Cats have a complex and varied range of sounds which they communicate with, although most of this chatting is reserved for their owners and they rarely ‘talk’ to other cats. Oriental breeds such as Siamese are usually more talkative than other cats, although any cat can become a chatter-box.
Here’s a quick guide to some of the most common sounds a cat makes:
Meow – The meow is used to demand something from you or to seek attention. Your cat will meow when he is hungry, wants to go out, wants to come in, wants some love or needs some help. With body language and other visual cues it’s usually not hard to figure out what your cat is trying to say. If you fail to meet your cats needs his meow will become more insistent and demanding, often dropping a few octaves to a lower pitch.
Purr – The purr usually indicates contentment and happiness. Interestingly though, some cats also purr when in pain or near death, possibly to help relax or to comfort themselves.
Chirrup and Trill – A cross between a meow and a purr, the chirrup is a friendly greeting sound with a rising inflection, which is usually your cat’s way of saying ‘hello’ or ‘how are you?’ The trill is essentially a chirrup greeting of longer duration.
Chatter – Cats often make an excited chattering noise when they see a bird outside the window. This sound is usually accompanied by teeth chattering jaw movements as they observe their potential prey.
Hiss and Spit – The hiss is primarily a defensive sound when a cat is frightened or cornered by a potential enemy and is a clear warning to ‘back off’. Hissing is often accompanied by spitting when a cat feels threatened.
Growl – Cats use the growl as a warning sound for other cats to ‘go away’. My cat growls as a possessive claim to his toys, very clearly saying ‘these are mine’.
Shriek or Yowl – A high pitched shriek or yowl is normally associated with pain, fear or aggression. It is also common in females when they’re in heat and in senile older cats. In his senior years, my previous cat used to let out ear-splitting banshee shrieks around the house morning and night.
Just like humans, cats develop their vocabulary gradually starting with learning to purr just after birth. How much your cat does or doesn’t talk will depend on their breed, environment and how readily you encourage your cat to communicate. I talk to my cats regularly, and they happily chat back.
How do your cats communicate with you? What other sounds do they make? Please share…
Image: Kristina Dragana via Flickr