Cat Sounds: Demystified

New Pet Owners  •  Pam Karkow  •  Friday, May 8, 2020

Did you know you can tell how your cat is feeling just by listening closely?  There are so many times I have looked deep into my pooch’s eyes, willing her to convey what is going on inside her furry little head.  After doing this research, I’d be thrilled if dogs had half as many ways of speaking as cats.

So, what are some noises cats make, and how can a cat mom or dad know when those sounds are cause for alarm?  Below, we’ve broken down the symphony of feline fanfare, so you can be prepared for any vibration, good or bad.


Purring is a low frequency vibration that one can often feel more than hear. “Cats who are happy and healthy tend to purr a lot,” according to Sharon Cromwell-Davis, DVM.  It may also mean  your cat wants you to keep scratching him. Be happy your cat is happy!  Although if purring increases or is in combination with signs of sickness, see your vet.


Just like its name, a meow sounds like, well, "meow". Your cat may have many different sounding "meows". A soft deep meow can mean a good mood, a frequent meow is a call for help, and a meow in a human’s direction can mean, “Pet me!” According to cat behaviorist Lana Rich, “A longer meow may indicate worry.”  Dr. Courtney Marsh, founder at BCCB Pet Clinic in VA, warns that persistent meowing can be associated with diseases like hypertension.  Meowing without an obvious reason shouldn’t be ignored.


A yowling cat can sound like a human scream. Yowling often occurs before a cat fight, but can also signal discomfort, pain, concern over terrirory, or intentions to mate. Be aware of your cat’s surroundings and any other animals present, in order to avoid a scuffle.  Listen to the warning sounds.


A musical, trill-like sound, similar to a bird’s chirp. Cats may chirp while sitting by the window watching birds, and mama cats chirp to round up their kittens, similar to humans whistling for their children. 


Hissing is just that, a  hiss like a snake.  A growl is a more intense sound than a hiss. A hiss can be a warning, a way of saying back off.  Growling is another, more severe type of warning, maybe involving food, but can also signal pain.Give your cat space.  You may also need to give him time to calm down, and remove any irritants from his environment.  If your cat growls when you touch a certain area, contact your vet.


According to Cromwell-Davis, a cat’s whine is similar to that of a dog. Crying or whining can mean your cat is lonely, lost or confused, or hungry.  It may mean your cat is in distress. Don’t ignore your cat’s cry. Cromwell-Davis, who owns 15 cats says, “Whenever I hear one of my cats make a cry, I go check out what it is. Usually, it’s a minor spat,” she says. “Sometimes their curiosity or their desire to explore gets them into trouble, and they’ll start crying.”

Understanding your cat

This is a good introduction for understanding what your cat is trying to tell you, but for more information on cat sounds and what they mean, see PetMD’s 8 Cat Sounds and What They Mean and When Meowing Indicates a Medical Problem. If you think your cat is making a sound that indicates he is sick or in pain, it's time to visit the vet. Consider enrolling in pet insurance before your cat becomes sick or injured to ensure he can get quality veterinary care and be back to purring on your lap in no time! 

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