From chirps to meows to purrs, cats make an amazing range of noises.
For the most part, cats meow or growl as a way to communicate with other animals or humans. Whether there’s a bird outside the window or a lack of food in the bowl, a cat will probably have something to say about it.
On the other hand, cats make certain sounds for self-soothing purposes, or to provide comfort for other cats or humans. There’s a whole range of reasons why cats purr or meow, and it’s fascinating to learn more about this animal’s wide range of sounds.
For creatures without the ability to speak, cats are very talented at communicating their wants and needs. We rounded up some of their most common sounds and what they mean.
Meows are saved for humans.
The most easily identifiable cat sound, meows can have a ton of different meanings.
In the wild, kittens meow when they’re cold or hungry to get the mother cat’s attention, as explained by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Generally, though, adult cats don’t meow much to one another.
On the other hand, adult cats meow to communicate with humans pretty frequently. In fact, cats meow at people to say hello, ask for attention, or demand food, as further noted by the ASPCA.
Chances are, cat guardians will learn to distinguish an individual cat’s meows. There’s a difference between the plaintive, high-pitched cry for food, and the bright, chirpy sound they make as a greeting.
Cats purr for some good or bad reasons.
Although it’s another common cat noise, there’s something mysterious about the purr. The low, rumbling sound so associated with happy cats has a variety of meanings and purposes, too.
Mother cats purr to attract kittens, which are born blind and deaf, as noted in Cat Behaviour Associates. The vibrations from this rumbly sound lead kittens to snuggle next to mum for warmth and food.
Later on in life, cats may purr when they’re happy, anxious, or sick, as further noted by Cat Behaviour Associates. Cats have even been known to purr in an attempt to soothe themselves or someone else, including humans.
But there is a communication angle to purring as well. In fact, a certain type of purr has similar frequency peaks to the cry of an infant, according to Karen McComb’s study, “The cry embedded within the purr,” in a 2009 issue of Current Biology. This may show that cats are purring in a very specific way to manipulate people, most likely for a can of cat food.
A hiss is usually not a good thing.
Like the sound of air escaping a tire, a cat’s hiss is unmistakable. It is the cat’s clear message to back off.
For the most part, cats hiss when they are frightened or unhappy, and it’s often the final warning sound before the claws and teeth come out, as explained in Animal Planet. A hissing cat is probably not far from striking out at whatever is upsetting it, whether that’s a dog or the vacuum cleaner nozzle.
Plus, some animal experts theorise that cats learned how to hiss by imitating snakes, as further explained in Animal Planet. A snake’s hiss is a pretty universally scary noise in the animal kingdom, and it also means the reptile is feeling threatened and ready to fight. Maybe cats borrowed this noise for similar reasons.
You don’t want to hear a growl either.
The growl is another unhappy cat sound. For instance, cats may growl out of fear, anger, aggression, or even over-stimulation from too much play, according to The Humane Society of the United States. Whatever the reason, a growling cat is communicating one clear message: leave me alone.
Chatter is usually reserved for birds.
When your cat spies a bird outside the window, he might make a distinctive chattering noise at it, all the while vibrating his lower jaw super fast. What’s the reason for this response, other than being very cute?
The cat chattering noise may point to frustration, excitement, or even an attempt to mimic the bird’s natural noises, according to Cat Health. Whatever the reason, it means your feline desperately wants to attack that bird. (Thank goodness for the windowpane.)
A trill is your cat’s way of saying “hello.”
Sometimes cats make chirpy, cooing, almost birdlike noises. It’s distinct from meowing in both sound and meaning.
“Trilling is a high-pitched, chirp-like noise made by cats as a greeting to people or other cats. It is associated with a positive, welcoming vibe,” said Dr. Sasha Gibbons in Catster. Cats trill to get the attention of kittens or humans, and it’s a way of saying “Hey, look at me.”
Caterwauls are sparks by pain or fear.
Cats can make a wailing, howling noise so distinct, it demanded the creation of its very own word: caterwauling. This loud sound is more drawn-out and distressed than a typical meow.
For the most part, cats that make this noise are in distress. Pain, fear, disorientation, or even the appearance of outside intruders might cause a cat to caterwaul, as noted in Catster. It usually means something is wrong in your cat’s world, and he needs food, water, medical attention, or serious reassurance.
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