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Cat Yowling: Sounds, Meanings, & Why They Do It (Vet-Approved)

Written by: Grant Piper

Last Updated on April 11, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

yowling adult cat at the park

Cat Yowling: Sounds, Meanings, & Why They Do It (Vet-Approved)


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Dr. Amanda Charles

BVSc GPCert (Derm) MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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If you ever hear your cat let out a yowl it can be startling and concerning. Yowling is loud, and it can be quite obnoxious. But why do cats yowl at all? Should you be worried if your cat is yowling? The answers to these questions depend on your individual cat, but there is likely a good reason your cat is yowling. Yowling is natural, and most cats do it from time to time, but some cats do it more often than others.

This brief guide will cover why cats yowl, the meanings behind the yowls, and what to do if your cat is yowling. Most of the time, yowling is nothing to worry about, but sometimes your cat is trying to tell you something.

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Yowling vs. Meowing

There are two main differences between yowling and meowing. First, yowling is more drawn out and has been described as melodic compared to meowing. Meowing is normally short and clipped compared to yowling. Yowling is often a different pitch from your cat’s typical meow. Some yowling is higher pitched, and other yowling is lower pitched.

Second, adult cats do not meow at each other. Cats communicate with one another silently in the vast majority of cases. Cats do, however, yowl at one another, usually during mating season. Cats will meow at humans, but they rarely meow at each other. Cats communicate with one another in more subtle ways that are more effective than meowing.

Yowling is also called caterwauling. If you hear the word caterwauling in relation to your cat’s yowling, these two terms are interchangeable.


The 7 Reasons Cats Yowl

1. They Are in Pain

One of the reasons cats yowl is due to pain. Cats that are yowling consistently could be suffering from a painful condition. Sometimes, this pain is obvious, like a wound or an injury, but other times, the pain could be more subtle from something like arthritis. If your cat is yowling and you believe they might be in pain or suffering from an underlying condition, you should take them in to get a full examination and workup by a veterinarian.

cat yowls
Image Credit: Prabhu Rajendran, Pixabay

2. They Are Looking for a Mate

Yowling is a common sound that cats make when they are seeking out a mate. Cats that have not been spayed or neutered will periodically get the urge to find a mate, which can cause them to leave the house or even leave the property in search of other cats. Female cats that have not been spayed come into heat every two to three weeks during the breeding season (indoor cats can come into heat all year round). During this time, they will yowl to let other cats know that they are in the area and are looking for a mate. Male cats that have not been neutered may yowl when they hear or smell a female cat in heat. Cats that have been fixed won’t engage in this kind of yowling behavior.

3. They Are Stressed

Some cats are prone to stress. When things change, both big and small, it can cause cats to become anxious. This can cause cats to yowl in displeasure or out of anxiety. Cats can get stressed if strangers come around, if you move furniture, if something changes with their diet or their litter box, or if your routine changes. If you suspect that your cat could be stressed, the yowling can be a sign of that increased anxiety.

kitten yowling
Image Credit: Vitalii Biliak, Shutterstock

4. They Are Sending Out a Warning

Some people think that “mean” cats yowl, and that is sometimes true. That is because yowling can be used as a warning. Aggressive cats will often yowl to warn people that they are feeling threatened. These cats usually puff up and bare their teeth while yowling. If you approach a cat in this state, you are likely to be scratched or bitten. Cats can yowl to warn off other cats or warn off people. You can tell if yowling is a warning if it is accompanied by body language that typically denotes a fearful or aggressive cat.

5. They Are Suffering from Cognitive Decline

Older cats can suffer from dementia, known as feline cognitive dysfunction, caused by aging-related changes in their brains. Old cats suffering from cognitive decline might yowl for seemingly no reason. This is because they are not thinking as clearly as they were in the past. They might think they are yowling for a good reason, but their age is causing them to become confused. This kind of yowling is usually coupled with other signs like changes in sleep patterns, appetite and disorientation. If you suspect that your senior cat could be suffering from cognitive dysfunction, you should consult with your veterinarian.

orange cat yowling outdoor
Image Credit: Vitalii Biliak, Shutterstock

6. They Are Hungry

Many cats are notorious hogs for food. Domesticated cats do not suffer hunger well, and when it is time for dinner, you might find your cat yowling in hunger. This is a common type of behavior for domesticated cats. If you find your cat yowling around mealtimes (sunrise and dinner time), then it could be related to hunger. Another way you can tell if the cat is yowling due to hunger is if they stop after they are fed and only start again when it is mealtime.

7. They Are Bored or Looking for Attention

Sometimes, cats will yowl simply because they are bored or are looking for attention from you or other cats. This is more common in indoor cats that spend all day in the same spaces than it is for outdoor or stray cats. You will rarely hear stray cats yowl out of boredom, but you will occasionally run into this behavior in domesticated indoor cats. If you go and pet your cat or interact with them after they are yowling and they stop, it is likely a cry for attention.

Why Is My Cat Yowling?

If you are wondering why your particular cat is yowling, it is likely due to one of these reasons. The best way to narrow it down is to go through the list and eliminate possibilities. For example, if your cat has been spayed or neutered, they are not yowling due to being in heat and the mating season. If your cat is young, they are probably not suffering from cognitive dysfunction.

If you take stock of your cat’s normal routine and track when the yowling takes place, you can usually figure out the cause. If you are struggling to pinpoint the exact cause of the yowling or you suspect that it is connected to a medical issue, you should take your cat to the vet for an examination to try and determine the exact cause.

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Yowling is a natural part of a cat’s behavior. Some cats will yowl quite a lot, while other cats will hardly yowl at all throughout their life. Yowling is caused by a number of factors, including stress, mating, and pain. Some cats will yowl out of boredom or hunger. Every cat is different, but yowling is natural. If your cat is yowling an excessive amount or you suspect the yowling is connected to a health issue, you can ask your veterinarian for guidance.

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Featured Image Credit: shymar27, Shutterstock

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