signs cat is in heat
Cat with mouth open — trilling, meowing or making another kitty sound. Photography by annadarzy/Thinkstock.

Cat Trilling: Why Do Cats Trill and What Does Cat Trilling Mean?

Let’s talk about cat trilling — from why only certain cats make this noise to how cats use it to communicate with us and each other — and more.
Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on pinterest
Pinterest
Share on email
Email

It happens every day. I get home and I’m greeted with a “rrroooowe, brrring, brupppp, brupppp!” or some variation of similar noises. No, I don’t have an old-fashioned telephone or my iPhone set to some nostalgic ring. This cat sound — commonly known as cat trilling — is coming from my small calico kitty, Merritt, as she excitedly greets me and seems to chat me up about her day.

My other cat, Gabby, is excited to see me but remains silent as Merritt trills away. Maybe he’ll give me a soft purr as he cranes his head up for a head pet but that’s about it. So, why does only one of my kitties do this cat trilling noise? And why does cat trilling happen in the first place?

Why do cats trill?

Merritt, just trillin' out in her fallsy cat barn.
Merritt, just trillin’ out in her fallsy cat barn. Photography courtesy Cait Rohan Kelly.

I had a hunch that cat trilling was a positive sound. Not only does Merritt trill when I get home, she trills when she sees or hears her treat bag or food. To be sure, I confirmed with Dr. Sasha Gibbons of Just Cats Veterinary Hospital in Stamford, Connecticut. “Trilling is a high-pitched, chirp-like noise made by cats as a greeting to people or other cats. It is associated with a positive, welcoming vibe,” she says.

But what about other times that cats trill?

According to The Humane Society of the United States, cat trilling is how mama cats get their kittens to pay attention or follow them. Merritt is one sassy diva of a cat who loves the spotlight and being around others. How dare any guest not admire her or let her rub their leg in greeting! If I sit down and Merritt is in the general vicinity, I know I should plan on staying put for the next 20 minutes. She will be in my lap, trilling, head-butting and purring away for all of the attention!

So, it makes sense that she would trill, especially in situations where she’s telling us humans to pay attention (!!!). The treat trills I previously mentioned are great examples of the “follow me” (“Hey human, I’m right over here!”) and “pay attention” (“Do NOT feed the treat to my brother first — even though he is silently waiting like a complete angel!”) commands.

How is cat trilling different from cat meowing?

But why cat trilling and not other cat sounds? Why wouldn’t cats just meow for attention or to say hello? Gabby, my cat who is a bit quieter and doesn’t trill, meows for attention, but the sort of attention he wants is usually negative. Case in point: Gabby will sit by our closed basement door and meow until I come to him. He’s not supposed to be in our basement but he’s escaped down there a few times. And — naughty and smart as he is — he wants to go back.

“Meowing is done with the mouth open, whereas trilling noises are made with the mouth closed,” Dr. Gibbons explains. “Trilling is almost always a positive noise, whereas meowing can have positive or negative connotations.”

For those who haven’t heard it, what does cat trilling sound like?

 

If my rotary phone-esque “brrring” and the common “rrroooowe” descriptions don’t do cat trilling justice, think of cat trilling as a lot of high-pitched, rolled, Spanish-style “Rs.” For a really good demonstration of cat trilling, let’s talk to Merritt herself!*

*please excuse my cat Christmas socks in these videos. 

How do our kitties make that cat trilling sound, anyway?

As all cat lovers know, cat anatomy is a fascinating thing. So, what exactly happens when cats make that odd cat trilling sound?

“The trill is a high-pitched sound because it is made by cats pushing air through their ‘voice box’ with their mouths closed so the air is not being expelled,” Dr. Gibbons says.

Why do some cats trill and others don’t?

“The amount of trilling varies with personality,” Dr. Gibbons says. “Some cats are shy or apprehensive so they do not trill.”

This aligns perfectly with my two cats. Gabby is a quiet, older kitty who shies away from too much attention, whereas Merritt is a younger cat who loves to be the center of attention.

Am I only the one who trills back at my cat — and can she understand me?

 

I can’t be the only cat lady who has conversations “in cat” with my kitty — see the video above. Since Merritt is so chatty, I started to make similar cat trilling noises back to her. Sometimes, I’ll ask her a question and she will promptly respond in the exact tone of the answer I’d expect.

Me: “Merritt, do you like your new toy?”
Merritt: :::Happy trilling sound:::

Me: “Merritt, where’s Gabby?”
Merritt: :::Confused trilling sound that I take to mean ‘I dunno’:::

Before you think I’m nutty, here’s a doctor’s opinion confirming that she understands my imitations of cat trilling and questions — sort of! “Trilling can be used for cats to communicate with other cats or with people,” Dr. Gibbons says. “She can definitely understand your tone and that you are great pals!”

So, trill away, cat ladies and gentleman. It may be the closest thing we have to talking to our cats for now!

Tell us: Do you have a cat who trills? What does cat trilling sound like to you? When does your cat trill?

Thumbnail: Photography by annadarzy/Thinkstock. 

This piece was originally published in 2017.

About the author

Cait Rohan Kelly is a digital writer, editor and marketer with over a decade of experience working with everything from sports stars to different types of cheese. She is currently the Digital Content Marketing Manager for Catster and Dogster. Cait is a lifelong animal lover and cat lady. She lives in Connecticut with her husband (a self-professed cat dude), her son (his first word will probably be one of her cats’ names) and her two rescue cats — Gabby, an orange tabby and avid sleeper, and Merritt, a sassy calico.

Read more about weird cat sounds on Catster.com:

107 thoughts on “Cat Trilling: Why Do Cats Trill and What Does Cat Trilling Mean?”

  1. My little all black female cat, Midnight, trills to me in greeting all the time–when she jumps up on the bed or couch, or just simply when she walks into a room that I’m in. If I say hi to her or call her name, she trills back. She’s the first cat I’ve ever had who trills, and she’s cat number 10 who has come into my life! I just love hearing her trilling away, it’s my favorite thing about her for sure.

  2. My Appa (Siberian) trills when she jumps up on my bed to be petted. Her sound is a PURRrrrup. Adorable. I wonder if this is more common in female cats. Her brother does not do it.

  3. I have two Maine Coons, Bodacious Bodie and Majestic Titan. Every morning when I’m making coffee they like to head butt and trill. They chase my other cats around the house, trilling all the way. It’s adorable.

  4. My Siamese trills when I’m coming over to her with her yummies. Always with her mouth closed…It’s the cutest sound. The others chirp when they see a prey through the window…Great article, Thx…

  5. Maureen Engel

    My in/out cat Ziggy trills when he sees “prey” in the yard through the window, especially if it’s close. He gets all excited and alert for the hunt. Then he runs for the catdoor !

  6. My SUPER handsome tuxie cat Doug trills, but my cow-patterned cutie Bauer doesn’t. Bauer is super shy, but Doug LOVES everybody, as long as you don’t squish him too hard. This really explains it.

  7. This was one of my Goku’s favourite way to communicate, and also the latest time she let me ear her voice, before dying.

  8. Leanne De Jonkheere

    Hi Nellie, cats generally don’t like change. Since you’ve moved recently, it’s a big change for your kitten. It can take weeks even months for cats to completely settle into a new environment. Seeing you posted this back in February, hopefully she’s fully settled now and back to her trilling self.
    Much love,
    Jade, Reggie, Sloan & Mariposa

  9. Pingback: Types and Q & A about Domestic Calico Tabby Shorthaired Cats

  10. I have three utterly gorgeous boys who have three completely different personalities! Jackie is my oldest of the three and is a big black and white tuxedo cat, hes really nervous around new people and is VERY quiet. He only let’s me and two other people hold him without a fuss.
    On the conplete opposite end of the spectrum I have Spice. Me and my friends found him as a kitten on the streets and he started following us home. Naturally we carried him the rest of the way. Somehow this little street cat turned into the SWEETEST and I mean sweetest cat in the world! I call him my default lover because my other two cats wont cuddle me as much as he willingly does. He CONTANTLY talks with me, trilling and meowing and he never stops purring unless hes asleep or fighting his brothers. He will trill at me while I’m doing my dishes because he wants to play in the sink and splash the water all over the place. I’ve even caught him jumping INTO MY TOILET! I’ve never left the bathroom door open since then!
    Then we have the most special of all three of these boys. Thumbs, I’ll give you one guess why we call him thumbs…well he has thumbs, lol, hes a polydactyl siamese mix. He is very lovey dovey but also very skittish. He doesnt like being picked up by Anyone at all, but he LOOOVES belly rubs! I think hes the only cat who actually likes belly rubs. Hes talks a lot to but not as much as Spice, but he screams a lot when then play together. Hes a but smaller than my other boys but hes about as old as spice (his previous owner always kept it to cold in their house so Thumbs got really sick and we think that stunted his growth a bit?)
    But those are my boys! They are my babies!

  11. Heather Shanks

    My cat named “noodles” acts like something is bothering him on his back right before his tail. He can’t hardly reach it. So I checked it out for myself and I think it is fleas. I’ve got medicine for his sleep issue but he acts so funny licking and smacking iand twitching every time I touch him on his back towards his tail. He’s an indoor cat and is alone with no other cats or pets to socialize with. Can someone tell me if there’s something I can do ? I’m concerned because sometimes it seems like he might be in some sort of discomfort or pain.

      1. It sounds like a very loud purr, only harsher. Almost a soft buzz. No musical instruments make that sound but you could get close by grasping the bell of an old fashioned buzzer to stop it dinging, the muffled buzz sounds like a trill. My cat makes very short trills when she finds me after a sleep or I come in from work.

  12. Thankyou for this, really sated my curiosity! My little boy’s 8 mo and pads around the house trilling at me and our older 5yo girl. It’s adorable as heck, except when he starts at 4am and won’t stop until I wake up! I usually “talk” back to him though as I love his happy little personality and don’t want him to stop doing it ????????

  13. My kitten used to trill CONSTANTLY till we moved recently – it has been nearly two weeks and I haven’t heard her trill once. Has this happened to anyone?

    1. Leanne De Jonkheere

      Hi Nellie, cats generally don’t like change. Since you’ve moved recently, it’s a big change for your kitten. It can take weeks even months for cats to completely settle into a new environment. Seeing you posted this back in February, hopefully she’s fully settled now and back to her trilling self.
      Much love,
      Jade, Reggie, Sloan & Mariposa

  14. Ah, cat trilling, I always wondered what this odd noise my cat made was. I can confirm it’s a happy noise, as my cat always makes it when I come home from work, without fail I open the garage door and Kitty runs out to me trilling and showing me her belly for a rub.

  15. Pingback: Let’s Talk Cat Growling — Why Does Your Cat Growl and How Should You React? –

  16. So interesting! My cat, Charlie, is the first cat I’ve ever had that trills, so I was concerned at first when she started doing it. It’s often when she’s trying to get in or out of the bedroom when the door is closed that she starts making the noise, or if she can’t see us humans. I’ll be laying in bed and hear her trill from across the house to which I must respond “Charlie, Charlie, Charlie, I’m in here” and once she here’s my voice, she stops and trots her way onto the bed, purring. I think she mostly uses it to find us when she can’t see us and wants attention!

  17. Pingback: Let’s Talk Cat Growling — Why Does Your Cat Growl and How Should You React? | playfeed

  18. I have a black Siamese cat that trills, especially after I have been gone, even for only a minute. He will rrrrrr and rub anything he is close to. I believe him to be saying, “I am so glad you came back to me.” The other cats just gather at the door.

  19. My cat, a male European shorthair, is trilling all the time! When he greets me, when he wants me to open the door or window or to get up in the morning, when he jumps on things, when he wants to play or wants food. I thought we got ourselves a pigeon, not a cat :) But he does it only with us, people. He doesn’t communicate like this with our other cat.

  20. I have 2 older indoor c kitties that trill away every morning for food and at other times for affection, treats, etc. sometimes they even have a trill off to see who can get my attention the best!!! I have a couple other outside barn kitties that trill also, it feels so good to know that you are loved!! I absolutely. ADORE my little people!!!

  21. My cat clicks and chirps when my blood sugar drops too low. He also puts his front paws around my legs. Then I know to eat something to raise my blood sugar. I am a type two diabetic. Calla Chi Oki is a seven year old Siamese. He gets very excited when I get home, even if I have only been gone a short time. Oki sits in my lap whenever I sit down. He also sleeps with me. I say, “let’s go beddy “ and he beats me to bed.

    1. Mine gives me stink eye when it’s bedtime and I’m not doing my shutdown routines and I mean almost to the minute. She’s like an alarm clock. Up till a year ago, I never considered having one, but this scrawny bag or fleas, worms and cotters turned up one day looking forlorn and we gradually fell in love. Now she’s helping protect my heart!

  22. Pingback: Cat Trilling: Why Do Cats Trill and What Does Cat Trilling Mean? – Info Body

  23. I am just a new cat pet owner and your post informs me that my cat is trilling. I thought he got a cat inhaler stucked somewhere lol! Anyway, he makes trilling noises every time it is too cold at night.

  24. Pingback: Cat Trilling: Why Do Cats Trill and What Does Cat Trilling Mean? – Pet Grooming And Pet Care

  25. Pingback: Cat Trilling: Why Do Cats Trill and What Does Cat Trilling Mean? | PetTraining.org

  26. Pingback: Cat Yowling — Why Do Cats Yowl and What Does It Imply? – Cute funny cat kitten pictures videos

  27. I have had cats that trilled before and I love the sound and have always talked back to them and they truly appear to respond to what I am doing. For several years I’ve been feeding a feral male cat at my back door. I noticed that he trills alot to my cats so I started trilling to him. He now comes into the house and even spends the night sometimes. Although he still won’t let me touch him, we have long conversations daily!

  28. Our cat makes trilling noises at us when we sleep in too long and he wants us to get up. Anyone else have a similar experience?

  29. My cat is one of the many trillers. He usually does it when he gets excited about something, such as when I play with him with his favorite toy. At other times, he does it when I bump him, or when he sees me in my room. At first I was confused when my cat made this noise, for none of my other cats had ever done this before. Now I understand it’s much like an excitement noise for him. He usually only does this 1 or 2 times when he gets really excited. Thanks for this post! It helped me a lot in understanding this cute noise.

  30. Pingback: Eight Questions About Calico Cats — Answered – Cute funny cat kitten pictures videos

  31. “Cait Rohan Kelly” thanks for this post. As per my view it’s among the cuter sounds a cat makes – an extended “rrrowe”, rising in pitch towards the end like a question and tinged with vibrato. You may hear it when you arrive home and your cat rushes over to greet you, or when it jumps up on your bed for a sleepy snuggle. Some cats seem to make the noise at random times for no reason other than because they feel like it.

    This charming noise is called a trill or, alternatively, a chirrup. Many people compare the sound to a rolled “r” followed by a soft, short mew – but what does it mean I want to find out more about this & reading this post help me to learn more.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get Catster in your inbox!

Stay informed! Get tips and exclusive deals.

Related

Follow Us

Shopping Cart