A cat yowling or making another sound.
A cat yowling or making another sound. Photography ©White_bcgrd | Thinkstock.

How to Speak Cat

Think your cat can’t talk to you and you can’t talk back? Learn how to speak cat by paying attention to your cat’s body language and vocalizations.
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Learning how to speak cat is not simply a parlor trick you can perform to amuse your dinner guests. It’s an important part of training your cat and reinforcing your bond with her. Teaching your cat simple commands like “DOWN” and “NO!” will make her a better pet, while words like “Treats!” and “Dinner!” will help her associate you with something pleasurable.

Cats rarely vocalize with other cats (other than to hiss and growl at trespassers); they reserve verbal interaction for humans. Cat language is a complex mix of facial expression, tail position, ear position and other forms of body language in addition to scent and sound. Cats learn to make demands of us by observing which of their sounds cause which human responses. Here’s how to speak cat:

Before we talk how to speak cat, here’s how to understand your cat

A cat with his mouth open.
Wondering how to speak cat? Follow these tips and tricks. Photography ©SensorSpot | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Some cats (like the Oriental breeds) are vocal and have extensive vocabularies. Other cats scarcely “speak” at all, or have a one-size-fits-all yowl that covers all the bases.

Whether your cat is vocal or not, she will be fluent in body language, a key component of her interactions with you and other animals. By tuning in to both her body and her voice, you can learn how to speak cat.

The following vocalizations are fairly common when learning how to speak cat:

  1. Short meow: “Hey, how ya doin’?”
  2. Multiple meows: “I’m so happy to see you! Where’ve you been? I missed you!”
  3. Mid-pitch meow: A plea for something, usually dinner, treats, or to be let outside.
  4. Drawn-out mrrraaaaaoooow: “Did you forget to feed me, you idiot? I want dinner NOW!” or similar demand.
  5. Low pitched mraaooww: “You are so lame. The service around here sucks,” or similar complaint.
  6. High-pitch RRRROWW!: “OUCH!!! YOU STEPPED ON MY TAIL YOU IMBECILE!”
  7. Purr: Most often a sign of contentedness, but can also be used when in pain or afraid — an instinctual response to hide weakness from predators.
  8. Hiss: “Steer clear. I’m angry and I’m not afraid to draw blood.”
  9. Clicking or chirping sounds: Cats who are tracking prey will make a distinctive clicking sound.

Body language is also important when learning how to speak cat:

The Tail:

  1. Tail straight up or straight up with a curl at the end: Happy.
  2. Tail twitching: Excited or anxious.
  3. Tail vibrating: Very excited to see you.
  4. Tail fur sticks straight up while the tail curls in the shape of an N: Extreme aggression.
  5. Tail fur sticks straight up but the tail is held low: Aggression or frightened.
  6. Tail held low and tucked under the rear: Frightened.

Eyes:

  1. Dilated pupils: Very playful or excited. It can also indicate aggression.
  2. Slowly blinking eyes: Affection, the equivalent of blowing a kiss.

Head:

  1. Ears pinned back: Fear, anxiety, aggression
  2. Tongue flicking: Worry, apprehension
  3. Rubbing head, flank and tail against a person or animal: Greeting ritual, ownership claim
  4. Head-butting: Friendliness, affection
  5. Face sniffing: Confirming identity
  6. Wet nose kiss: Affection
  7. Licking: The ultimate sign of affection. Or an indication that you need to clean up after a sardine snack.

Now, here’s how you can speak cat

When learning how to speak cat, the words you use are less important than how you say them and the body language that accompanies them. If you say “DOWN!” or “NO!” in the same tone you use for, “Good kitty! Here’s a treat,” you’ll confuse your cat and she’ll misinterpret what you’re saying. Consistency is the key to successful communication with your cat.

To correct behavior, use a loud, firm, authoritative voice, and use this same tone consistently in conjunction with body language. For example, when ordering your cat “down,” make a stern face, and use one of your hands to point down.

For praise, or when calling your cat to dinner or offering treats, use a higher-pitched “happy” voice, smile, and beckon with your hand.

If your cat is begging for attention when you are trying to work or accomplish some other task, you will need to say “NO!” firmly, and gently push the cat away without showing affection. Cats don’t have much respect for the human’s personal space and will try repeatedly to invade it, so you may need to repeat this several times before Fluffy gives up and leaves you alone. If you say “no” and pet your cat instead of pushing her away, she will interpret your actions as a welcome signal.

Most cats will also respond to a sharp hissing or spitting sound as a “no” command when they are doing something seriously wrong and need to be stopped.

The bottom line on how to speak cat:

If you consistently use the same voice, facial expressions and hand gestures, most cats will have no trouble understanding what you say. The more you communicate with your cat, the better the two of you will become at understanding each other.

Tell us: How do you speak cat? How does your cat talk to you?

Thumbnail: Photography ©White_bcgrd | Thinkstock.

This piece was originally published in 2017.

About the authors

Catster is a cat magazine and cat website where cat lovers come together and learn about everything from weird cat sounds to serious feline health concerns. Subscribe to Catster magazine at catster.com/subscribe. Reach out here. Or, connect with us on Catster’s online community.

Read more about cat communication on Catster.com:

82 thoughts on “How to Speak Cat”

  1. Thank you for another informative web site. The place else may I get that type of info written in such
    an ideal approach? I have a mission that I’m just now operating on,
    and I’ve been on the glance out for such information.

  2. Pingback: How to Speak Cat – Catster | Areyoupop

  3. Thanks for sharing about cat speak. Actually, I think my cat says that he has asthma. Well, I will go to the vet and might need to buy a cat asthma inhaler.

  4. Pingback: How to Speak Cat – Info Body

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  8. I do consider all the ideas you’ve offered to your post. They’re very convincing and will certainly work.
    Still, the posts are too short for newbies.
    May you please extend them a bit from next time?

    Thank you for the post.

  9. I LOVE my two cats and I want the best for them, so I have written all this down and started doing those things. Thanks so much! Hopefully I will soon see a change in my fur babies! :)

  10. My cat will make a distinctive meow when she stands by the door waiting to be let out.. She’ll say owwwwww like she’s trying to say “out” without the T. Then if I don’t let her out as quickly as she would like, she lets out a definitely disappointed sounding “Ohhh!” that sounds like she’s saying oh no or awww.

  11. List of adjectives, synonyms, and related terms to describe voice. Use the below list to find different terms pertaining to voice. The list contains adjectives, synonyms, terminology, and …

  12. Jean Macklin-Bell

    I signed up for Catster and I’m getting the mags. (Wish they were dated).
    Your system won’t let me vote for a cover picture. Why?

    1. Hi there —

      Please send us screenshots of the error messages you’re receiving: https://www.catster.com/meet-team-catster

  13. Love this. So my chatty one is happy to see me and the licker is showing affection despite my best attempts to get away from her. And the old man in my face every night is trying to figure out f he’s in the right bed.

  14. A comment about cats purring. The article said — and I’ve read this various times in other other sources — that puring is “most often a sign of contentedness, but can also be used when in pain or afraid — an instinctual response to hide weakness from predators.”

    It’s that last part I take issue with. We’ve had up to seven cats at a time in our household for for going on four decades. We were/are very close to them and they to us, and know each one very well because of how much time we spend with them. I have YET to find a cat that purrs when in pain or afraid. It just doesn’t happen, in my experience. I’d to see some solid evidence for this. Based on my husband’s and my experience with multiple cats, I simply don’t believe it.

    1. I had to put my kitty down due to severe medical issues n she was purring during this horrible time. I do believe she was in pain but maybe happy I was helping her out of it

    2. I’ve seen it several times. Had a cat that was dying and fell into his foodbowl and just lay there purring. I do not believe he was happy but was self-soothing. Had another cat who used to purr when getting his temperature taken at the vet, and I know he was not a fan.

    3. Oh yes a cat does purr when she’s sick. I had a cat who was dying from a very bad heart condition. The worse it got, the more and louder she purred. Even my other cat , who used to compete with her, changed behavior, allowing the sick one unfettered access to food and resting places

  15. I read in a book one time that infusing English words with meows with the right pitch can also be helpful. For example, I would say”Meorocky”, (which is my pet cat Rocky’s name in cat.) when ever I needed him to come out. It works.

  16. In current psychology, the sub-field known as Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB) investigates the biology of how humans perceive nasty/nice and react accordingly. Stephen Porges, PhD, a trailblazing neuroscientist in this field, coined the term “neuroception” to refer to this below-conscious-level perception.

    I am fortunate in that most animals I meet seem to neurocept me as safe. My cat Tobias (can I attach a picture?) came running up to me after I had played with every other cat in the rescue while he was in another room. They were all friendly, but he ran up, jumped onto my lap, head-butted me, and settled happily in–which is why he was the one who came home with me!

  17. I use a mix of body language & speaking, along with meowing, to my cats. Sometimes I don’t even have to say or do anything and they can just sense my mood, and come over and cuddle me on a bad day. I also click my tongue to get their attention or call them over, this is leftover from when I had a bird who always clicked his tongue. It works pretty well with cats and dogs, it’s more subtle than calling for them and sometimes just a soft tongue click is all it takes for them to come over. Maybe they sense more affection coming from a soft signal than an excited/loud “Come here, baby!” (I give my pets names of course but I still call them baby or honey occasionally)

    I also try to make eye contact a lot and give them a warning before I come up to them, like making sure we meet eyes or saying “hey” before petting them. They seem to appreciate it, and I know I hate when people come up to me & touch me without any warning. I also like to match their meows, like that short chirp-meow they make when you wake up or get home, or the insistent food request meows, I’ll say “Meow, hi, I’m happy to see you too.” or “Meow, I know honey let me grab you some food.” It’s fun to see how long you can keep a cat conversing with you back-and-forth with meows.

  18. thank you, a stray keeps coming and each time i give him food he meows about 3-6 times when i come over to him! :) Now I know what it means!

    thx

  19. My cat Baghira is half Siamese but a black cat and he responds very well to sharp hiss when he’s doing something wrong! I was glad to see that was on there too

  20. Pingback: Cats in Warmth: What Precisely Occurs? | My Cat Guide

  21. Our cat Luna has a mix of Siamese in her and she loves to talk; she seems to understand English. She has a very distinct “Mawm” (Mom) cry when she wants me or my attention. She calls this when I get out of her site even! She will carry on a conversation with you too, it’s quite amusing! For a treat I taught her to use her manners so she will sit and look up and around and then let out a Meow! This is the only time she will do this. Very unique!!! A one of a kind cat!! Many have told us this.

    1. Cool, Cats are awesome pets!! I have a unique cat myself…about a month ago I was at my desk and crumpled a piece of paper and tossed it at the garbage and I missed, so my cat runs and grabs it and brings it back to me, I couldnt believe it so I threw it at the wall on the other side of the room and she brought it back again and again lol so now I have a cat that loves to play fetch like a dog, we play everyday!
      I have a female Mackerel Tabby named Sheba and she is just turning 5 months old. She is the most intelligent cat I have ever had and she makes a great pet tooo

      1. Sarah Chamberlain

        MyBengals also love to play fetch. Stanwyck’ s favorite is the pull tab off the quart of milk. Brings it to me every morning to play.

      2. Had a little black one that liked to play soccer goalie with a little ball. He always stopped that think and gave it back to me. Yours is the first retriever I ever heard of.

        1. Brian Wightman

          My black siamese male bonded to me after being neutered. He plays fetch with skittles but will eventually eat them. He is also a talker. ‘We carry on discussions all the time. Mostly he is informing me of the latest things he loves or dislikes in the backyard. He also will whine and complain about the annoying young female cat we adopted a couple of years back. She has her own abilities. She used to ask for food by rising up on her hind legs and then reaching up to me with an upturned paw. Adorable….now she taps me on the shoulder. This behavior makes me completely cave to her every desire.
          Spoiled to the core

  22. Another way my cat communicates with me besides all of his different sounds and meow’s is by locking his eyes with mine and stare very intensely at me. I have learned that if I stare back and maintain this eye connection for several seconds while speaking affectionately to him, he will come straight to me, even if he’s across the room. He then meows and trills at me! Sometimes I can’t figure out what he wants but it is so so cute. I love receiving your Catster tips and topics each week!

    1. I have a male Korat who is wired this way. He’ll stare at me, I back, and he comes or does the slow blink before coming to get cuddles.

      1. Korats are so special and many people do not know much about them. They extremely bond to there human. I like how my cat has retained all of his kittenish ways.

    2. In my experience, a stare is a way of begging for something. He’s probably asking for dinner, a treat, or to be let out?

  23. Great article! My Cat loves meowing.. Well, when he wants a treat! Lol

    But this article will surely help me understand my cat better.

  24. if my cat want me to have his/her attention i do not say no but i do not like if i am angry to my cats maybe they will not like me any more but thanks for ur advice, pls make more

  25. Thank you for this great article! To be honest with you I find it hard to communicate with my Cat, and to understand him. Would you recommend learning to speak your Cat via a book? I don’t have a lot of money and hiring a Cat whisperer will cost a lot!
    I’ve come across this Cat Language Book and it seems good. would love to hear your opinion about this book, have you heard of it before? It does look good but I would love your feedback. Thanks!”

  26. Hi Diana Boy I was so happy to read that you have a 26 year old male cat. My Lucy is a female seal point Siamese who is 20 it would be great to have her for another 6 years. Now I know all cats are different but one can hope.
    Take care Coreen

  27. Yvonne Summers, Modbury South Australia

    I didn’t see Lulu’s particular loud sound above but I think she” trills” and quite loudly, almost sounding as though she is in pain. Usually I find she has had a play with her favourite toy!! All in all she is a talkative girl.
    My Russian girl, Annabel has quite a vocabulary that sounds almost like a dog bark at times – its all for attention when she is demanding something and I get an intense stare from her at these times.
    Wonderful creatures that I wouldn’t be without.

  28. Yvonne Summers, Modbury South Australia

    My explanation of cat in season being “oestrous” is for Ebbie’s query in February 12, 2018.

    I didn’t see Lulu’s particular loud sound above but I think she” trills” and quite loudly, almost sounding as though she is in pain. Usually I find she has had a play with her favourite toy!! All in all she is a talkative girl.
    My Russian girl, Annabel has quite a vocabulary that sounds almost like a dog bark at times – its all for attention when she is demanding something and I get an intense stare from her at these times.
    Wonderful creatures that I wouldn’t be without.

  29. Yvonne Summers

    I only know it as “oestrous”, which word is related to oestrogen. I hope you got an answer before I saw your query. However this is the correct term.

  30. Annie in Florida

    I think I speak cat pretty well. But there is one thing I do not understand. My cat quite opbviously chose ME over other people. He made this obvious to me and the woman who had been feeding him outside for a year. He came running right up to me, tail up, ears forward and very friendly. The wopman was shocked, as she said he was scared of everyone but her! Well, he sure wasnt scared of me.
    How do cats KNOW a human being is safe and friendly to them??? Is it smell? Visual? I would love to hear from others on this.

    1. It is most likely someone’s smell and the cat’s amazing senses. Cats have very sensitive senses, so they can just sense who/what is friendly. If we can sometimes sense nice and suspicious people, I’m sure cats can do this and many times better than we can. Cats just know which people are cat lovers, too.

  31. Hello Louise Riley,
    If you haven’t invested in a “Top-Loader” carrier. you should. It is so much easier and less stressful to gently put the cat into the carrier via the top door versus trying to stuff the cat into the carrier through the side entrance. This will make it much easier to get your cat to the vet and back.

  32. Judging from the first few paragraphs, it seems this is only about female cats. Try writing something without a “her” or “him”. How about “the cat” or your cat”. Your not the only one that does this.

  33. Elizabeth Yuster

    I am a Catster fan, and as a Biologist, a fan of just about everything that creeps and crawls. I own (was given) a trio of Manx (1 had a complete tail, the others only a stump, or none). The largest Manx was named Shortcut. The boys were born 2012. I do snake surveys for the CSC..and would you believe, my Manx Shortcut has caught (absolutely with no harm to them) 3 or juvenile Northern Brown snakes. How he gets them in his mouth, how he knows who to bring them to is amazing. He also is a true Manx, taking up to 6 meter leaps, from an upstairs window to the ground below. I’ve always have had or am saving cats, & I do have success in preventing certain ‘hunting’ instincts. They have brought in young birds, none ever hurt…but a cat that helps you catch snakes? That’s gotta be some kind of record!

  34. Louise, all cats have their likes and dislikes, and some cats just do not like to be picked up. It doesn’t mean they aren’t fond of you, maybe they just don’t like something about being held so far off the ground with no control!!

  35. Why do some cats refused to be picked up but love to be petted and will get into bed and lie there with you? My cat was adopted from a shelter and I am wondering if she was a ferrel or otherwise abused she was found out on the street by a kind shelter person.I am dying to pck her up and cuddle her. same goes for trying to get her ready for a vet visit. will fight not to get in her carrier.

    1. Hi Louise,
      Cats have all different ways to show affection — check out some more insight into that right here:
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/cat-behavior-cats-show-affection-people-aloof-unemotional-myth
      https://www.catster.com/cat-behavior/what-cats-are-lap-cats

  36. have 4 kittens at different ages and a 26 year old . All males. All talk to me nonstop. Each have their own meeows and chirrups to tell me what they want. It’s to precious . They answer me back all the time. Three month old just cane out if hospital for pnemonia and on the way home really really found his little voice almost as if begging me me never to send him away again . I get down on the floor and talk to them st their level. I never stop giving them human kisses . And kitty kisses by slowly blinking at them ….they even have their own facebook page because their cuteness is to much not to document. @BrogsD

  37. Pingback: PBS: Apes' inability to use symbolic language may just be "nurture" | Uncommon Descent

  38. I usually meow at my cat like how she does to me. I never had much luck telling her something using words besides things like calling her using her name or telling her that “Yes, I know, just a second.” A meow that’s not too short but not too long is kinda like a conversation for when we want to talk about something. Really long low-pitched meows are complaints. Hissing or growling is anger towards something someone did, looking at the person or thing we’re angry at. Purring and nudging each other is seeking affection. A short high pitched meow is to get some breif attention. Medium lengthed and pitched meows are acknowledgements and greetings. Short purry meows are “Come here”. High pitched meows of medium length indicating happiness or sadness depending on the body language and the amount of ‘purr’ we put into the meows.

  39. I have a feral cat that I have trained to be an indoor cat. He was feral eight years. I would never raise my voice to him because ferals don’t like noise, it gives away their position. They live as quietly as possible outside. Now if I accidently up my voice he will look afraid so I just don’t do it. He is very well behaved and knows what “Treats” and “No” mean but it’s always said softly. He is the most well behaved cat I have ever had. He never jumps on anything other than his window perches. He never begs for human food. He’s very considerate when I’m not feeling well and watches me like a caregiver.

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    1. Hi Ebbie —

      These pieces might help:
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/signs-cat-in-heat
      https://www.catster.com/cat-health-care/cats-in-heat

      Please contact your vet with any medical questions!

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