The sounds cats make

  • Article by: Star Tribune Sales and Marketing
  • Updated: September 15, 2006 - 11:29 AM

Sounds your cat makes have different meanings.

Cats meow at people when they want something. The vocalizations your cat makes are designed to get attention from you, food or just playtime. The same thing goes for any kind of disturbance calculated to get your attention. Any kind of response other than ignoring your cat will actually reinforce the behavior.

The meow can mean many things. It can be demanding and very loud. Perhaps dinner is late, or the litter box needs changing. Meows can also be soft and sweet and affectionate, saying, "Thanks for being my friend." Tiny "mews" are the cat's way of manipulating the situation. Most of us cannot ignore the little innocent "mew" that pleads with our emotions for a treat or petting session.

Some cats learn that if they meow and make a fuss, they'll get a smorgasbord offered to them. Of course, as long as the diet is complete and balanced, your cat doesn't need variety to satisfy normal nutritional requirements. But if offered a variety of choices, a cat can quickly turn into a finicky feline. And if the choice in the bowl doesn't satisfy her cravings, she may meow for something else.

There could be another reason for the behavior, though. It may be that the food is fine, she eats it willingly and she knows the bowl is full. But she wants your attention, and has figured out if she meows and runs for the bowl, you'll get up and follow her, talk to her, and pet or otherwise interact with her. Maybe she associates dinnertime with the most rewarding interaction with you. Spending some quality time with her other than at dinnertime might help curb this behavior.

If a cat is upset, it will produce a variety of meowing calls that actually sound different from one another. These sounds convey the following different emotions:

Anger: This high, intense sound made when the cat is extremely angry is called "caterwauling."

Fright: If a cat is cornered and cannot run away or hide, it may make a throaty yowling noise. The cat may also spit and hiss.

Pain: If a cat is in agony, it will scream or screech according to the intensity of the pain. If it is a kitten, the sound will be that of a squeal.

Attention: The sound that a cat owner will hear when its kitty wants attention is a meowing noise. Cats have refined their meow to such an extent, that their owners know by the way the meow sounds exactly what their cats are trying to say.

They use these sounds to convey their message:

Hisses and Growls

These sounds are reserved for a cat who is threatened, angry or both. Generally, a hiss or growl means "Be careful, I mean business," and "There's trouble ahead for you," often accompanied by spitting, if the warning is ignored.


When cats stalk a prey or pretend they are stalking a prey (such as watching a bird from a window perch), oftentimes you will hear your kitty "chatter." This is cats' way of trying to get the prey to trust them. Cats also will chatter when they are not in pursuit of a prey. They will chatter back at their human when they are caught off guard or disagree with the human's tone of voice toward them. If your cat gets in trouble, sometimes, he will chatter back at you, as if in defense of himself, saying, "Whatever it is, I didn't do it!"


Within the cat's vocal range is the yowl that grates on the ears and the nerves. This sound gives a whole new meaning to, "Give it to me NOW!" Oftentimes, the yowl is your cat's way of letting you know that she wants out or in now, for example. The cat uses this yowl to distract his owner and will use it often just to get a response from his owner, when nothing else seems to be doing the trick. Running the can opener will often elicit this yowling, saying, "You're not giving me the food fast enough."


Different from the yowl, the screech is the sound that will pierce your very soul, like a banshee wail that can startle you and awake you in the middle of the night. Cats often use this sound when they feel threatened by another cat or animal, or even by a human.

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