Thursday, July 18, 2024
General Pet Health

Why Do Cats Meow?

By Ashley Watson

why-do-cats-meowIf you are a cat owner, you probably know that cats make a variety of noises, from meows to chirping and purring. Have you ever wondered why your cat makes these noises? For the first few months after I got my cat from the SPCA, her mouth would open as if to meow, but no sound ever came out. I found that other cats make this “silent meow” as well.

This week’s blog post will cover some of the different sounds that cats make and what your cat is trying to communicate with each. All cats are different, but here are some of the most common ways that cats speak to us or to each other.


The Humane Society calls the meow the “all-purpose word” for cats. The meow is your cat’s way of greeting you, getting your attention, or just a way of making you aware of the cat’s presence. All meows sound differently, but cats typically learn this form of communication as kittens and use it to communicate with humans as they age. According to one source, the “silent meow” mentioned above could be the result of a sound that is “pitched too high for us to hear.”


According to WebMD, a purr is caused when a “rhythmic, repetitive neural oscillator sends messages to the laryngeal muscles, causing them to twitch at the rate of 25 to 150 vibrations per second (Hz).” Purrs are often felt more than they are heard because of the vibration. Some research shows that mothers purr to let their kittens know where they are in the dark.

While there are many theories about why cats purr, cat owners typically think that purring means that their cat is happy. However, vets point out that cats also purr when they are in pain, frightened, or distressed for another reason. Other theories claim that the 25 Hz frequency of a cat’s purr is used as a self-healing tool when the cat is injured or stressed.

Chirps and Chatters

Some cats make a chirping sound, which is a mix between a meow and purr, and it is often used as a greeting. It can also be used to get the owner to follow the cat – usually to the food bowl when it’s time to eat. Chattering is a very specific noise that cats make when they see potential pray, such as a bird, and there are a few theories about the meaning behind this noise.

why-do-cats-meow-3Some experts believe it is a way to show their excitement, and others believe it is a vocal version of the “killing bite,” which is used to describe the way a cat bites into the bones of its prey. You can hear a version of chattering and other cat sounds by clicking here.

Growling and Hissing

These are both warning sounds. When a cat hisses, it is best to give the cat space. Growling usually is a sound made as a territorial warning. If a cat brings prey into the yard or home, it may make a low grumbling noise to warn others to stay away from the kill. The caterwaul is a similar sound to groaning, but it is much louder and obnoxious. It is a distinct sound made by a cat in heat, so spayed and neutered cats will not make this noise.

For a longer, more humorous list of sounds cats use to communicate, check out 32 cat sounds and their meanings.

What noises does your cat make and why? Share your comments with us on Facebook.