BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

How Many Sounds Can a Cat Make: You Can Master the Cat-Speak!

black and white kitten meowing cat cries sitting in green grass with yellow dandelions spring summer
Stella Noble
Written by Stella Noble

Recently, humans have started researching the cat language. We’ve figured out that they prefer communicating with their body language, but even before that, cats have also tried to reach a higher level of understanding with us by developing a variety of communicative sounds. Talkative kitties like the Tonkinese and the Colorpoint Shorthair seem to never run out of things to say, but have you ever wondered how many sounds can a cat make? What about their meanings?

Scientists are working hard to try to discover more cat sounds and to decipher their meanings. As we mentioned, cats developed a whole new method of communication in order to make it easier for us to understand them. Since they went through so much trouble, it is our duty as cat owners to get acquainted with all the different sounds they have developed as well as the meanings. Knowing what your cat is telling you is the key to understanding your cat’s basic needs and developing a stronger connection.

Orange cat making a sound with her mouth open

In this article, you will learn all about the known cat vocalizations. We will discuss different cat sounds and their meanings in order to help you understand your cat’s needs better. However, know that every cat sounds different. Although they all have the same range of vocalization, your cat’s meow can sound distinct from the meow of your neighbor’s cat.

All the Different Sounds a Cat Can Make

Over the years, scientists have concluded that there are three distinctive types of cat vocalization:

  • Sounds produced with the mouth closed: These include the sounds of purring, trilling, chirring, chirruping, grunting, and murmuring.

  • Sounds produced with an opening-closing mouth: These include the sounds of meowing, trill-meowing, yowling, moaning, anger wailing, and a mating cry.

  • Sounds produced with an open, tense mouth: These include the sounds of growling, hissing, spitting, snarling, crying, pained shrieking, chirping, and chattering.

Cats don’t need these sounds to communicate with each other—they use their body language in order to get their needs and feelings across—but because we are not always fluent in feline body language, these clever beings discovered a way to produce various sounds to help us understand them better.

Sound #1: The Purr

This sound is definitely a favorite of many cat owners, as it is associated with pleasure and contentedness. Cats will reward their owners with this deep rumble when they are petted and in the best of moods. The vibrations from a cat’s purring have a soothing and healing effect, so you may also hear cats purr when they are in pain or labor.

Two cats purring together

It’s a mystery why cats purr and other animals don’t, but basically, what happens is that a signal is sent from a cat’s brain to her throat muscles and smaller vocal cords. This causes the vocal cords to vibrate up to 150 times in one minute, and that vibrations create motor-like sounds as the cat breathes out.

Sound #2: Trill

This is a high-pitched chirp-like sound that cats make when they are greeting their owners or other cats. This positive and happy sound is usually made with the cat’s mouth closed. By trilling, your cat is telling you that she is happy to see you, or that she is excited because you’re rewarding her with treats.

A cat trilling to her owner

How frequently a cat trills is associated with her personality. A shy and quiet cat may never treat you to this type of sound. On the other hand, cats that are full of confidence and like to be the center of attention will produce trills more often.

Sound #3: Chirrup

Like the trill, a chirrup is also a high-pitched sound that indicates a greeting. It can also mean that your cat is happy and excited about something. All cats learn this sound when they are young because chirrups are used by mother cats to make kittens pay attention and follow them.

a cat purr chirping on a monday afternoon

When your cat is producing a chirrup, you should also observe her body language. It could be that she feels you are not paying her enough attention. Usually, when you finally do pay attention, your cat will stop producing these sounds. On the other hand, if your cat is chirruping and looking back at you as she slowly walks away, she wants you to follow her because she has something very interesting to show you.

Sound #4: Grunt (Murmur)

Compared to trills and chirrups, grunts are lower-pitched sounds. Maybe they don’t sound like it, but grunts also have a friendly meaning. Some cats don’t make these sounds, but others do. Usually, a cat will produce this noise while she is sleeping and you are petting her. This is a happy and relaxed sound; your cat is basically saying: “This feels so good.”

Sound #5: Meows

Meows are the most recognizable of all cat sounds, but did you know that cats only meow when they want to communicate with humans? Kittens meow to let their mother know that they need attention, but they stop doing this with other cats as they grow up. On the other hand, adult domestic cats meow at their owners all the time. Doesn’t that make us cat parents in the truest sense of the word?

A kitten meowing to her owner

Not all meows are the same. Depending on their duration or the volume levels your cat uses, you can tell exactly what she needs:

  • Short or standard meows that are high-pitched mean your cat is saying hello. This greeting type of meow is your cat’s way of letting you know that she acknowledges your presence.

  • When your cat is repeating the standard meow over and over again, it means that she is very excited that you are there. This may be the way your cat greets you every day when you get home from work. You may also be treated to these meows when you’ve just come back home from a long trip. Repeated meows mean that your cat misses you. Most likely, she will also follow you around the house for some time.

  • Your cat will treat you to mid-pitched meows usually when it is time for breakfast or dinner. This type of meow signalizes that your cat wants something from you. If by some miracle, it turns out it’s not food that your cat wants, you will have to observe her body language in order to figure out what exactly it is that she needs.

  • If you didn’t succeed in satisfying your cat’s needs, she would move on from a mid-pitched meow to a long, drawn-out meow. This means that your cat wants something, and wants it right now. This can happen when your cat is very hungry or wants to be let outside or into another room. If your cat feels like once isn’t motivating enough for you to do her bidding, she will keep repeating the drawn-out meows. At that point, you will do anything just to make her stop.

  • A low-pitched meow is how your cat lets you know that she isn’t satisfied with the way you are treating her. To you, it may not seem like a big deal if dinner was 30 minutes late, but your cat will definitely have something to say about that. If food isn’t the problem, it is up to you to figure out what is, and fix it before your cat’s mood deteriorates.

  • High-pitched meows that are loud and quick would be the way cats express anger. If you have other pets, this sound can be the first clue that one of them is bothering your cat and that you’ll need to investigate if your cat is all right. Also, a cat will produce this sound in pain if you accidentally step on her. These sounds are often accompanied by agitated tail-twitching.

  • A mew is a soft, high-pitched meow. It is commonly only seen in kittens. This is their way to seek attention from their mother, or from their owner. Usually, adult cats don’t use this sound, but some adult cats mew when they are sad or under duress.

  • A trill-meow is a rising combination of trilling and meowing. When you hear your cat using this sound combination, it means that she either wants your attention or food.

Sound #6: Yowl

Yowling is one of the saddest sounds a cat can make, and it can have several meanings.

  • Your cat may be telling you that she wants more attention. If your cat thinks that a simple meow isn’t attracting enough of your attention, she may employ some extreme measures and start yowling. It may be that your cat simply wants some more play or cuddle time. It is best to fulfill her needs now rather than let her yowl for hours on end because they can do this for a long time.

  • Female cats often yowl and howl when they are in heat. This can last for ten days, and it can be a most unpleasant experience for the owner. The best way to stop these distressing sounds is to get your cat fixed. The same goes for male cats, who can even get injured fighting other males for the mating privileges.

  • When everything is fine but your cat can’t stop yowling, it can be a sign of poor health. Older cats often yowl because they are starting to lose their eyesight and hearing, and they feel confused and scared. If this is the case, take your cat to the veterinarian so they can examine her and prescribe the correct treatment.

Sound #7: Mating Calls

Consisting of high-pitched and long series of trills, yowling, trill-meows, and meows, both female and male cats can produce mating calls. Female cats use mating calls to attract male cats when they are in heat. These are high-pitched sounds that can be overwhelming to the human ear, and the best way to prevent them is by spaying/neutering your cat.

Sound #8: Growl

Growls are very low-pitched guttural sounds which cats make when they are in danger, angry, ready to fight, or to fend off their opponent. Indoors-only cats may growl when they are backed into a corner by another pet. Your cat will have her back hunched, and her hackles will raise as she produces a warning growl.

a fluffy cat Growling

In human terms, these growls can be translated into “back off.” If your cat’s opponent backs away after this, your cat probably will not attack. But if the growls didn’t have the desired effect, your cat will make more noises and finally, attack.

Sound #9: Hiss and Spit

Cats hiss and spit when they encounter an enemy that doesn’t back down after a warning growl. These are aggressive and defensive sounds produced with the mouth open and the teeth fully exposed. Usually, cats will use all the available vocalization to let their enemy know that they will not back down, and this can include growls and snarls.

A cat spitting

If your cat is cornered by your other pets, it is important to stop the altercation before it escalates into a fight. This behavior is frequently seen in male cats when females are in heat, and if one of them doesn’t back down, it is likely that both will get hurt.

Sound #10: Snarl

Snarls are loud and harsh, high-pitched sounds that mean the cat is angry, scared, or is defending his territory. Snarls are often accompanied by higher-pitched growls, spitting, and hissing. Snarling cats often adopt a defensive posture with their back arched, hackles raised, and their tail twitching angrily. Snarls are also often accompanied by a few swipes of the paw meant to scare off the attacker. If that doesn’t work, the cat will snarl once more and launch an attack.

Sound #11: Chirp and Chatter

These are the sounds cats make in order to mimic the sounds their prey make. Chirps and chatters are happy sounds that are full of anticipation and sometimes frustration. Scientists recently discovered that cats make these sounds in order to attract their prey closer. They aim to lose less energy while hunting.

a cat Chattering at the window

Indoors-only cats are often seen sitting by the window and producing these sounds while they are watching the birds. An interesting fact is that cats can produce different kinds of chirps and chatters to attract different types of prey.

Cats that are more vocal will use these sounds often, and you will hear them less often with quiet cats. The important thing to remember is that every cat will tailor the sounds she makes according to the results they have on her owner. The cat’s personality also plays a big role.

Wrap Up

Perhaps there are more sounds yet to be discovered, but for now, these are the ones the scientist are sure about and know the full meaning of. It is important to understand what your cat is telling you in order to fulfill all her needs; sometimes a cat will “tell” you if she is feeling sick. Familiarizing yourself with the meaning of every sound that your cat produces will strengthen your bond and make your cat feel appreciated and understood.

a cat Yowling

Does your cat make some other sounds? If so, it would be great if you could describe what they sound like, and what you think they mean. Please share your thoughts with us and our readers in the comments section below.

About the author
Stella Noble
Stella Noble

Stella Noble lives in Warren, Michigan with her family and three cats. She is a Certified Cat Trainer and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

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