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What Do Your Cat’s Vocalizations Mean?

April 1, 2014
Compared to dogs, cats can be a little tricky to figure out. It’s hard to tell what they’re thinking or feeling sometimes, but one of the easiest and most obvious ways is through their vocalizations. Here, your veterinarian discusses what the most common cat sounds mean. Purring

A purr is one of the sounds you’ll hear your cat make a lot. Kittens begin purring at only a few hours old, and cats continue to do this throughout their lives. Usually, a cat purrs to indicate contentment and happiness, perhaps when he’s curling up with you on the couch or getting a nice behind-the-ear rub. It’s important to note, though, that many cats also purr when stressed, fearful, or in pain.

The famous meow sound is another very common cat vocalization. Interestingly, you’ll almost never hear meows between cats—they’re used almost exclusively for communication with humans. Cats use the meow to tell their owners that they’re hungry, that they want outside, or that they want attention. Many cat owners will tell you that their cat has different meows for different desires!

A sudden shriek or scream sound happens when a cat is in pain, perhaps when his tail is stepped on, or when a cat is frightened suddenly. If you hear this sound, make sure your cat is okay, and comfort him to let him know everything’s alright.

When your cat is surprised by an enemy or feels threatened by the presence of something, he’ll hold the mouth open and release a hiss. This is your cat’s way of letting the enemy know that he’s prepared to defend himself. It may be accompanied by a bulking up of the body and a large, puffy tail, designed to make your cat appear bigger and more threatening to the enemy.

Dogs aren’t the only ones who growl. Cats, too, can emit a long, low-pitched growl vocalization, which usually warns of impending danger perceived by your cat.

Of course, all cats are different and may express themselves in different ways.

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