- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Does your cat trill at you when you walk through the door, or perhaps they wake you up with a particularly loud meow in the morning? Cats are communicative creatures and have developed a whole host of different sounds. The most common cat sounds are meows, chirps, hisses, and growls. These sounds clue us into their behavior and emotions. Some cat breeds are incredibly vocal, and pet parents of these breeds can quickly become experts at translating their cat’s language.
But if you’re unsure what that sound coming from your cat is — or what it might mean — we’ve rounded up eight of the most common sounds cats make. We also spoke to the experts to find out exactly what those noises might mean and how they can give important clues to your cat’s feelings.
Meowing: The Classic Sound
Cats typically meow when they want something! “Kittens meow to their mom to obtain food, comfort, attention, or play,” explains Stephen Quandt, founder of Stephen Quandt Feline Behavior Associates. Another time kittens might meow is when they’re in distress.
Adult cats don’t usually meow at each other, so why do cats meow at humans? Quandt says they meow at us for the same reason they meow at their moms. “It’s like they’ve entered into a maternal relationship with us, except we’re the mom, and they’re the kitten,” he adds.
A meow can also be a greeting. If you’ve come home after a long day, your cat might let you know they’re pleased to see you (and that’s pretty cute). Over time you may start noticing your cat uses different meows at different times. A short meow may signal they’re trying to get your attention or ask for food, while a more extended meow might mean your cat is complaining.
Hissing: A Warning Sound
Cats tend to hiss when they’re startled or scared. “It’s a powerful warning signal, telling any potential aggressor to back off immediately,” explains Marsha Scott, a cat behaviorist and founder of CatzMag.
So what does a cat hiss look like? Quandt says a cat’s teeth are visible during a hiss, and air escapes through their vocal cords to produce the sound. Additionally, when some cats hiss, you may hear a spitting sound, but no saliva is produced.
Yowling: An Emotional Sound
Quandt explains that yowling is a cat’s last verbal warning after hissing and growling to signal an attack. “It sounds like an extended meow with a frequency modulation at the end, either going up in frequency, down in frequency, or both,” he added.
Female cats in heat also will yowl, and the time of day your cat is yowling could give a clue to the behavior it’s linked to. “A yowl during the daytime could indicate frustration, while a yowl at night might suggest a desire to go out and explore or perhaps a territorial dispute with another feline in the neighborhood,” explained Wendy Diamond, author of It’s a Cat’s World and How to Understand Women Through Their Cats.
What about if your cat makes a long, sorrowful yowl? Diamond says this means a cat is lonely, depressed, or wanting attention.
Trilling & Chirping: A Cry for Attention
Possibly one of the cutest sounds a cat can make, a trill is a mix between a purr and a meow. Quandt says trilling and chirping are instinctive vocalizations. “Mom cats often trill to get their young’s attention or get them to follow her,” he added. Cats trill and chirp at you to get your attention, ask you to follow them, or say hello.
“You’ll often hear delightful trills and chirps when a cat is feeling excited or full of anticipation,” Scott says. She adds that this can happen when they see something exciting outside, like a bird or another cat.
Chattering: Sound of Stress
Chattering is often called twittering or chittering. “[This sound] combines the rapid clicking of the teeth and jaw and is sometimes combined with a vocalization, a type of meow,” said Quandt. He says cats typically chatter when they see something they can’t reach due to frustration or predatory stress.
Some pet parents might notice their cats chatting to them, although these noises are usually more like a meow or trill.
Caterwauling: A Primal Sound
Once you’ve heard a caterwaul, you’re unlikely to forget it. “[It’s] is a very disturbing sound,” Quandt says. “[It’s] a mix of yowling, howling, and whining all combined into an almost unearthly sound.”
Scott adds that when cats caterwaul, female cats engage in mating behavior, or male cats fight over territory. “It’s a sound that captures the essence of their instincts and primal desires, reminding us of the wild spirit that still resides within our domesticated companions,” she explains.
Screaming: A Distress Signal
A cat scream is precisely how you think it sounds. Quandt says it’s high-pitched and a distress signal. Cats who are fighting will often scream, but a cat screaming alone can indicate a different type of issue.
Diamond says cats might caterwaul if they’re in pain or feeling threatened by themselves. When a cat screams alone, it often indicates a distressing situation that requires immediate attention or medical assistance.
Growling: A Commanding Sound
“Growling is like a fierce declaration that cats use to communicate their boundaries and assert their dominance,” Scott explains. She adds that it’s a message that commands respect and tells others to back off.
Additionally, when your cat growls, they’re ready to defend their territory.
Which Cat Breeds Are More Vocal?
Some cats are super chatty, while others barely make a sound. While vocalizations can vary from cat to cat and aren’t always breed-related, Quandt outlined some of the breeds that are typically more vocal alongside those that tend to make less noise:
|Most Vocal Cat Breeds||Less Vocal Cat Breeds|
|Oriental Shorthair||Maine Coon|
|Japanese Bobtail||Norwegian Forest|
What Sounds Does A Sick Cat Make?
If your cat is sick, it might make noise or be quiet. The key is knowing what’s normal for your cat. “If a cat is making sounds that are out of the ordinary, consult your veterinarian,” recommends Dr. Gary Richter, author of Longevity for Cats and a Rover’s Dog People Panel member.
He adds that while cats are complicated creatures, they also give us signals when something is wrong; these signals include sounds, body posture, or appetite changes.
What Happens If My Cat Suddenly Goes Quiet?
Quandt says cats have a symphony of sounds; the key is for us to listen and enjoy. “Studies show that pet parents are good at interpreting their cat’s sounds much better than the sounds other cats make,” he adds. But what if your cat suddenly goes quiet? A silent meow is usually nothing to worry about but can sometimes indicate a health condition, like feline laryngitis, or that your cat has inhaled an irritant.
If your usually vocal cat stops being loud, or your usually quiet cat suddenly starts making a lot more noise, it’s always best to speak to your veterinarian for advice.
We love our cats, especially when they speak to us! “Cats have a unique way of communicating with their humans and engage in back-and-forth’ conversations,'” Diamond explains. “They may be expressing their affection, seeking attention, or simply enjoying the playful interaction.” She concludes that cats can even imitate the sounds they hear from us, creating a fun and engaging communication dynamic. Learning your cat’s language is one of many ways to strengthen the bond with your favorite feline.