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12 Cat Sounds & Their Meanings (With Audio)

Written by: Christian Adams

Last Updated on June 27, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

cat meowing

12 Cat Sounds & Their Meanings (With Audio)

Have you ever wondered what your cat is trying to tell you when they purr, meow, or chirp? Our gorgeous domestic cats use a wide range of vocal cues to express their opinions, and some cats are incredibly loud when it comes to letting us know their feelings.

We might not be able to determine what they want, but by identifying some of the different sounds that cats make, as well as what they could mean, you’ll have a much better chance of working out what it is your cat is trying to tell you! Cats also make sounds that can be quite distressing when they are in pain, and it’s essential to recognize them so you can take your cat to your vet immediately.

We’ve rounded up 12 common sounds that cats make and their meanings. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but as you become more familiar with the sounds that your cat makes, you’ll soon be an expert at working out whether they’re excited because they saw a bird outside or are reminding you that it’s time for their dinner!

However, keep in mind that many of these sounds are subjective to our human ears and difficult even to distinguish or characterize, so allow a little flexibility when interpreting various cat sounds. Check out the audio links we’ve included, and see which sounds your cat makes the most!

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The 12 Cat Sounds and Meanings

1. Meowing

Let’s start with that classic cat sound we all love: the meow! Kittens initially use meow to gain the attention of their owners, and adult cats don’t generally meow at each other. But of course, our clever domestic cats have worked out that meowing at their human owners is an excellent way of letting them know that they need something, whether a bowl of food or a cuddle.

Most cats have a distinctive meow, so it’s easy to tell different cats apart by the sound of their meow.

2. Purring

If you’ve always thought there’s something comforting and relaxing about the sound of your cat’s purr, you’re absolutely right! A cat’s purr has a frequency of roughly 25-30 Hz, and it’s thought that sounds in this range have healing properties. Cats purr when they’re happy, but they also purr as a comforting mechanism or when they’re stressed or in pain, and we benefit from their purrs!

3. Kitten Mewling

The kitten mewl is the equivalent of their distress call and is usually only made by kittens under 1 month of age. This high-pitched noise is designed to catch the attention of their mother cat so she can reassure them that she’s still near.

Kittens may also mewl when they’re hungry or have strayed too far from the bed or any time they need to catch their mother’s attention. However, this short meow may also be used by adult cats to greet their owners.

4. Growling

Growling is a warning to other cats (and people!) to keep their distance. A growling cat may also flatten their ears, puff up their fur, hiss, and swish their tails from side to side. The use of claws and teeth may follow up this verbal warning if it’s ignored.

Growling can be a sign of pain too, so if it happens when your cat isn’t interacting with you or another cat, or they are growling when you try to pick them up or touch a specific area of their body, you will need to get your vet to check them out.

5. Chattering

Let’s talk about weird cat noises. There are many adorable clips of cats staring out windows and making this distinctive chattering noise. When most cats chatter, their lower jaw vibrates, which helps give this noise its staccato quality.

Chattering is usually heard when a cat is excited (or frustrated!) or sees a bird outside or something else they want to chase but can’t access.

6. Burbling

This friendly cat sound can combine elements of a purr, meow, and growl into one noise! Some cats may not use this sound, and others will use it frequently. It can communicate a wider range of emotions than other sounds.

Cats may burble when they say hello to their owners, express happiness, or see something interesting. However, some of these cat sounds are anecdotal and may be difficult to properly describe and characterize.

7. Chirping or Trilling

Many cats will make this short, high-pitched noise, which combines elements of purring and meowing. Cats may chirp at their owners when they come home after being away for the day or when they’re excited about dinner time. Others may let out a little chirp whenever they see you in the house, and you call them over.

However, most commonly, cats chirp when they see prey they cannot get to, expressing excitement mixed with frustration. Whenever your cat makes this noise, it’s always adorable! A trill is also a soft, high-pitched sound, similar to a purr.

Cats trill as a sign of greeting their human family or requesting something from them. It’s a very common sound a cat makes in an amicable fashion.

8. Hissing

The meaning of this cat sound is more obvious, cats use hissing as a warning to back off for whatever or whoever is bothering them. Cats may hiss at each other if playtime has become rough or one cat wakes another up unexpectedly.

They will also hiss at humans if they’ve had enough attention or they’re being subjected to a bath they did not want! If their hissing is ignored, some cats will resort to using their claws and teeth, so it’s a good idea to pay attention when your cat hisses!

9. Screaming

Hearing cats screaming can be a memorable experience; luckily, most cat owners won’t hear their cats making this noise! Cats often scream when they’re starting to fight with another cat, and they do it as a warning before stepping up to physical contact. If neighborhood cats are out at night, you may hear them screaming at each other when their territories cross over.

Female cats can also scream after mating. Cats may scream if they have experienced sudden pain from an injury or illness, so if combined with being distressed, limping, or another negative sign, they will need to see the vet urgently.

10. Yowling

This noise is usually used for cats to communicate with other cats, either for territorial disputes or as a mating call. If you move to a new house, you may find your cat yowling as they attempt to establish their new territory.

Dementia or a cognitive decline in older cats, anxiety, fear, boredom, or confinement may also lead to increased vocalization and yowling, particularly overnight when it comes to feline dementia. Another time that you might hear this noise is if your cat is in extreme pain, which can indicate that your cat needs to visit the vet urgently.

Unfortunately, yowling in cats due to pain is often combined with signs of sudden distress, like labored breathing or the inability to move one or more of their legs, usually the back legs. This indicates a serious and life-threatening condition called feline aortic thromboembolism and is a genuine emergency.

11. Caterwaul

Usually, you’ll only hear a female cat in heat making this cat call sound designed to attract males. If your female cat is spayed, she will unlikely make this noise. If your unspayed female cat starts yowling, it’s a sign that she’s in heat and you might want to keep her safely inside for a few days!

Cats may also caterwaul as a sign of seeking attention or to express pain, discomfort, confusion, or fear.

12. Wailing

If you hear your cat wailing, you can be sure they’re unhappy about their current situation! Cats usually only wail when they’re feeling stressed or trapped. Some cats will wail once they’re put into their cat carrier for a trip to the vet or if they’re accidentally shut in a room and are trying to find a way out. It may be difficult to distinguish from caterwauling.

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If you have a cat, you’ll likely notice one or a combination of these 12 sounds during your time with them. While they’re usually nothing to worry about, keep a close eye on them, as sometimes, cat sounds can indicate something is wrong.

See Also: 

Featured Image Credit: Jessie Feross, Pixabay

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