6 Cat Meow Sounds and What They Mean

Sometimes, a meow isn't just a meow – not all cat meow sounds are the same! Let’s take a look at six different cat meow sounds and the meanings behind each.

A gray cat meowing with his mouth open.
A gray cat meowing with his mouth open. Photography by Casey Elise Photography.

Do you recognize any of these six cat meow sounds that kitties make to speak to their humans? Even in a household with six cats, a distinctive moaning meow leaves no doubt that my orange tabby, Tinsel, is lurking nearby with some mock prey in her mouth. “Tinsel!” I call out in response to the trademark, guttural meow-moan. “What’ve you got for me?”

Within seconds, Tinsel appears from around the corner with a pair of socks in her mouth or the occasional soft cat toy. Obsessed with socks, she loves “hunting” and carrying pairs around the house. I consider this Tinsel’s ersatz hunting, feeding her predatory instinct while living the life of a strictly indoor cat.

First, why are there different cat meow sounds?

A gray cat with yellow eyes with his mouth open.
What’s up with different cat meow sounds? Photography ©graphixchon | Thinkstock.

We cat owners — particularly those with talkative cats — hear many vocalizations, but is a cat meow sound just a one-size-fits-all kitty word? Or do cats have a vocabulary of cat meow sounds, with different pitches, pronunciations and rhythms of the same basic sounds denoting different messages? It appears that felines do speak to us in varying cat meow sounds, says Marilyn Krieger, certified cat behavior consultant. And some breeds even have their own distinctive cat meow sounds — like the Siamese, known for a voice that sounds like a baby crying.

“Generally speaking, meows and the different meows you hear are for people,” Marilyn says. “They are so capable of so many different types of vocalization.”

If we respond to those cat meow sounds — like feeding him when he makes a certain vocal demand — then that sound becomes tailored to you, because it produces results, Marilyn says. She has two Bengals named Olivia and Jinniyah, and a Savannah named Sudan — each of whom has unique cat meow sounds to communicate with Marilyn.

I have identified six different cat meow sounds, though, as people’s anecdotes have confirmed, many cats have highly individual noises that aren’t necessarily part of all cats’ vocabularies. It’s difficult to spell a sound with a made-up onomatopoeia, but I’ll do my best.

1. The ‘I Caught It’ Moan: “Owwww”

cat meow sounds
Cats make different meow sounds when they ‘catch’ a toy. Photography by VLADIMIR LVP / Shutterstock.

Inspired by Tinsel’s sock obsession, this is one of those cat meow sounds that seems a bit like a muffled moan. Imagine a slightly faint “Owwwww, Mowwwww,” and you’ll get the idea. Many cats use this when they carry in their mouths plush mice, socks and anything else that feels like prey. I assume they’re celebrating their catch and showing it off to their humans.

2. The Mama Cat Chortle: “Rrrruh”

A mama cat and her kitten.
Mother cats make certain meow sounds to their kittens. Photography ©flibustier | Thinkstock.

You’ll hear these cat meow sounds when mother cats communicate with their kittens or sometimes if your cat is just being friendly. I hear this sometimes when my cats jump up onto my couch or bed, kind of as a “Here I am!” greeting. A cat chortle is a birdlike, endearing sound, somewhere between a chirp and a purr. It has a bit of a vibration to it, perhaps spelling something like “Rrrrrrruh.”

“It’s almost like we’re rolling our Rs in a way, but it is a soft roll of the Rs,” Marilyn says. “That’s a sweet kind of affectionate type of vocalization.”

3. The Growl: “Grrrow”

An angry cat growling, hissing or hiding.
A growl / meow might be a warning before a full-blown cat growl or hiss. Photography ©points | Thinkstock.

Growling may be mostly a dog thing, but cats have their own version of the low-pitched, menacing sound. A cat growling sound is not a happy one, unless it is part of play wrestling. Heed the warning. If your cats are making wavering, growling “Grrrrow” noises at each other during mealtime, they’re feeling stressed about another cat poaching their food. You can fix this problem by not putting each cat’s bowl too close to another, Marilyn says. Cats are, by nature, solitary hunters and eaters.

4. The ‘Feed Me Now, Human’: “Meow! Meowww!”

cat meow sounds
Your cat might have a specific meow sound he makes when he’s hungry. Photography ©Ukususha | Thinkstock.

Different cats have different ways of communicating their impatience and hunger. In my house, increasingly loud and incessant cat meow sounds like, “Meow! Meoww! Meowwww!” mean, “Get off your lazy butt and feed me already, human!” You’ll also hear this caterwauling if your cat is asking for something else — to be let out of a room, for instance, and you’re not listening. The longer you ignore it, the louder and more insistent these cat meow sounds get.

5. The Kitten Squeak: “Meeew!”

A kitten meowing.
Kittens have unique meows, too. Photography ©Remedios | Thinkstock.

Oh, that high-pitched squeaky mew of a kitten meow. These cat meow sounds will melt the feline lover’s heart! Note that if an adult cat lets out a strong, high-pitched meow, it is a screech rather than a cute kitten squeak, and the cat is upset about something.

6. The One-Syllable Chirp: “Meh!” or “Eh!”

Cat meow sounds
A kitty’s “meh” or “eh” is a conversational filler. Photography by annadarzy/Thinkstock.

This is a quick, staccato “Meh!” or “Eh!” that seems to serve as a conversational filler or greeting. My cats often do these cat meow sounds when they approach me for affection or just have a dialogue with me. St. Louis-area resident Jaime Ingle has two Maine Coons, Pumpkin and Daisy.

She hears this “Meow eh!” chirp from Daisy when she gets her human up in the morning, as if she is saying “Good morning, Mom!” (As for Pumpkin, she employs a distinctive scratchy “Me-yowww!” while she rubs against Jaime’s legs, begging for treats.)

Amanda Tatala, who lives in the Pittsburgh area, has recognized in her Tiger a short “Mrra!” meow, which she translates as a recognition-based “Oh, there you are!” or “Yay, you noticed me!”

“I’ve noticed he does it more often when I know he’s hungry,” Amanda says. “Yay you noticed me … now put something in my dish!”

A final note on cat meow sounds

While all those different cat meow sounds may provide fun listening, take note if your cat’s meow sounds change, Marilyn cautions. It could indicate an illness, like senility or a thyroid problem.

“If the cat starts doing an incessant meowing or a different kind of meowing — something that is not usual and does it a few times — there might be something wrong, and the cat needs to be examined by a veterinarian,” she says.

Tell us: What cat meow sounds do your cats make? What do those meows mean in cat language to you?

Thumbnail: Photography by Casey Elise Photography.

This piece was originally published in 2017.

About the author:

Kellie B. Gormly is a Pittsburgh-based journalist otherwise known as Mother Catresa to homeless kittens and cats. She blogs about her adventures in fostering at mother catresaschronicle.blogspot.com.

Editor’s note: This article appeared in Catster magazine. Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

Read more about cat sounds on Catster.com:

92 thoughts on “6 Cat Meow Sounds and What They Mean”

  1. Would,be interested to know about deaf cats meowing. I have had two very talkative Burmese in the past and loved their conversations. Annie is deaf and barely makes a sound. Almost imperceptible mew when she wants my attention and never meows for food, never chirps and never chatters at the birds.

  2. Our cat is about 12 great mouser
    My granddaughter found him in gravel pit
    Doesn’t meow very quiet purr we think he was injured
    He is house broke to outdoors never used litter box
    Im the great grandma
    We were gone two weeks last night he came right away to sleep with me
    I changed beds for quiet so did he
    He was cared for by neighbor but as soon as we got home hedashed for the house
    He has a favorite blanket and i have grown to love his nighttime company but he is not a lap cat
    Just the bed
    So does he really become attached to me?
    How do they know ?
    He tolerates the dog

  3. Carole Williams

    My house cat, a tabby named Oliver, climbs onto the breakfast table while my husband and I are eating. He has finished his food already and does this looking for a treat which is a tiny dot of honey or strawberry jam. After he gets this treat we ask him to get down from the table and he looks at us and meows back with a sound like “No” and doesn’t move. On the second scolding of get off the table he does so but still talks back with his No” answer as he goes.. It is really his way of communicating and he only does this when asked to get down from something. Just like a little kid!! We love it.

  4. My cat is 14 years old long haired Turkish calico. She is on thyroid meds and just had her check up and is doing great. She has this very quiet cat meow. Sometimes She opens her mouth and her meow is so light you barely hear it. But since her illness she has started this meowing that is so loud in the middle of the night that it wakes us up. When we went camping a few weeks ago she only did it once.

    1. Frankenstein is my 8 year old female and the first of 9 rescues who have joined our family over the past 7 years. She is my baby and she knows this (and uses it to her spoiled advantage!). She makes the short “mrugh” sound at me often (we tease her just like a human, saying she watches too much Tigger on Winnie the Pooh). This sound is my cue to remove any objects I may currently have in my lap, my arms included, so that she can jump into it herself. I looked into a cat rehab that specialized in curing kitty’s addiction to lap laying and binge Pooh watching, but woe, I was out of luck and thus stuck being a furball’s lounge chair for (hopefully!) eternity.

  5. Tiffany Elizabeth Lindley

    I have two fixed adult male cats living in my home along with me, my husband, and my two young kids. We bought the cats before the coronavirus as 8 week old kittens from a mother selling kittens on Facebook. (I know some folks highly frown on this sort of thing but I’m not one of them. I feel that a pet is a pet and a life is a life no matter where it came from.) Plus these two boys where just the cutest lil furballs ever and they still are!! There brothers from the same litter. They get along perfectly fine with one another unless their arguing over which one of them should be the dominant brother and which one of them should be the submissive brother. However they still have yet to agree on which one of them should be the more dominant brother and which one of them should be the more submissive brother so they continue to argue about it at every oppertunity. The “boys” as I like to think of them have two completely opposite personalities yet sometimes mirror each other’s individual behaviours so perfectly it’s almost like your looking at them both at once even if your only looking at one. Of course the “boys” are grown up adult cats now and honestly haven’t changed that much over the years they have just perfected their individual quirks.

    One of those little quirks is why I am here writing this right now I figured I’d give a bit of history on the “boys” first. The “softer” boy has developed this one particular meow he uses at everyone. (His brother, me, my husband, and my two kids.) He doesn’t seem distressed in anyway when using it it’s just that it’s such a unique meow and does not resemble any of the other meows he uses. When he wakes up from a seemingly deep, restful nap or sleep he lets out one little meow at whoever he happens to see first and that’s it there is no specific meows or behaviours which fallow after. The meow a gentle one and seems well intended on his part. It’s a bit grumbly and a bit purry. I’m no expert on cat meows but to me it seems as if he might be giving us a greeting maybe I don’t know…

    I was wondering if anyone at catster would have any thoughts on it?

    1. Tiffany Elizabeth Lindley

      Update a day later!

      I tried posting this update the other day only hours after I had posted my original comment here. But Catster was all like, “Slow down there speedy poster! You’re posting way to fast!” So I was like an shucks Catster you’re kind of being a stick in the mud! But then I was like well guess it can’t be helped. So I was like I’ll save everything as is and post this tomorrow. So here I am posting this now!

      I figured I’d leave up my original comment and post this one as a reply to it. I’m not even sure if I could even delete or edit my original comment anyways.

      I found out that the sound the “softer” boy makes is a trill by browsing through multiple catster articles on cat behaviours and cat sounds. I also listened to a few different cat trolls on youtube so I could hear just what a cat trill sounds like for myself. I would definitely have to say that is the exact sound he makes. I’m also mistaken that it’s a such a unique meow and does not resemble any of the other meows he uses. He actually trills quite a bit at everyone he’s just gives the loudest trill when he wakes from a seemingly deep, restful nap or sleep. I wasn’t exactly sure how to describe the sound before I read up on trills and heard them on youtube for myself which is why I described the sound as a bit grumbly and a bit purry.

      What I find quite surprising about his specific trills is that he uses them with everyone not just his favorite human pets and he even trills softly at his brother right in the middle of a big argument between them.

  6. My grandson moved out! He took his cat with him. My cat goes around each room, upstairs and downstairs. He meows high pitched cry! He makes a different cry when he wants treats?? Could he be depressed?? HR is our baby. Really spoiled!

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  11. A human question ends with a rising inflection in our voice.

    Sometimes my cat’s meows have a rising inflection at the end just like he’s asking me a question. I’ve never had a cat that sounded like that before. This meow comes when he wants me to get up and go lie down so he can lie beside me, which is the only time he stays by me, and even then, only minutes at a time usually. He will not sit in my lap, nor come around my computer desk when I’m working except when he wants me to leave it and go with him.

    Cats don’t have this inflection because they’re actually asking a question, do they?

    1. They do ask a question. My cat does a real short, sharp “eh” sound. He just wants me to notice him, because I left him alone all day.

    2. My cat Jane does the same question mark thing! It seems to happen most often when she’s wandering aimlessly from room to room , almost a bored thing. I’ve not heard any other cat I’ve had do this. I always answer back with a questioning meow ????

  12. When we moved at retirement time to a mountain home. We are 75,76 so we can have any cats we (I) want and I had a few I got from the police pound, as there regular pound just wanted too much money and I got a very snippy too young clerk and walked out with nothing from there ever again. I bought 2 Ginger male kittens from the first place for 15$, other was 65$. Well she said I would have to wait 2 days, that is a just a no regret time, I explained that would give me time for the Dr appt. shots, exam, and of course the neutering. Ours must have spread the word soon as we they invited several strays in. We ended up with 12 cats. all to the vet and well taken care of. Funny too, it wasn’t it wasn’t long we had too many un-invited cats too.they just found food and water and warn in the barn.

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