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Why Do Cats Meow, and What Do They Mean?

Do you ever wish you could have communication with your cat, or at least understand what they’re trying to tell you when they meow? If you’ve spent any amount of time around cats, you’ve probably noticed that not all meows sound the same. From the long, drawn out meeeeow to short little chirps, cats have a range of vocal signals.

Check out this list of common reasons why cats and kittens meow and what they might mean.

Why Kittens Meow
Just like human babies cry to tell their parents what they need, kittens meow to communicate with their mothers. When kittens meow, they might be hungry, cold or scared. Newly adopted kittens might also meow or cry upon moving into a new home. This change can be distressing to a kitten, so take steps to comfort them, such as holding or petting. The crying will usually subside as your new kitten becomes used to their new environment.

Cats Don’t Meow at Each Other
Did you know that once a kitten grows up and is weaned from its mother, it no longer meows at other cats? Grown cats use different vocal expressions besides meowing to communicate with each other, including scent, body language, facial expressions and touch. Cats may growl, hiss or yowl at each other to communicate, but meowing is a signal reserved only for humans.

Do Certain Cats Meow More Than Others?
The amount a cat meows can depend on its breed, age and environment. Siamese cats in particular are known for being “talkative.” Older cats may meow more than they did in their younger years, and cats in multi-pet households may meow to get attention.

What Does My Cat’s Meow Mean?
Your cat’s meow can mean a variety of things, from a simple greeting to letting you know they don’t feel well. With a little patient observation, you can learn to identify what your cat is trying to tell you when it meows.

  • Saying Hello – Often cats will greet their owners when they come home or even when they come across each other in the house. A normal “all-purpose” meow when your cat encounters you can simply be its way of saying hi.
  • Asking for Attention – If your cat is feeling lonely or left out, you may notice it meowing more than usual. Your cat might also become clingy, following you around and not leaving you alone. If your cat is acting this way, try spending more time with them. Contrary to popular belief, cats are social creatures and do not enjoy being left alone for long periods of time. Playing, grooming and petting are all ways you can show your cat the attention it needs.
  • Contentment – Cats often make small, soft meows when they’re being petted or held. This is usually a sign they’re content. Additionally, if your cat pushes their body up into your hand during petting, this is a sign they’re enjoying the contact with you and inviting more.
  • They’re Hungry – Cats meow at their owners when they’re hungry or when their humans enter the kitchen. While your cat may indeed be asking for food, feeding a meal or treats in response to the meowing might encourage your cat to make this behavior a habit. Try feeding your cat after it quiets down or from an automatic feeder that dispenses food at certain times. When your cat chirps at you instead of meowing, it may be trying to lead you to its food bowl.
  • Watching Other Animals – Have you ever noticed your cat making a mix of chirping, chattering growls and meows when it looks outside? Chances are they’re watching a bird, squirrel or other animal. The noises are a signal that your cat is excited or interested in the “prey” outside.
  • Anxiety/Stress – If a major change has occurred in the household (e.g., a new baby in the home, you’ve moved to a new house, another pet or family member has passed away, etc.), your cat might make longer, sad meows. This is an indication your cat senses a change and is experiencing anxiety or stress. Spending more time with your cat, comforting and playing with them, even treating them occasionally can help put your cat at ease and relieve this type of meowing.
  • Looking for a Mate – If your cat has not been spayed or neutered, you will likely find them exerting long, low yowls during mating season. Female cats yowl when in heat, and male cats do the same when they smell a female in heat. This type of behavior can be very disruptive, so it’s best to have your cats spayed or neutered to avoid the issue.
  • On the Prowl – If you have an outdoor cat, you may hear it growling or letting out long, low meows. This sound may mean your cat is hunting or has captured prey. If your cat is coming up to you with chirping noises, it may be trying to lead you to its catch.
  • Aging – As cats get older, they may suffer from cognitive dysfunction, which can cause them anxiety and stress, resulting in increased meowing. If you feel like your cat is suffering from disorientation or an underlying medical issue, make an appointment with your veterinarian.
  • Illness – Similar to aging cats, sick cats can meow to let their owners know they’re not feeling well. If you notice your cat exhibiting unusual meowing and behavior, schedule an appointment with your local veterinarian. Conditions such as overactive thyroid or kidney disease, usually found in older cats, can cause increased meowing.

Paying attention to your cat to learn their different forms of meows and vocal signals can be a rewarding experience for a pet parent. In doing so, you might get to know your cat better and experience a deeper level of connection and bonding to your feline friend. You’ll also be more attuned to how your cat is feeling and can get help sooner if you notice any unusual behavior or sounds.

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