10 Common Cat Noises — and What They Mean

There are about 100 different cat noises, which our feline friends mix and match to talk to us. Let's review some of the most common cat noises here.

A gray cat with yellow eyes with his mouth open.
A gray cat with yellow eyes with his mouth open. Photography ©graphixchon | Thinkstock.

You’ve probably noticed that cats spend a lot of time and energy communicating with other cats in their lives, but that very little of that communication is in the form of cats meowing. If they talked as much as they gestured (case in point: when cats rub against you), the odds are good that you’d wish they’d just shut up. Of course, because most humans aren’t nearly as good at observing body language and understanding cat communication like subtle cat ear movements and cat tail twitches, they often “use their words” to help us understand these cat noises.

A cats’ vocabulary is just as rich and subtle as cat body language (including the ways cat express affection), but here are some of my favorite cat noises and what they mean. Let’s start with the basic cat noises:

1. Cat meowing

Meowing is among the most common cat noises.
Meowing is among the most common cat noises. Photography by ©Foonia | Getty Images.

Kittens are much more likely to meow than adult cats. Because kittens are born unable to hear and see, they meow to alert their mother that they need attention. So, why is your adult cat making these cat noises? Adult cats rarely meow at each other, but they may meow at us for the same reasons. (Humans sometimes meow at each other, but it’s usually for laughs.) Check out this kitten crying for her mother.

2. Cat purring

Purring is one of the most common cat noises. Cats purr when they’re content, but they also purr as a way to comfort themselves when they’re sick or injured. The auditory frequency of the purr, around 25 cycles per second, is thought to have healing properties, and it almost certainly acts as an internal massage.

3. Cat trilling

Cats use a trill, a cat noise somewhere between a meow and purr, as a friendly greeting. This cutie is meowing and trilling to beat the band!

4. Cat growling

Cat growling is among the cat noises that give off a warning. Cats growl at one another to say, “Back off before I have to use my claws rather than my voice!”

5. Cat chattering

If your cat sits in the window staring at squirrels outside, ears erect and eyes focused, but he can’t get outside to chase them, he may make a cat chattering or cat chirping noise. These cat noises communicate either excitement or frustration.

6. Cat hissing

Cat hissing is among the cat noises you may hear when your cat is angry or scared. The hiss is the next stage of warning after the growl.

7. Cat yowling

Female cats in heat make this desperate cry, hoping to attract tomcats to ease their pangs of kitten-making desire. And cat screaming, a variant of cat yowling, is the final warning sound before a serious cat fight begins.

8. Cat beeping

When my cat Thomas wants to get in my lap, he’ll often sit on the floor staring up at me and make a quick “bip” or “eck” sound. I interpret this as “Ahem — excuse me.”

9. Cat burbling

These cat noises are hybrids between a purr, a meow and a growl. The burble has no negative meaning even though it incorporates a growl. It’s Siouxsie’s attention-getting noise and, like the word “Aloha,” it has more than one meaning. She also burbles when she’s grateful for my attention. You can hear some of Siouxsie’s burbles in this video, along with an assortment of other noises she likes to make. (I’ve come to the conclusion that “burble-myak!” means “Look at me, I’m outside! Yay!” not “Holy crap, I’m outside and freezing my butt off!” because she loves to make those noises any time she’s out walking around.)

10. Cat wailing

I feed my Bella in the bathroom with the door closed, because if I don’t do that, she wolfs down her food and then steals Siouxsie and Thomas’ meals as well. Usually she finishes before the other cats and then starts in with her heart-rending cries of “Pleeeease, let me out!” “Just a minute, Bella,” I reply. Of course, I do let her out once the other cats are finished eating.

Tell us: What are your favorite cat noises? Did we miss any cat noises that you would like to know more about? Please share your favorite cat noises in the comments!

About the author:

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, professional cat sitter, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

Thumbnail: Photography ©graphixchon | Thinkstock.

This piece was originally published in 2017.

Read more about cat noises on Catster.com:

89 thoughts on “10 Common Cat Noises — and What They Mean”

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  8. One of my childhood cats would make a chirping/clicking sound while looking out the window that was identical to one of the local birds. She was indoor/outdoor and caught a lot of birds. I never could catch her doing it outside, but I think she used this talent to call them to her.

  9. I tried to keep my Maine Coon, Lovey, indoors (because of apartment rules, and I didn’t know what she was when I got her) only taking her out on a harness and leash when she was a kitten. When she was about 6 or 7 months old she began to say “mmcow” at the door. Eventually she perfected her speech as much as possible. Now she can clearly say “go out” by clicking her tongue to make the”g” sound, but can’t make the”t” sound on the end. It’s very obvious what she is saying though. She also tries to unlock doors to let herself out lol. I do let her out on her own because I feel it is cruel not to, in my case. Not all cats are the same and I feel it is up to each cat owner to make that decision,based on the cat, the area they live, etc. My cat would mope around like a spoiled teenager when I made her stay in. She goes out every day. I would rather she have a shorter but happier life, all things considered. One and a half years and she’s still ok. I make her come in at night becauseif I don’t she hangs out with the raccoons and possums, and once chased an armadillo to the woods. We live in the center of a small town and I don’t know of any coyotes or other dangerous creatures out there in our small area of woods, but I worry about skunks. Or larger raccoons that might not take kindly to a cat following the younger raccoons around. I also worry about the burrs that get in her fur. The large one she got under her “arm” I removed for her, but she usually hates when I get the smaller ones out. Not the same burrs but the other not so spiny ones. Do they eat those when they clean their fur? That’s what I was searching when I can across this page.

    1. I had a Maine coon cat and it was the same story. We wanted to keep him in for his safety but his entire bubbly, cute, kittenhood personality transformed into a sullen, bitter teenaged cat whose ONLY objective in life was to go outside.

      Finally we gave in and let him out and sure enough, his personality changed back into an affectionate, engaged cat. But he wore a bell so he couldn’t kill birds (didn’t prevent him from mice though!) and he had a sunset curfew. I had a special whistle to call him home in the evening and he’d (usually) comply, such a good boy. If not, I’d go track him down in the neighborhood (one time following his paw prints in fresh snow with a flashlight, but I got him!).

      But I said exactly the same thing: I’d rather he have a possibly shorter, but happier, life than a probably longer, but miserable, life.

      1. Y’all need to supervise your cats outside. Raccoons and skunks are notorious rabies vectors and are a danger to even vaccinated animals (if they’re bit, they DO need to get a rabies booster following it or they can still get rabies!).
        I run camera traps for wildlife as a biologist and the layman would never know how many coyotes, foxes, stray dogs, and outright freak humans are in your neighborhoods looking for vulnerable cats to eat or maim. It’s no joke. That doesn’t even include the nasty abscesses your cat will commonly get from cat fight wounds, the poisons they can happily drink, roll in, or eat second-hand from poisoned rats, or the fact that you could even run over your own cat with your car in your own driveway (I know at least three people that have done this).
        Anyway I’m off to let my toddler play by the freeway unsupervised because I’d rather he have a shorter but happier life, yknow :)

  10. Audio Message.caf

    I’m not sure if you’ll be able to access that but can someone let me know what that is? In case you can’t access it, it’s like a pure but a lot louder and sounds like a motor. I’m pretty sure it’s just a purr but I wanna be sure that my kitten’s healthy

  11. My cat walks around the house like he’s on the prowl making the trilling noise, but without the meow. What does it mean? He’s very curious and playful and likes causing problems. I take it as he’s looking for something to play with.

  12. The author might consider that her cat Bella may have worms. My male cat would eat everything in sight, he would eat his food and then the rest of his sister’s food. He got skinny and I thought it was stress because my female cat is on him all the time. But no, that was not it.
    No. One morning my cat vomited and I saw it. My cat has worms, round worms to be exact, and he is now being treated for them.
    Last summer I watched my two cats. My female would catch a mouse or bird and the two cats would take turns playing with it. I am certain my male ate at least one of the catches. I thought nothing of it. I do now!
    My female is plump and does not appear to have worms. She does not vomit and I have checked her stool.

  13. My 18 year old calico,for her first 10 or 12 years would talk to me with a voice that seemed to bubble up from about a foot under water. I was totally charmed by it and we would have
    extended conversations. I have no idea what that is called. She had an orange striped brother who would sit up like a chipmunk with his paw folded in front of him. He would sometimes cry and tap my leg so I would look and see him munk-munking for me.

    1. My torts warble, mrrrp!, and coo. The ginger that is littermate to one of the torts does as well. Torts, calis, and gingers are frequently born to the same litters… wonder off there’s a genetic link to the sound?s

  14. I am reading a book, No Cats Allowed by Miranda James. Throughout the book the main character states that his cat warbles and chirps as a happy and loving sound. Huh? What are these sounds and what do they mean?

    1. Hi Bonnie —

      Check out some additional insight on cat chirping:

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  16. Antoine Bilodeau Bordeleau

    My cat Chad oftens greets me with trills when I come back home and runs to his bowl for food then he goes like « mmh » when he knows I know what he wants. Like he’s saying a thank you of some sort.

  17. My black beauty, Boop chatters when I sneeze. She doesn’t make that noise any other time (that I’ve heard) even when she’s sitting in front of the windows. So I wonder if my sneezes are exciting or frustrating her. I thought she was blessing me in felinese. Lol!

    1. Hi Kellie,
      Here’s an article on why cats act so weird when you sneeze:

      1. I got the weirdest cat bar none, he walks me to my bedroom and he will go in the room walk around and comes out like he is saying it safe to go in now! and sometimes he gets on my bed turn in circles fixing a place to lie down and he sleeps there for hours! Another cat I have rides on the seat of my walker whenever I move! and plays and hangs off the sponge covers that act as a backrest. but as soon as I stop he jumps off and leaves the room, even if I am eating he sits on the walker seat and waits for his “ride”

    2. Hi Kellie, my cat Skye does that too. If I sniff (Cos I’ve got the cold) she makes that sound again. I feel like she’s giving me a row for interrupting her beauty sleep!

  18. I have a lovely 2 year old calico that I adopted as a rescue from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. She makes no noise… no meow… no purr. She is very lovely and content. But SOOOOO quiet. My other two make lots of noise.

  19. Baxter has me well trained–he gets 4 or 5 goodies for “singing” to me:
    plaintive heart-rending mewls=i’m starving to death, foood pleeease! along with paw pats. instead of treats, he gets about ten Fat-Boy prescription kibbles with his moist food.
    small little meows=i peed in my box. i want treats for telling you. with pats.
    loud, long demanding aria=there’s “buried treasure” in my box! treats in my bobble toy! now!
    singing and trilling with leg tail-wraps=Play Time!
    wife just shakes her head, yeh, we’re pretty sure he’s a Guy’s Kitty.

  20. My oldest male, Baby Boy, will cycle through a number of meows to see which one I respond to. He meows low, high, in-between and once he imitated my cat Bounce. He nailed it and he knew if. He looked at her and looked an me and he knew he got it. He still didn’t get an extra bowl of food, but he got pets. He lacks so many normal skills that any cat has, but he is a master at coming up with new ways to attempt to manipulate me.

  21. My cat Poly was a master of the “purr-whine.” It was used to induce guilt. She used it specifically wen she wanted snacks and she wanted me to feel bad.

  22. I’ve always let my cats be cats until I got the guy I have now. My male cat has asthma and if he tried to run away from a dog, or the raccoons who have recently taken up residence in the area, he could be in danger of not having enough lung power to escape. There are definitely times when even cats should be restricted from freedom to roam at will.

  23. One of our cats has a very specific sound she makes when she is playing with a toy by herself away from people. It is very loud MYAH YAH! MYAH YAH! (We call it her trumpeting, you know, to announce she has killed her toy prey) Which then culminates in her bringing the toy to me, punctuating her steps from wherever she is, with the toy in her mouth with little murrmurrrmurrrmurrs that bounce her voice with her footsteps. Then she drops the toy by me to present it and meows at me proudly. It is adorable.

    1. One of our cats does the loud vocalizing when she plays with or carries around her furry ball toy. Sometimes it sounds plaintive, sometimes angry. She doesn’t treat it like captured prey and bring it to us. She just plays for a while and then drops it. We hear it in another room almost nightly after we have gone to bed.

    2. Wow you have just described my Bengal Monkee my husband says it almost sounds like mummmmmy whe I go see what’s she wants there is one of her toys waiting for me it’s so cute she is real chatterbox.

  24. I have twin “house panthers”, a boy and a girl, and interestingly, the boy is VERY vocal and the girl very quiet. The boy has a questioning sound he makes with his mouth closed, just a “mmmp?” that he makes when I speak to him or when he gets close and wants attention. It’s kind of a “did you want something?” response noise. He also has a raggedy purr that pulses with his breathing when he’s very happy – a noise I love to hear!

  25. What is that short little “burr” sound called that cats make? Sort of like a human sound if they rolled their tongue.
    My cat Jack does it all the time,almost like something startled him..

    1. Hi there,
      Please check with your vet if your cat is acting out of sorts. This article might provide some insight, too:

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    1. Super vocal – my Maine Coon Dave purrs, mews ( he has a tiny voice for his size), squeaks, trills md chatters more than any cat I’ve ever known!

  28. Marian Fritzemeier

    My favorite cat sounds are purring and little content sounds she makes when I pet her. Thanks for an interesting article. I especially like the videos of the cat sounds.

  29. My darling boy, Spot, used to go for walks on a harness. On the first day, I would chat with him, and he would meow back at me. Same on the second day, but on the third, I realized that no matter what I was saying, his volume matched mine. So I talked a little more softly, and he lowered his volume. I talked softer still, so did he. Then I realize he was telling me to be quiet. I was making too much noise and learning nothing about being a cat. Lesson 1 learned!

  30. I’ve noticed my cat making a brief growling sound the last couple of days, usually in response to hearing something strange going on outside. She’ll growl and proceed to try to find the ‘sound’.

    1. Hi Sierra,

      Thanks for reaching out! Read more about cat growling and cat sounds here:

  31. Hmm, I am wondering what to call the meowing of my female cat when she’s bored! She will go and grab a stuffed animal from my 2-year-old daughter’s room and bring it to me while making this meowing type sound. Like a long whine and want to play :) Great article!

  32. I don’t have an issue with people using leashes when actually ‘walking’ their cats outside, but I DO have an issue when they tie the cat to a tree or post for hours at a time … Oh yeah, I also have an issue with people putting clothes on their cats (or dogs, for that matter).

    1. I agree fully!! I’ve seen animals painted and dressed up with the animal looking throughly depressed and I feel so bad. I take my rabbit on walks sometimes to give him exercise.

  33. My cat, Peaches, is a squeaker. She does not meow and never has. She’s always had this soft, little squeak. She also doesn’t use it all that often. Even her purr is a softer volume than her kitty companions. Her squeak does not match her size, at 12lbs.
    Vikki, the tabby, is very vocal and loud. She also has a growl that she uses on us and the other cats that we are sure is her swearing at us. We will often hear her doing it as she trots up the hallway to get away from whatever displeases her.
    Civi, who is 14, has never really meowed, but has a truncated version. It always means either food or pats. She is very much into touch.
    Chrissy, our dilute tortie, is a normal cat. Her vocalisations leave you in no doubt of her intentions. She’s pretty easy to get on with. She is more likely to use body language with the other cats and leave her vocalisations to communicating with us humans.

  34. I’ve always thought that the cat who lived with us was the only one who ever burbled – but there’s the burble in your report on “typical” cat sounds! Actually, looking again, the trill, too, I didn’t think was typical. I’ve long known that cats DO talk to us, and I’ve always thought that they understood us when we talked back, even with the language barrier. Great to see that other people love cats like I do!

  35. I’ve never seen a kitty on a leash before till now!! And OMG am I so glad I did. Our Bobby (gotta say it in Hank Hill voice) loves going outside but has been grounded after getting himself stuck in a tree for hours, he wants to go outside so bad he tries to sneak out anytime the door is open. But this would be a great way for him to go outside. Thank you!

    1. I just moved from a home of 18 years and 1700sf to an apt of 700sf with an indoor/outdoor cat who is house bound. He is 5. I got a ferret harness for him and have him wear it in the apt for a couple of hours a day. He is adjusting. It is very light weight. An outdoor cat needs lots of time to adjust to harness and leash. Once Ghost is comfortable with the harness I will attach a “lead”, a training device for dogs, very short faux leash that will lie across his shoulders and let him walk around to get use to that weight. After that we will move up to indoor leash walking. I fully expect him to go flat to the ground and not move on our first outdoor adventure. Good luck. It is a cat, patience is a virtue.

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  37. I have 4 ferals, one on my lap right now sleeping. They are all very happy living here. They never even ask to go outside. Why would they? They enjoy the life they have here too much! Each one has his or her own sounds. Patches has an emphatic sounding MEOW! when she greets me, or wants to know where I am. If I call her when she does it, she comes to me. Booties often says a soft “Mew” when she see me. Blackie has a louder “Mew” when he sees me and he makes burbles a lot while he is playing. Tiger is SUPER talkative. He makes all kinds of different sounds.

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  39. My cat, a tabby, recently started a new sound when she is near me. I had a hip replacement and she decided she would be my nurse. She shadowed me closely and started to make a soft sound in her throat. It’s not a mew, she doesn’t open her mouth. Now that I’m up and about I thought she would stop the sound but when I’m in my lazy boy she comes up on the head rest and makes that sound to me. I’ve never heard that before from any other cat. Any ideas?
    She was a great nurse, by the way.

    1. We have three cats, including one we decided to foster about a week ago. They all make different sounds. But the question I have is a cat snack called Temptations. When I even pick up a bag and it crackles a little bit, the cats go bananas. And I’m not talking a little dancing and prancing around, Garfield will actually grab the top of the bag and try to help me open it faster Gray, who’s kind of shy will get up beside me and when I put them down for him to eat he practically swallows them whole. Garfield, too. The little one who is tentatively Duchess, gets almost vicious when she tries to get her share. She’s started life as an alleycat living behind a dumpster, so I can forgive the bites and nips and claws because she had to scrounge for food. But my question is is there something In the ingredients that makes them so crazy? These are gentle, polite cats at dinner and eat like a lady and gentlemen. They eat what they want and leave the rest for later what usually means for another cat. But they will actually lick the place where these cat treats are sitting. And they eat like they’re starving. I’ve decided not to give them anymore when this bag is empty, because it changes their personality into pushy, nasty, kitty cats. Any ideas?

  40. Being a Vet I would think that you would support the safety and well being of an animal.
    I have lost a couple of my cats to own negligence of not realising the dangers of the outside world and although I have a highway that is on the backside of my fence that was not how they died one was in my backyard sleeping in his favorite tree when a red tailed hawk grabbed him and dropped him at a very high flight and the other one was walking along the fence between my house and my neighbors when her dog jumped up and grabbed him off the fence .I will never forget the sound of his claws screeching down the fence when that dog grabbed him. After seven years I now have a 6 month old kitten that not allowed out doors but he is so curious when I let my dog out to go potty I am considering a leash to satisfy his curiosity.

  41. A leash for cat? Why do humans try to bend everything to their will ? In this instance, the consequence is an unhappy cat. Shame on you. I am a vet and it p***** me off to see the essence of a cat extinguished to become an object of servitude to it’s owner.

    1. Yes, a leash for a cat. Not all cats are unhappy being on leash. And as a vet you would think that you wouldnt be so narrow minded on that subject. Shame on you! Not all cats are the same, and they are not objects of servitude to their owners. They’re family members. If i went outside and wanted to have my cat outside of their carrier, i would most certainly have a leash on him/her. I wouldn’t want for anything to happen to my loved one. Anything can happen in a split second and the last thing i want is for my cat to get hit by a car or run away. So “bending that to our will” is for the better. But you know i didnt really have to tell you all that because ur a vet! :) i wonder what you must think about dogs being on leashes?

    2. Wow, Dr. Jake, pretty harsh response coming from a professional. We have four cats (now split into two pairings after an amicable divorce). As Melanny says, not all cats are alike and ours are not viewed as pets, yet rather family members as well. Three of our cats didn’t tolerate a leash (therefore we ended it quickly) the fourth seems to love it and the walks outside on the porch. The others are fearful of the outdoors. So, please keep a response as harsh as yours to yourself.

    3. I wonder if you feel the same way about children. You don’t put a leash on something because you want to control it for the sake of controlling it. You use the leash to protect that cat when you go outside with him or her. Just like you might hold your child’s hand when you cross the street. Or they even make leashes for children for the same reason. You’re very judgemental and probably shouldn’t be a vet.

      1. Yes, Heather, when l was growing up, having a leash for a small child was quite common in Australia. Although you may not see it now. l would definitely use one on my cat, because she is my ” fur child ” as many people have these days. Trish

    4. I find by having an indoor cat on a leash is not only fun for the cat to experience the outdoors, it’s a good cat owner who does this.
      I don’t want a loose cat in my yard chasing the birds I have at my feeder.
      In my opinion it’s a responsible and caring cat owner who takes time out of their busy day to allow their kitty some outdoor fun.

    5. Quick google search does not reveal any doctor (human or animal) by the name of Jake Trilson. Got a license or DEA number for proof?

      1. Yes, cats are great hunters. They’re also endangered hunters if left outside to their own devices. Wake up! If you love your cat, keep him/her close; away from danger. You don’t sound like a very experienced cat owner. There’s a zillion pitfalls for our furry friends outside! You and Mr. Vet! Ugh!

    6. As a vet you should know the dangers of letting your cat out WITHOUT a leash. None of my cats go outside and have no urge to either.

    7. That’s kind of a shocking response from a vet. I leash trained my cats as babies, that’s their only experience with the outdoors, because I love them and want them to survive. Because, in my area, cats allowed to roam freely outdoors have a very short lifespan. We have many bands of coyotes that roam our neighborhoods, even in the daytime. I don’t often say “shame on you”, but I think it’s appropriate here.

    8. Oh please! I have an indoor cat and he’s free to roam all through the house, but when I treat him to going outside, I put a leash on him, lest he be grabbed by a preying coyote, Fox, or incoming falcon! My neighbor never saw her housecat again from a coyote stalking in broad daylight! Surely you understand cats dont respond to commands like dogs! People that put leashes on their cats do it to protect them from various dangers. Not for reasons you misinterpret. Get over yourself Mr. Vet! If you’re really serious, you’re either naive, immature, misinformed, or just plain ignorant! And more than likely never even HAD a cat for a pet! Ugh!

      1. Absolutely correct. Anybody who lets their cat out unattended in my opinion is an irresponsible pet owner. The least of which, I want to thank all you people that let their cats out for leaving me big piles of poop in my garden. Thanks, much appreciated.

    9. All of my cats have happily walked on a leash – to visit my sister in the house next door and to see my father in an apartment below mine.
      Shame on you. Vet, or not, you’re so judgmental, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    10. Dude, take a breath and calm down. And BTW I wouldn’t come to a Vet like you! Talk about cat shaming. I live on a busy street and would never let my cat go outside by himself, he’d last a week tops. He loves his harness and leash and drags it to me when he wants to go for a walk. Haven’t you heard, Unleashed means Unloved.

  42. I have two cats Benji and Kimchi. Benji is a male and is very vocal and meows back to me when I talk to him. Kimchi is a girl and she’s not as vocal especially around stranger’s. Her meows are so adorable they’re like little squeaks and sometimes talks back to me. When she wants to play or wants me to pick her up she gets very vocal. It’s super cute

  43. My 13 year old cat Daji sits in the bathroom (I assume because of the echo and the benefit of louder messages) and makes a kind of “speaking” noise about an hour before daylight almost every night. It really sounds like she’s trying to talk, but comes out in some very odd language. It does most times succeed in waking me, which I note could be the purpose. It began immediately after the loss of our favorite all-time soul-cat Buddy, a few years ago, and I note that was the time of night he would often choose to run and play. Could there be a connection here?

  44. I have a female cat that, like an earlier female who owned me, makes this sound like, “Vroom, VROOM!” when jumping up onto the bed to join me, or just before she takes off running.

    1. Same here, I didn’t know how to describe it, but a VROOM is exactly it! It’s kind of like a trill, but not as high pitched. Usually makes that noise as a greeting, waking up from a nap, or if I’m not playing with her to her satisfaction, haha. She’s just under a year old now, but haven’t really heard her meow, it’s almost always that VROOM.

  45. I love my boy’s trill, because I know he’s relaxed, content, and happy. I had a horse who did this a lot, a trill, kind of his soft voice, or whispering snort.

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