Cat Talk: Translated!

Author: Emily Burt, Nursing Team

August 18, 2011

Purr, yowl, hiss, meow: all these sounds are common among cats, but what do they mean?

"Meow" is an onomatopoeia (a word that suggests the sound it describes). This sound can be used when a kitten is communicating with its mother, but in adult cats, it is almost exclusively directed toward humans. Cats will meow when they want food, affection, or playtime. Sometimes it is even possible to differentiate between variations of your cat's meow depending on what she is seeking.

"Purrs" are a sound common to most species of feline. Usually, this signals contentment. At other times, however, a cat will purr when he is ill or during a traumatic or painful time.

"Yowls and howls" are often heard during fights and other times when cats are expressing aggression. Be very careful if you are around cats that are fighting. The cry of a cat in heat is called a "caterwaul".

"Chattering" is a sound that people often ask us about. It indicates that your cat has spotted something that they designate as prey. This will often happen when they are looking out a window and catch sight of a bird or squirrel, but can also happen when they see a spider on a wall.

"Growls and hissing" are used as warning indicators. These are used when a cat is feeling threatened and is telling others to keep away. If you have several cats in an area and hissing starts, separate the animals.

Additionally, cats will sometimes chirp a greeting to other cats or people. Some cats are very vocal and others communicate more through posture. Paying attention to your cat's "talking" can help you learn a lot about them.