What Cats Are Saying and Why

Cats make lots of noises -- meowing, purring, chirping -- but what does it all mean? Find out.


Do you talk to your cat? Well, your cat talks too. Here's a quick rundown of their vocalizations and what they mean.

Meow: Did you know that cats only meow to humans? In fact, you'll never hear a cat meowing to other cats or animals. It's an attention-seeking call it uses for a variety of situations. Over time, if you listen closely, you should be able to determine if a particular meow is being used to beg for food, attention, or general chatter. Like people, cats emphasize their calls in different ways for different situations.

Purr: Most cat owners assume that a cat purrs only when its content, but in reality cats purr almost as much when they are in stressful situations, such as a trip to the veterinarian. Although no one is sure why cats purr, scientists believe the act of purring actually helps keep the cat healthy by stimulating their muscles and bones. But purring also is a way for cats to communicate with their owners and their kittens. It is now believed that purring occurs when the laryngeal muscles of the cat twitch, causing the vocal cords to separate as the cat inhales and exhales.

Chirp: Have you ever heard your cat make chirping sounds as it sits on the window watching birds flit about outside? Well, chirping is the vocalization cats use when they are excited about a potential live meal that they are trying to lure closer. Outdoors, chirping is used less frequently because the cat can approach the prey faster.

Chatter: As an indoor cat becomes more frustrated watching birds fly by the window, it might begin to chatter. It's a sign your cat would like nothing more than to open the window itself and catch its own food. Remember, your cat is a carnivore with a prey drive and its instincts are telling it to launch an attack.

Hiss: When a cat hisses, it's usually pretty apparent what's on its mind. Generally, a cat hisses only when it wants to be left alone or is feeling cornered and scared. Cats also often hiss when they meet strange cats (or dogs) for the first time.

Caterwaul: Sometimes it's shocking the volume of noise that can come out of our feline friends. Caterwauling is an unmistakable scream or yowl a cat produces when it is in heat or about to battle with another cat. Generally, if you spay or neuter your cat, you won't have to tolerate a middle-of-the night caterwauling session, but even a neutered pet might let loose once in a while if a strange cat suddenly appears in the window.

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