Pet Care

Understanding Every Sound and Meow Your Cat

Terry M. Cervantes 

Cats can be talkative, and until someone develops an English-cat dictionary, we are here to help you translate all those meows, purrs and everything else into messages that you can understand.

Understanding the communication of cats can be difficult! A purr can mean different things when associated with different postures. Also, do you know the difference between a chirp and a trill? Let’s break down some of the most common cat sounds so that your conversations with your cat can turn into a two-way street.


It’s a classic! We have all learned that cats “meow” in our old picture books, but mature cats meow mainly to our advantage.

Kittens have a lot of unique meows and chirps to tell their mother exactly what they need, but mature feral cats usually stop meowing as they grow up and use body language for most of their communication. However, the domestic cats continue to meow so that we can follow their conversation. (Maybe our cats learned to respond after telling us about the work drama for the hundredth time…)

Because meows are a sound that cats make for humans, they are usually a sign that cats want our attention — for example, if they want snacks or their favorite toy stuck under the sofa. If the meow is longer and more plaintive, they may complain about something painful — or simply say that they have entered the water and their paw is wet. And of course, a meow can be a friendly greeting by saying “”Hey! You are finally at home!”

You may also notice that older cats increase the volume of their meow to 11-a side effect of their decreased Hearing.


This characteristic guttural rumble is a comfort for cats and their humans. (Is anyone else purring the recorded cat purrs instead of the white noise or is it just us?) Purring while you are being petted or curled up by your side is one of the surest signs that your cat feels safe and happy.

In some matters, cats can also calm down by purring. Just like you hum a melody or whisper to yourself when you do something that makes you anxious, your cat can purr to calm his own nerves. Pay attention to the non-verbal signs they give you — if their ears are retracted or their body is tense, they are probably worried about something.

Chirps and trills

These cute sounds are the sounds Of a sassy cat! The chirps are short, chirping meows, and the trills sound like a singing combination of meows and purrs. These sounds can be a cheerful greeting or a prompt that says: “Follow me!”These are also sounds that cats use to communicate with each other and that might seem familiar to you if you live in a household with several cats.


Have you ever heard your cat click? It sounds like an abrupt, stuttering series of short whispered chirps. It’s hard to describe, but very distinctive when you hear it!

Chatter is usually reserved for those moments when your cat has seen really tempting prey — but he is stuck behind the window and cannot access it. The next time your cat tries to make its way through the glass to catch a squirrel, watch out for the chatter!


The yelp is the loudest, longest and most unfortunate version of the meow. These plaintive calls are a clear and obvious complaint that something is wrong with your cat. The cause of this can vary greatly, from painful conditions to the screaming mating cries of male or female cats to the good old-fashioned nocturnal boredom.

Whistles and growls

Cats are not afraid to set boundaries, and they do it with a whole series of angry sounds. Grunts, whistles and spitting can all tell you that your cat has not accepted this belly massage! Whistling sounds can occur at any time when your cat is feeling anxious or browbeated and are especially common in nervous cats. Grunts and growls are usually territorial reactions to let a stranger know that he is not welcome on your cat’s lawn.

It is also important to note that sudden and abnormally excessive meowing can be a red flag! Excessive vocalization can be a sign that your cat is suffering. So don’t be afraid to have your pet’s health checked by your veterinarian if you are worried.

You can fill a book (or two or twelve) with everything you need to know about cat behavior, but with these basics, you’re on your way to becoming a cat whisperer! Now you have many wonderful years ahead of you where you (unfortunately) know exactly what your cat means when he meows for you to clean his litter box.

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Terry M. Cervantes 

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