Why Do Cats Meow?

Striped kitten sitting on blue background and meows

Cats tend to be quite vocal, and offer a funny plethora of sounds to express themselves. Yet, many cat owners simply can’t understand why their cats say what they say. Some cats are more talkative than others, and all of this depends on their breed, their background, and their current owners.

As a matter of fact, cats don’t naturally verbally communicate with each other. Meowing has been inducted into cat’s communication as they have evolved and learned how to “work” humans. Cats have learned over hundreds of years that humans, aka food-distributors, respond to and even get a kick out of meowing. Cats aren’t domesticated in the way that dogs are, i.e. you’ll never get a cat to herd sheep, but they are evolved in the way that they know how to best cohabitate with humans.

Here, we’re going to talk about what meowing is, and why cats do it.

Greeting: Yes, it’s true; when you walk in the door and your kitty runs up and gives you a friendly “meow!”, they are probably trying to say “hello!” Many cats give a meow when they run into you in the house or when they haven’t seen you in a while. Many cat owners wonder if their cats are actually speaking to them, and it certainly seems that their suspicions are correct. Most cat owners report that their cats seem to greet them. This type of meow will be short and non-demanding; different from an “I’m hungry!” meow.

British Shorthair kitten, 3.5 months old, sitting and meowing in front of white backgroundLonely: Have you ever closed the door behind you, only to hear your kitty meow pathetically right after you’ve left? This long, drawn-out “yowl” signifies that your cat may be distressed out of loneliness. Don’t worry, you can still leave the house; kitty will find ways to cope by entertaining themselves through nap or play. You can always set up a toy that will interact with your kitty while you’re out, or consider adopting your cat a buddy to help with the loneliness. This type of meow also comes out if your cat isn’t sure where you are. If you’re in a separate room and you hear your cat’s lonely meow, you should either respond vocally so that they know you’re present or go to greet them. If you’re concerned about your cat being lonely, read our article here (article) for some solutions.

Angry: If your cat is upset, you’ll be sure to hear about it. Cat owners are certainly familiar with what hissing signifies. Hissing is your cat’s way of saying, “No way, man!” You’ll notice that when your cat hisses, they seem to get larger by puffing up their back and fur. This is a way for them to intimidate their foes through size and sound. However, your cat may give you a less obvious angry meow that you can learn to pay attention to over time.

If you’ve ever picked up your cat for a little too long or scratched them in the wrong spot only to hear them wail, you should become attuned to this type of complaint so that you can avoid upsetting kitty in the future. A cat’s temperament can be quite finnicky, and if your cat gives you a warning meow, you should make sure to respect it to avoid scratching or biting.

Abyssinian meowing (2 years old), isolated on whiteIn Heat: If you have a female cat that hasn’t been spayed, you’re basically doomed to hear the monthly heat yowl. If your cat is walking around the house wailing at the top of their lungs for no apparent reason, your cat may be in heat. There are a few other signifiers of your cat being in heat. If she has an increased appetite, seems restless, and is more affectionate towards you and other household members, your cat may be in heat. As her heat cycle progresses, she will eventually wail louder and louder, almost as if she is in pain. She will wiggle her butt in the air, and most likely not leave you alone.

Having a female cat that is not spayed can be annoying not only due to changes in temperament and increased meowing, but due to undesirable “spraying” that occurs when a cat is in heat. It is always a good idea to have your pets spayed and neutered for a variety of reasons, which you can read here. Spaying your cat can certainly help alleviate all the problematic symptoms of a cat in heat.

Content: Sometimes, you’ve just got to meow because you’re happy. Cats will give a content meow every once in a while, sometimes hidden in a yawn or tucked in with heavy purrs. If your kitty has a nice stretch, they may give a gentle meow to accompany their feelings of happiness. Some cats have been known to meow when being pet just right. As you get to know your cat better, you’ll get to know the difference between a happy petting meow, and the “I’m done now” meow.

Hungry: A hungry cat is a chatty cat. All cats will ask for food with meows, but food-motivated felines tend to get relentless with their begging. It’s okay to allow your cat to tell you when they’re hungry, but if you find yourself getting yelled at in meows each time you enter the kitchen, you may want to try changing this behavior. Cats don’t respond well to negative reinforcement, so yelling back or getting physical won’t do any good. The only way to quiet your yowling furbaby is by allowing them to tell you when they’re truly hungry, and ignoring them when they’re not.

portrait of a cat that looks out of the windowHunting: Cats are natural predators, as you may have already known. When kitty sits at the window looking at the outside world or specifically birds and critters, you may hear them omit a sort of “chatter.” Their tails quickly lash side to side, and they’ll seem almost as if they’re talking to themself with small click-like meows. Scientists have many theories about why cats do this; among the theories is the idea that they are frustrated that they can’t get the prey, or that it is a reflex preparing them to have prey in their mouth. Either way, the best way for you to respond to the hunting chatter is by engaging them in active play with a chase-able toy. This way, they aren’t as frustrated by the outdoors, and will actually get to experience the feeling of catching prey.

If your cat meows to excess and it bothers you, there are ways to help your cat to quiet down. Read our article on how to quiet an excessive meower for tips and tricks to quiet a chatty kitty. Meowing is a natural part of having a cat, so feel free to enjoy it and talk right back to them. Cats may act aloof, but they love human interaction more than they give on. Meow away!