Picture of a cat meowing

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Cats don't speak your language, but some of them sure do say a lot. Trilling, meowing, purring, hissing, and chattering are all ways your cat communicates with you, but do you know what they're trying to say? Cat fight sounds, welcoming sounds, and simple meowing can help you understand your cat. 

All cats make sounds, but some are more vocal than others. For example, the Siamese cat is one of the most vocal cats. These cat sounds are your pet's way of communicating with you even though you don't speak the same language. They use sounds to express happiness, love, fear, and pain. 

So what do all these sounds mean? Keep reading to learn more about cat sounds to help you get to know your cat better. 

Common cat sounds: meowing, purring, growling, hissing, chattering, towling, trilling

Meowing

Cats meow primarily to communicate with people and can tell you how  they are feeling. Meowing is also a cat attract sound you can use to communicate with them. Did you know that adult cats don't meow at other cats? Instead, they mostly meow for their human companions.1 Meanwhile, kittens meow at their mothers to tell them they're hungry or need something. 

Unfortunately, cat meow sounds are commonly used to communicate just about anything, so figuring out what your cat is trying to tell you can be challenging. For example, your cat might meow when they’re hungry or in pain. Occasionally, meows can tell you if your cat isn't feeling well, but it's rare. Instead, if your cat is meowing excessively, it could indicate a serious health problem. However, if your cat walks up to you and meows a few times, they likely want something like treats, toys, or attention. 

Purring

Another common cat sound is purring. The cat sound meaning behind this one is a little more straightforward than meowing. Cats purr when they're young and continue to purr throughout their lives to let you know they're happy. However, they may also purr when they're feeling scared or threatened. Purring can be one of many cat fight sounds, as cats often become stressed and purr before reaching their threshold and lashing out.

However, in most cases, if your cat is purring, it's a sign of contentment.2 However, you should read your cat's body language to help you determine what they're trying to tell you. For example, if your cat's body posture is stiff, they're likely stressed or afraid. Meanwhile, if they're lying on your lap getting petted, their purring likely indicates happiness and relaxation.  

Growling

Like dogs, cats can growl when feeling threatened or during play. Depending on your cat's body language, a growl could be their way of telling you to back off. Also, it serves as a warning to let you know they're willing to protect themselves if you don't give them space. Most cats growl when afraid or territorial, but you can also see signs of stress like stiff body language and hissing. 

Picture of a cat hissing

Hissing

Growling and hissing are common cat fighting sounds, indicating they're feeling fearful and stressed. Hissing is another warning sign of an aggressive cat. It's another way they tell you to back off because they need space. You might also hear hissing sounds when introducing cats because cats are territorial and might feel threatened. 

If a cat is hissing, it's best to separate yourself or the perceived threat from the situation and allow the cat to calm down. Other signs of aggression in cats include: 

  • A straight upright posture
  • Stiff rear legs
  • Stiff tail
  • Panting 
  • Upright ears
  • Constricted Pupils
  • Hackles up
  • Crouching
  • Head tucked in
  • Ears flattened3

These are all physical manifestations of fear and aggressiveness in cats. Therefore, if your cat is hissing, it's best to back away and let them approach you once they've calmed down. Unfortunately, cats can become aggressive for a variety of reasons, such as feeling threatened by a stranger or when you crowd them. 

Chattering

Chattering can be compared to when you're shivering and chattering your teeth and largely occurs when cats see prey. For example, you might hear your cat chatter when they see a bird outside the window and get so excited their teeth chatter. Chattering may also occur due to frustration because your cat can't actually catch the prey. For example, if they see a rodent outside the window, they know they can't actually hunt it and may display frustration by chattering. 

Your cat may also chatter at you while you're playing with toys that imitate prey. For example, if your cat is playing with a toy mouse, they might chatter if you pick up the toy. Chattering is not usually a sign of aggression, but you should be aware of their body language to ensure they're having fun and not getting stressed. 

Yowling

Yowling is another common sound adult cats make to communicate with humans. It's similar to meowing but more drawn out. Cats don't meow at each other, but they do yowl at each other, especially during breeding season.1 Cat yowling is one of many cat attract sounds used for mating, so it's common to hear this sound if your cat is in heat. 

Cats may also yowl to get attention or because they want something. It's usually never an aggressive sound. Instead, they might yowl because they're hungry or want attention. Despite what some would have you believe, cats are social creatures, so they might yowl to get you to pet them or play with them. 

In addition to yowling to find a mate and during play, yowling could occur if your cat is in pain. For example, if you touch your cat and they yowl, it could indicate that they're feeling pain around the area you touched. Cats are usually good at hiding their discomfort, so if they yowl when being touched, it's worth a trip to the vet for diagnosis and treatment. 

And finally, cats can yowl if they have behavioral issues. Yowling can sound like your cat is complaining about something, but it could mean they're experiencing stress or anxiety. While yowling isn't a sign that a cat may become aggressive, paying attention to your cat's body language is important to ensure they're not getting too stressed. 

Trilling

Trilling is a sound your cat makes with a closed mouth and sounds like a mix of a meow and a purr. Usually, trilling is a sound your cat makes when they greet you and to tell you they're pleased with something. For example, your cat might trill when you give them a treat or toy to play with. Some cats may trill during play, which typically indicates they're happy.

Understanding your cat’s sounds can improve your relationship, help you identify potential health problems, and keep both you and your cat safe and happy.

Why Is It Important to Understand Cat Sounds?

Understanding cat sounds can help you keep your cat healthy and prevent illnesses from worsening. It can also help keep you and your cat safe. As we've mentioned, cats are good at hiding their pain. So when they're not feeling well, they likely won't tell you. Instead, you'll have to look for symptoms like lethargy or lack of appetite. However, sometimes cats hiss, growl, or yowl when they're in pain. 

Cats usually don't like being touched when they're not feeling well, so if your cat hisses when you approach them, it could indicate an illness. Additionally, if your cat hisses or growls during play, it might mean they're getting too stressed. 

Understanding cat sound meanings can help you determine what your cat is trying to tell you. Some cats are more vocal than others, but for the most part, you should know what the cat sounds on the list above mean. Of course, since many common cat sounds have several meanings, you should also consider your cat's body language. For example, your cat might hiss while they're playing, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're going to cause injury. Additionally, a cat yowling could mean they want attention or feel stressed. 

Knowing cat sounds while looking for signs of stress or illness can help you determine when it's time for a trip to the vet — whether it's to discuss their behavior and stress or have them examined for potential illness. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What do cat sounds mean?

There are several cat sounds that have different meanings. What's most important is knowing what your particular cat's sounds mean. Every cat is different. Some use yowling to attract a mate, while others use it to get attention. Meanwhile, some cats purr when they're content or stressed. In most cases, purring is a sign that your cat is happy, but if purring is paired with a stiff posture, it could mean your cat is stressed and reaching their threshold before lashing out. 

Therefore, we recommend spending quality time with your cat to learn how they communicate with you. Over time, you'll learn everything there is to know about your cat, their sounds and behavior, to help you determine whether they're happy, aggressive, or in pain. 

How do I know if my cat is happy?

Your cat uses sound to tell you they're happy. Typically, purring and meowing are signs of contentedness. However, they can also indicate stress. You can usually tell when your cat is happy by looking at their posture. If they're relaxed, they're happy. Your cat's other actions can also indicate how they're feeling. For example, happy and relaxed cats may slowly blink at or fall asleep on you.   

What does it mean when my cat meows constantly?

The meow is one of the most versatile cat sounds because it could mean your cat is hungry, afraid, sick, or feeling needy. Some cats are more vocal than others, so excessive meowing varies. For example, a Siamese cat is more vocal and may meow all day long. However, a usually quiet cat meowing excessively may indicate a problem like a health concern or stress. 

Excessive meowing is your cat's way of trying to tell you something. You should check their food and water bowls and try to give them attention to see if that quiets them down. If your cat has recently become more vocal, it may warrant a trip to the vet, especially if they're displaying any other symptoms. 

Treat your cat’s behavioral issues from home.

Final Notes

Your cat's sounds are their way of communicating with you, other pets, and each other. Listening closely can help you determine when your cat needs something like food, water, or attention. It can also help you prevent potentially dangerous situations due to stress. For example, when your cat is stressed, they may hiss, growl, or meow excessively to tell the threat to give them space. 

Unfortunately, not listening to your cat's sounds can be dangerous. For example, if your cat is hissing because they're stressed and you walk up to them, they could become aggressive. Meanwhile, ignoring your cat's meowing means potentially ignoring an underlying health issue. 

Wondering why your cat is making sounds? Talk to a Dutch vet about any changes in your cat's behavior. We can diagnose and treat a variety of health and behavioral issues in cats that cause increased vocalization. Sign up for Dutch today.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Dutch?

Dutch is an online veterinary pet telehealth service, created by pet parents and board-certified veterinary specialists. We use a science-backed approach to provide pets relief for their everyday physical and behavioral health issues. Dutch connects you with licensed veterinarians over video chat and messaging to help you get care for your dog or cat quickly wherever you are — without the stress or expense of a vet visit. We also partner with pharmacies who can deliver prescription medication (in applicable states only) and over-the-counter treatments directly to your door. Dutch isn’t a veterinary practice or pharmacy, but a company that helps facilitate these services for pet parents to make veterinary care more accessible to all.

What is a visit with Dutch like?

When booking a video call with a vet, you'll be asked a few questions about your pet’s health issue. Depending on the issue, you may also be asked to fill out a longer questionnaire about their symptoms and share photographs of them so our veterinarians can better understand what’s going on. You’ll then pick an appointment time that works best for you.

During your video call, one of our licensed veterinarians will talk to you about the symptoms your pet is experiencing, ask you questions, review your pet’s medical history if you’ve provided it, and answer any questions you have. The vet will ask to see your pet and their environment. And they may ask you to perform some simple checks on them if needed.

After your video call, the vet will send you a message with a custom treatment plan to help your pet feel better, including a link to buy any recommended prescription or over-the-counter medications. Place your order and we’ll ship it free.

How much will it cost for Dutch to treat my pet?

The Dutch membership starts at $11/mo for unlimited access to the vet. No more long waits for appointments or surprise bills.

In addition to the base membership plan, our veterinarians may also recommend additional medication (Rx and/or OTC) that you will have the option of adding to your plan at an additional cost.