11 Sounds Cats Make and What They Mean

Cats are known to be self-reliant and independent pets. A lot of people see them as sometimes cunning and oftentimes bossy. Some cats will move around your home as if they have no regard towards their surroundings.

They are generally considered to be disdainful. This is why the ratio of cat owners who view their cats as just pets or companions rather than as family members is higher compared to dog owners considering the same criteria.

Despite this, cats do have their affectionate side; probably a result of being domesticated more than 9,000 years ago. They show their affection and communicate using various modalities. But the main ones are done through physical gestures and vocalizations.

kitten playing with a ball

Compared to other animals, cats have a well-developed capacity to vocalize. There are 16 known sound patterns under 3 categories with which cats communicate. This means that a lot of interpreting is needed, especially considering we humans, a lot of times, do not really know what our cats are trying to say.

The following is the list of the eleven most common sounds your cat makes and what they usually mean:


The meow is probably the sound that most people are familiar with. Although commonly heard, adult cats do not actually meow at each other. They only do this when communicating with humans.

Meowing may convey a variety of emotions but they are easily interpretable as long as owners are aware of the context. There will usually be a variation in the pitch and volume of the meow depending on what it means. It may signify their need for attention, feeling of annoyance, loneliness, friendliness, or even sickness.

Kittens may also occasionally meow at their mothers; often when they are hungry and want to be breastfed. But this behavior slowly goes away as kittens mature into adulthood.



Chattering is considered to be a manifestation of your cat’s predatory instincts. It sounds similar to a bird’s chirping or a mumble accompanied by a squeaky or faint cry. Cats do this as they stare out the window looking at squirrels, birds, or some other small animals. They also often chatter when they are in the mood for hunting.

Aside from the distinct vocal sound that you’ll hear, your cat will also display changes to its facial expression when it chatters. Its lower jaw will slightly open while its eyes are firmly fixed at something. There are also some speculations that this sound is due to a surge in the cat’s adrenaline.

Cute cat pet playing


A hissing sound is often caused by a feeling of fear or anger. It is done especially by queens when protecting their kittens. When cats hiss, it means that they are ready to strike even though they are feeling afraid.

Hissing usually follows after a growl. It serves as the cat’s warning against strangers or other animals before attacking. There are also situations wherein a hiss is accompanied by a change in postural display, specifically bristling of hairs and arching of the back.


The sound of a cat’s yowl is a bit unnerving especially when you hear it in the middle of the night. It is characterized by a deep, lengthy moan often caused by feelings of distress or discomfort. Female cats also use this vocalization when they are calling for a mate.

Another reason for yowling is when there’s a new cat around that your pet doesn’t like. Yowling may also mean that your cat is bored or in rare cases, feeling sick. You should check your cat for illnesses if it starts yowling continuously.


Purring is a bit unique compared to the other sounds cats make. It is not an apparent showcase of vocalization but more of a vibration of throat muscles. It is a low, rumbling sound which signifies that your cat is feeling comfortable and happy.

Cat owners usually observe their pet purring while it is sitting on their lap or on their body. This way, owners do not only hear the purr but also ‘feel’ it due to its low pitch and vibration.

How cats purr is still a question yet to be completely answered by scientists. There are some general theories but there is no consensus yet by the scientific community.


The sound of a caterwauling queen only means one thing – she is looking for a potential mate. This sound is characterized by a drawn-out, hollow-sounding yowl. Queens on the peak of their estrus cycles will caterwaul as a signal that they wants to mate.


A cat’s growl is basically its warning sound and an indication of negative emotion. Your cat will growl when it feels aggression or anger. The feeling of fear, annoyance, or threat may also incite it to growl.

Growling is cats’ way of saying “back-off”. There are various reasons why cats would feel this way, sometimes, even towards their owners. Injured cats will often growl because they feel threatened given their vulnerable state.

Most of the time, cats will not growl at their owners unless they feel really tensed. If this is the case, just give them time until they become calm.

Some cats may also have behavioral issues which make them growl more than usual. Similar to a hiss, a growl is sometimes also accompanied by a change in postural display.


Screaming may be considered a variant of yowling. It is easily recognizable as a very loud shriek that may induce a tense feeling. Cats scream mainly after mating and fighting.

Female screams after mating due to pain caused by the male’s barbed penis. The male penis, when removed after mating causes excruciating pain for the female’s genital opening.

Cats also scream when fighting. This is sort of like their battle cry as they experience a rush of adrenaline during the action.

When you hear your cat screaming, it means there is something that requires your immediate attention. You may have to break into a fight and bring your cat to safety.


Trilling is typically done by cats as a form of greeting. This is not just a normal cat greeting, but a greeting filled with affection. It may also signify the feeling of happiness or excitement.

This form of vocalization sounds similar to continuously pronouncing the letter ‘R’. It is learned as early as kittenhood and is usually used by queens to call the attention of her kittens. Cats also use this sound sometimes when communicating with their owners often to call their attention.


Cats are also capable of making beep sounds. This peculiar vocalization may imply a number of meanings. Your cat may make beep sounds when it is feeling fatigued or sometimes when it just doesn’t feel like moving. This just means that it wants you to move instead of itself.


Similar to a growl or a hiss, a snarl is oftentimes accompanied by a change in postural display. Due to the similarities in the nature of their emotional triggers, hisses and growls usually happen along with snarls.

Snarls are generally louder compared to other vocalizations as a sign of assertion and willingness to attack. They are basically used as a form of intimidation to drive away perceived potential threats.


If you often feel clueless when hearing your cat’s vocalization, it becomes significantly harder to attend to its needs because you don’t even know what it needs in the first place. That is why it is very important to know at least the basics of how cats communicate through vocalizations.

There are a lot of other vocalizations that are not on this list, especially if we consider the varieties in pitch, frequency, and volume. But these listed are the general ones and knowledge of them is sufficient enough.

They may be hard to learn at first, but the mark of a responsible cat owner is being able to put in the time and effort for the well-being of their pet.

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