Your cat not only meows; she chirps, trills, yowls and purrs, hisses, and growls. Do you know that each of these vocalizations has very different meanings? If you listen closely and learn how to read the various sounds, you will learn to understand how she feels about the world around her. Your cat can make multiple sounds, all with unique meanings and variations to express the various shades of her emotions. Let’s look at the most common ones.
The Meow: The most common of all cat sounds is used by the adult cat to communicate with you, her person! Cats do not meow to other cats. The meow is used in their youth to summon their mother to attend to their needs. As they grow up, they stop meowing for their mother and instead use this popular vocalization to let us know that they are hungry or afraid or lonely--or simply glad to see us. A short, frequent meow is usually a request for attention, whereas a longer, plaintive meow will often indicate worry or displeasure.
The Purr: Here is the most popular of all feline sounds. We often find it relaxing and comforting to us since it generally signifies that all is well in cat world. Her mood is good. If you are petting her, that gentle motor is running and her relaxed sounds can usually be relied upon to relax you as well. Do note that on rare occasions the purr can signify worry or sickness. If her body posture is not that of a happy feline, this can signify something is amiss and best to pay attention.
Chirps & Trills: These sweet sounds are also learned in kittenhood when mama cat wants Kitty to follow along or to pay her more attention. Generally, when you hear her chirp she is looking for you to give her special attention and is excited and happily anticipating this. My Kitty always trills just before her daily brushing session to show she is eager, excited, and happy to participate.
Cat Chatter: This sound is usually heard when the little predator is looking out the window at a small animal she sees as her potential prey. It sounds almost like teeth chattering while accompanied by a soft chirp. The exact meaning is somewhere in between excitement at watching her prey and the frustration of not being outside for the capture. This may even sound like a bird call.
The Hiss: No mistaking this distinctive sound! When Kitty hisses, she feels threatened, and this is her way of scaring off the potential threat. A foreign cat or large dog in her territory can cause her fear to rise and result in a change of body posture along with her threatening vocalization. An arched back and puffy fur will make her appear larger to the object of her worry. Flattened ears and spitting can occur along with the hiss until the perceived threat runs away. It has been shown that the more well-adjusted and socialized the cat, the less likely she will be to display this aggressive behavior. When you see this, best to get out of her way.
The Yowl: This is a drawn-out moan that comes from worry, discomfort, territoriality, or even mating habits. The yowl is used to communicate to other felines to either get out of their way, or come hither and mate! Be aware if you hear too much yowling, as it can be indicative of health issues or even boredom. Make sure she has lots of toys and activities to keep her occupied and content.
Caterwaul or Scream: These are very distinctive sounds that are only uttered when the unfixed cat is in heat and calling out to all male cats in the vicinity. It does not stop until the cat attracts the male to her and mating takes place. It is a loud and disturbing sound, unless of course you are a male cat!
Snarls and Growls: Often accompanying the hiss, these sounds usually indicate fear or anger or threats within her territory. Cats will display the defensive body posture with back arched, fur puffed out, ears back, and tail twitching. Again, unless she is in danger, it is best to leave her alone until she calms down.
Breed Talk: Short-haired cats tend to be bigger talkers than long-haired cats. People refer to the chatty Siamese vs. the quiet, regal Persian. However, you will find that generalizations are just that. Each cat is an individual and will talk or not talk depending upon their upbringing and their own unique personalities. As their pet parents, it is up to us to try to best understand our felines by recognizing their sounds to learn what our cats are attempting to tell us.
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