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Vocalizing Behavior in Cats: How to Listen and Communicate


Meows, purrs, caterwauls, hisses, and growls. We know our Royal Kittiness wants something when she starts becoming more vocal. We don’t own our cats. Our cats own us, right? So it is of the utmost importance that we understand exactly what every sound they make means and that we respond exactly the way they need and expect us to.

Cat vocalization can mean anything from those much cherished moments of warmth and tenderness to the typical but cute sounds of a bossy and demanding Ms. Meowington. Sometimes their vocals can be downright annoying with the worst possible timing. Other times they are a welcome, sing-songy trill echoing from around the corner. Needless to say, when our kitties want our attention, they make sure they get it. If we can better understand her vocalizations, we can communicate with more ease and build a healthier relationship.

Let’s take a look at the domesticated feline lexicon so that we may be deemed more worthy of this majestic furball’s company.

Vocalizing & Cats: How to Listen & Communicate | Vet Organics


Did you know that adult cats reserve their meows only for us, their human subjects, and not other cats? It’s an honor they have chosen to bestow upon us, and we should be grateful!

  • Most meows signify a request for food; attention; or to be let in or out.
  • Our cat also often meows to welcome us home.
  • There are sad meows, as well as anxious meows. Particularly in senior cats, meowing is a sign of distress because they are not as nimble and their senses are not as sharp as before.
  • Hungry meows are vocalized in a questioning tone and often shortened to “mew.”
  • Demanding meows are rapid and sharp.
  • A prolonged, throatier meow is our cat’s way of telling us that she doesn’t like something, she’s annoyed, or she’s worried.
  • Incessant meowing may indicate that kitty is feeling ill or is in pain.


Purring is one of the most iconic and sought after sounds. For humans, they are a reassuring, loving compliment from our kitty, however, purring can mean more than an expression of satisfaction. Humans don’t always understand that lesser known fact.

  • Soft, deep, and throaty, our cat’s hypnotic purrs are a good indication that she’s in a great mood. If she purrs while being petted, then she’s telling us that she is pleased.
  • A purr can also be a sign of agitation if it’s accompanied by a tense body and folded-back ears.
Vocalizing & Cats: How to Listen & Communicate | Vet Organics


  • A hissing cat is an angry cat. Well, most of the time. It all depends on the context of the hiss. If kitty’s back is also arched; mouth opened; ears flattened; hair puffed up; and tail twitching, then she’s letting us know in no uncertain terms that she is feeling threatened so we better back off. Or figure out what the threat is and take it out of the picture (not in a gangsta way, of course!)
  • Friendly cats rarely hiss, and yes they do exist!
  • Shy cats might hiss when she’s uncertain of a situation.  

Snarls and Growls

  • These usually accompany a cat’s hiss and classic defensive posture, and also indicate that our cherished feline is angry, afraid, or feeling threatened.
  • The snarls and growls of domesticated felines, compared to their wild relatives, have a higher pitch.


  • Yowls are drawn-out moaning sounds that are usually directed at other cats.
  • Yowls can mean that your cat is in heat. Neutering should be seriously considered because the yowling will not stop until kitty’s needs are satisfied.
  • A cat also often yowls when her territory is threatened, usually by another cat; or if she is worried or uncomfortable - this is usually the case when a cat is introduced into a new environment.
  • Kitty also yowls when she’s bored to pieces and needs some distraction through play.


  • Caterwauls are female mating calls. Compared to yowls, caterwauls have a wailing quality and come in abbreviated bursts.
  • An unspayed caterwauling female demands to be let outside so she can mate. Of course, her caterwauling is properly received with the yowling of the male cats in the neighborhood.


  • A cat usually screams after mating; the popular opinion is that the male’s barbed penis causes the female pain when it is removed.
  • Fighting cats may also scream, in addition to snarling, growling, and yowling.
Vocalizing & Cats: How to Listen & Communicate | Vet Organics

More, Important Stuff!

  • Generally speaking, short-haired feline breeds are more outgoing and chatty compared to long-haired breeds.
  • Asian breeds are chatty breeds.
  • Unless they’re of the rebellious type, Persians, Chartreuxes, Russian Blues, Maine Coons, and Norwegian Forest cats are usually mum.
  • If kitty’s vocalization has become excessive relative to her normal behavior, there might be a serious condition that warrants a visit to the vet as soon as possible.
  • These vocalization patterns should be cause for concern: increased frequency of meowing and yowling; increased volume of meowing and yowling; persistent vocalizations at night, especially when this is not our cat’s typical behavior.

Whether we find our cat’s vocalizations endearing, annoying, or worrisome, it’s vital that we learn to speak their language so we can better address their needs and even correct unwanted behaviors before they become a long-term problem. Best of all, learning to listen and to understand the language and sounds of cats will help us create a much more enduring,  loving, and fulfilling relationship with Ms. Meowington.

Further Reading: 




Michelle Lievense

Michelle is a writer and ghostwriter, specializing in wellness, sustainability, and global social change. She is particularly fond of serving ethical organizations who contribute to a better life for people and animals through humane and environmentally responsible missions. At Vet Organics, Michelle uses her time as a vet tech, her academic studies in animal science and behavior, and nearly a decade working on a ranch teaching animal husbandry to write on a variety of cat and canine health topics. When she isn't writing, Michelle can be found hiking in the mountains of Colorado with her dogs or snuggled up with a good book and her cats.

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