9 Cat Sounds and What They Mean

Trills, chirps and whining — cat sounds go far beyond cat meowing. Hear some of the strangest cat noises and find out what's up with those odd cat sounds!

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

Children’s books teach us that cats make one sound and one sound only: a polite meow. This isn’t true. As anyone who’s ever owned a cat knows, cat sounds transform and mutate far beyond basic cat meowing. Watch and listen to videos of nine of the more bizarre cat sounds out there. Plus some revelations about what those cat sounds really mean.

Cat Sound #1: The Clickety Chirp

This is one of those cat sounds that all cat parents know. Your cat posts up at the window, spies some birds frolicking outside and decides the best way to terrorize them is by broadcasting a sound that mixes mimicking the avian enemy — the chirp part — with a repetitious clicking noise. Apparently, no battle cat in history has yet to realize that the birds always seem completely unfazed by this form of attack.

Cat Sound #2: The Friendly Trill

I like to think of cat trilling — a shorter and shriller version of the standard meow — as one of the cat sounds that enthusiastically says, “Yes!” I’ve deduced this from my own feline, Mimosa, who lets out a series of trills every time I approach the spot on the kitchen counter where I keep her treats and toys. Unfortunately for Mims, the bag is next to the spice drawer, so her treat dreams are raised and then cruelly dashed every time I cook.

Cat Sound #3: The Bark

According to internet lore, there exist a few rare cases of cats appearing to make a noise like a dog’s bark. Science claims the noise is possibly due to the similarities between feline and canine larynxes, tracheas and other such biological things. But the real reason these cat sounds occur has more to do with the ego. If your cat is barking, he’s obviously casting shade on the primitive language of a dog.

Cat Sound #4: The Bleat

Ignore all that inter-species posturing above: When kittens bleat like baby goats it’s quite wonderful.

Cat Sound #5: The “Mom”

Also, zoology and biology be damned! If you gleefully refer to yourself as your cat’s mom or dad, the next step is teaching your cherubic little one to say your name — just like this “talking” tabby, Peanut.

Cat Sound #6: The Midnight Whine

I first came across the midnight whine while in an unfortunate roommate situation. The cohabiting human had two cats of the medically obese variety. Her solution was to use one of those automatic, timed feeding stations. Unfortunately, the contraption did not work — as in, no food was ever dispensed at night. Cue two previously quiet and polite felines howling and whining about their hunger pangs all through the witching hour. These cat sounds were truly the stuff of literal night terrors.

Cat Sound #7: The Demonic Growl

This is among the angry cat sounds out there! When your cat expels a guttural growl from the deepest depths of her stomach, you know something is seriously amiss with the world around her. Usually, that something is either your very presence or something you’ve forgotten to do, like, you know, not having offered up any treats for over two hours now. Never take your chances with cat sounds like these.

Cat Sound #8: The Cartoon Scurry

You know those cartoons where a character runs frantically on the spot for a few seconds to bowling ball sound effects before bombing off in a new direction? Yep, cats can do that, too. It usually happens during a play session or, say, when you mischievously flick a drop of water at her. The sound of a cat’s frantically scurrying claws on hardwood floors never fails to raise a smile.

Cat Sound #9: The Sleep Siren

It’s exhausting work being a cat, what with having to fit in 16 hours of sleep sessions and naps each and every day. Naturally, sometimes your blissful dreams about bathing in an oasis of wet food gravy become so vivid that you’re moved to get vocal. These cat sounds come across as slightly muted whines mixed with a few of those patented cat chirps.

Tell us: What are the strangest cat sounds in your opinion? What cat sounds would you love to see covered here?

Thumbnail: Photography by pshenina_m/Thinkstock.

This piece was originally published in 2017.

About the author

Phillip Mlynar spends his days writing about cats, hip-hop and craft beer, often while being pestered by his rescue, a mackerel tabby named Mimosa. When he’s not musing on the feline form for Catster, you can find his music articles at Pitchfork, Vice, Bandcamp and Red Bull Music Academy, and his beer insights over at CraftBeer, VinePair and October. He’s won various awards at the Cat Writer’s Association Communication Contests, some of which are proudly on display at his local dive bar in New York City. Twitter: twitter.com/phillip_mlynar

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74 thoughts on “9 Cat Sounds and What They Mean”

  1. I’m fortunate enough to be ‘owned’ by a few very vocal cats. The one sound that completely melts my heart is the one that’s a yawn mixed with a meow. It’s so adorable.

  2. Why does my kitten do like a little bark/meow but nothing comes out really, when playing hiding And we look at her she opens her mouth quick

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