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Posted on 06-24-2015

Meowing can be a sweet and loving communication with you, but it can also become obnoxious. Your feline’s language is composed of a number of vocalizations, scent signals and body postures.  Because we humans do not have a particularly powerful sense of smell compared with our feline friends, we miss those cues. Humans have become a verbal species so we also miss what the cat’s body language, like tail movement and position and ear position and movement, is trying to convey. So we’re left with the verbal feline communication such as yowling, hissing, growling, purring and meowing. What does your cat’s vocalization mean?

Behaviorists talk about four major categories of vocalizations: murmur patterns are purrs and trills; vowel patterns are all the varieties of meows; articulated patterns are chirps and chatter that express frustration; and strained intensity patterns like a growl or hiss are warnings. Cats can produce several diphthongs too. There is speculation that some cat vocalization may be pitched at higher frequency than humans can hear or be so subtle that we miss these silent meows.

Clearly, a cat’s meow is not just a simple sound. It is a sophisticated method of communication. A cat’s vocalization habits and voice are as individual as the voice of a person. Not all cats are vocal however. The Persian, Abyssinian, American Curl, American Shorthair, Birman, Chartreux and Cornish Rex are all breeds known for being rather quiet. Some of the more vocal breeds include Siamese, Burmese, Egyptian Mau, Japanese Bobtail, Javanese, Ocicat, and Oriental.

The most common meow is a plaintive cry for attention. If your cat is walking back and forth in the kitchen, she is probably asking for a meal or snack. If you have just arrived home and she’s meowing, your kitty is probably glad to see you and wants to be picked up or stroked. The “welcome meow”, particularly when it’s repeated consistently, is also related to mating.  A female cat in estrus meows almost constantly to advertise her availability to males. Except for the mating calls, cats reserve meowing primarily for talking with the humans in their lives and the meow is often a request or demand for something. The more insistent or passionate the cat, the more strident and low-pitched the meow.

We do not fully understand the chattering or bleating sounds cats make when they sometimes see prey. Some suggest it is a sound of feline anticipation or frustration. Other people suggest the sounds are a ploy on the cat’s part to get the prey to investigate the strange noise.

Growling, spitting, hissing and shrieking are all defensive or aggressive cries. Usually, there is not much doubt that the cat is angry of frightened. Similarly, purring needs little explanation. The signs of contentment are usually noted when your feline friend is purring. Purring is also noted in some cats who are very ill and is thought to be a self comfort type of vocalization.

If you note sudden changes in your cat’s vocalizations (either increased or decreased or at unusual times of the day), it may be an indication your cat is ill. Some health issues that may prompt excess meowing include: deafness, cognitive dysfunction (senility), separation anxiety, thyroid dysfunction (hyperthyroidism), heart or kidney disease. Pay particular attention if your cat is meowing constantly or regularly while using the litterbox, cleaning himself, eating her food or at times she’s not normally active. All these may be indicators of distress. You should contact your veterinarian as soon as possible and schedule an examination to be certain your kitty is healthy and happy!

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