Cat Sounds and What They Mean

Ginger cat looking at the camera and meowing

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All cats make sounds — from meows and purrs to growls and hisses — but some felines are more vocal than others.

Kittens are typically more communicative than older cats, and domestic felines are usually more vocal than feral ones.

There’s even evidence that some breeds are more likely to "talk" than others, including Siamese and Burmese cats. But what sounds a cat makes and how vocal it is varies from feline to feline.

Cats communicate with meows, chirrups, hisses, purrs, chatters and growls, but the onomatopoeic meow is the most common.


Kittens will meow to their mothers, but as they mature, they typically quit using this sound to communicate with other cats. Often, adult domestic cats that meow do so only in the presence of humans. This is likely an extension of the way kittens use their plaintive meows as a signal.

If you have cats, you probably know that not all meows are equal. You might even be able to determine if your cat is happy, angry or demanding food or attention just by listening to the type of meow.


It's often assumed that cats make this calming sound when they're happy, but they purr for many other reasons as well. Purring can signal that a cat feels frightened or threatened and research shows it's also a form of self-healing.


This trilling sound is a cross between a meow and a purr, and many cat owners say their felines use it as a form of greeting.


These rumbling sounds are meant as a warning. They can be a response to humans, animals or other cats, and most felines make the noise out of fear, anger or territoriality.


This stuttering sound has been described as a cross between a meow and a bleat. It's typically heard when a feline spots something — often a bird or flying insect — that they can't reach. It could communicate excitement or frustration.


A hiss can be loud or soft depending on the cat and the situation. It's often the feline response to fear and can be directed at cats or other animals, as well as humans. When a cat is hissing, it's best to give the animal some space.


This shrill and wailing noise is the cry of a cat in heat.

If you have a cat, you can interpret what your pets' meows and other sounds simply by paying attention. Look to see what physical stimulus your cat could be reacting to, and watch your cat's body language — especially its ears and tail — to determine what emotion or message the animal is trying to convey.