Mew Mew Mew: Cat Talk 101

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July 18, 2010
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Kittens purr just a few hours after being born. Mother cats have several vocalizations that they use to communicate with their kittens that range from long drawn out meows to short sounding mews.

All cats have the ability to talk but cats in general do not tend to meow at each other. It seems, from centuries of being with people, the “meow” is mostly used to get our attention. Cats use their posture, ear movements, eyes, and tails to signal emotions to each other with minimal vocalizations. Since we’re not able to know what each ear twitch or blink means, cats have realized they need to meow at us.

Meaning of the Meow

Purring is the first most common vocalization cats make with meowing being the second most common. Meows make us turn our heads to our cats and say, “what?” Different sounding meows indicate to us what our cats want. Meows can be complex sounds and researchers have noted that there are as many as 100 plus different types of meows, mews, and chirps made by cats.

Meowing with different pitches, volume, and intensity are often requests or pleas to people for food, attention, to be let into a room, or let out, or to be given a special treat like cheese. Some meows are demands like “wake up, I’m hungry!” which could also be accompanied by a cat stepping on you, pawing you, and their meow might sound like a whine. Some other meows are high pitched, short meows that a cat makes when you come home as a way of saying, “hello!”

If your cat is siamese or some other chatty cat, you probably know that it’s never just one meow. It’s often a huge conversation followed by some intense staring at you to make sure you’re paying attention.

A few other meows are listed below:

Mew – mother cats mew to find their kittens. Cats may mew to locate each other or you.

Growl – An aggressive message for others to stay away

Hissing – A clear sign that the cat is not happy and wants you to stop what you’re doing, back away, and leave him alone.

Spitting – Another aggressive, agitated sound that indicates that your cat is threatened. Kittens often spit before their hiss or growl.

Chirping – A short burst of meows that you may hear as you come home. It’s a greeting.

Trilling – A chirp that is a bit more musical sounding and might sound like a meow mixed with a purr. This means they are happy.

Purring – Usually associated with a content, happy cat. Cats also purr when they are sick or injured because it is believed purring speeds healing and calms them. There have been studies done that indicate the sound and vibrations of purrs can increase bone density. It has to do with the sound frequency passing through the body. Researchers have found that the sound frequency of a purr can aid in healing muscles, bones, and prevent some health issues like hip dysplasia.

Yowling – older cats may do this noise. It sounds like a howl or drawn out meow. Often cats who make this noise are anxious and looking for us for comfort. It’s as if your cat is yelling, “Where are you? I’m scared and it’s dark!”

Meows are a great way for us to figure out what our cats need but we have to also look at their body language. Look at your cat’s ears, tail, whiskers, and stance.

A happy, relaxed cat will have a tail that is either upright or relaxed and flat fur with their ears pointing forward.

If your cat has a twitching tail or thrashing tail, watch out! A swishing tail can mean they are irritated.

If their fur is standing off their body and their tail is puffed, chances are they are feeling challenged and angry.

A scared cat will have raised fur on the back and tail and will be crouching sideways leaning away from whatever it is that is scaring them. Their ears will be flat and their whiskers will be flat against their face. Their eyes might also be dilated and they will want to slink away or jog away from whatever it is that is frightening them.

If some of the different meows your cat makes are a mystery to you, just remember this one rule: MEOW can often be interpreted as “ME, NOW!”

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2 Responses to “Mew Mew Mew: Cat Talk 101”

  1. Anna says:

    Kathy, this is so great! Especially about the purring when they’re sick/injured, it’s so interesting. “MEOW can often be interpreted as “ME, NOW!” ” :)

  2. Jessica says:

    Similar to “yowling,” there is also a whining meow. I walk my cat and he does this when he wants out. It’s long and drawn out and reminiscent of a whiny child. Usually this is followed by a long look toward the companion human and, if not working, repeated even louder and longer.

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