learned that warning sound while being in the nest along with her mom and siblings.

Article written by:

Darius Savin is a lifelong animal lover and protector and the chief editor of Checkmember. He writes and edits articles and is also the creator of the distribution maps for all the creatures featured here.