Why Do Cats Meow? A Cat Whisperer's Guide

Wondering why your cat is meowing? This is your ultimate guide to deciphering their vocalizations so you can understand your feline friend that much better.

Bridget Reed

Updated February 25, 2022 • Published February 25, 2022

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Why Do Cats Meow? A Cat Whisperer's Guide

You might not think twice when you hear your cat meow. But have you ever considered what your feline friend is attempting to express to you by meowing?

We know that cats are not able to communicate with words, so they have to rely on a different form of communication to get their point across. This commonly comes in the form of meows.

You might wonder if your cat is predisposed to meowing—and yes—it's certainly possible. Some breeds are known for meowing more frequently than others.

According to Pawp veterinarian Dr. Slyvalyn Hammond, “Maine Coon cats are notoriously chatty. They are known to chirp, trill, and chatter their teeth when they are playing, hunting, or simply looking for attention.”

Whether you have a "talker" or a breed that tends to be tight-lipped, there’s plenty to learn about why exactly cats meow.

Why does my cat meow?

Having a basic understanding of your cat's different vocalizations can help you better communicate as a pet parent.

Here are some of the most common reasons that your cat meows:

  • Attention seeking

  • Hunger

  • Stress

  • Illness

They want attention

Your cat might be meowing because they want you to pay attention to them.

This type of short meow is a simple hello or greeting. While cats are often perceived as highly independent creatures, they actually do enjoy it when you pay attention to them. 

So the next time you hear your cat meowing and staring at you, you might take it as a cue that they would appreciate some well-deserved attention. 

Read: Why Does My Cat Stare At Me?

If wanting your attention is the reason that your cat is meowing, you might also notice that they're engaging in other attention-seeking or destructive behaviors like circling around you, knocking objects off tables, scratching, or biting.

They want food or treats

Another reason that your cat is meowing is to indicate that they want food.

Typically a meow for a request of food will have a unique pitch and sound to it, so over time, you might be able to pick out this meow and how it's different from others.

If you notice that your cat is meowing when it's close to mealtime or hanging around their food bowl, this is a sign that they're trying to get your attention because they're hungry. 

One way to prevent this from occurring is by creating a feeding schedule for your cat. If you stick to a routine, your cat can begin to get a feel for when they're going to get fed, and they may spare you from the meowing.

If you feed your cat the recommended amount and they're still meowing, reach out to a vet to ensure that your pet is getting all the nutrients that they need.

Read: The Best Cat Foods, Recommended By Vets & Experts

They’re stressed out

Your cat might use meows to tell you that they're feeling stressed.

A stressed-out cat will tend to vocalize more frequently than they would otherwise. For example, a typically quiet cat can become quite noisy when you place them in the carrier to take them to the vet.

If you notice that this is occurring frequently, talk to a vet about your cat's possible stress and anxiety and they can advise on the best course of action.

They’re sick

Lastly, your cat's meows could be them trying to tell you that they're not feeling well. Sometimes, an ill cat will also purr. 

Read: What Does It Mean When A Cat Purrs?

If you feel that your cat is purring, meowing, or making an unusual sound of any type, it's worth mentioning it a vet to ensure that they're healthy. This is especially relevant if your cat is also exhibiting signs of illness. 

Excessive meowing could hint at an overactive thyroid. In older cats especially, they may be suffering from mental confusion or cognitive dysfunction, among other illnesses.

How can I tell why my cat is meowing?

Now that you know more about some of the main reasons why cats meow, you might be curious about how exactly you can decipher the cause of your cat’s meows. It’s important to pay attention to your pet's individual behaviors and vocalizations. 

Length

Take note of the length of their meow. A tiny, brief meow is considered to be more pleasant and friendly. In contrast, an elongated, high-pitched yowl can indicate that your cat wants something right away. 

Pitch

Next, you should consider the pitch of your cat’s meow.

For instance, you might hear a higher-pitched meow when your cat is facing off with another animal or pet in the family. This sound could be an attempt to scare away the other party with a warning. Hissing is also a sign that your cat is feeling threatened, much like the growl in a dog. 

Frequency

Frequency is another important factor in understanding why your cat is meowing.

If your cat is meowing constantly, they might need something immediately. In contrast, if your cat only meows occasionally, this likely means that it's not quite as urgent.

For non-spayed female cats, excessive meowing is often a sign that they're in heat and looking for a mate.

Context clues

Lastly, context clues are also helpful when you are attempting to figure out why your cat is meowing.

Pay attention to their body posture and the appearance of their eyes, ears, and tail. For example, if they're crouched into a ball, they may be experiencing anxiety or fear, and if they have an arched back, they may be feeling fearful, aggressive, or angry.

You can also take note of when the meowing occurs. Is it only near certain people or animals? Does it occur at the same time each day? These clues can help you piece together what is leading your cat to meow.

Ultimately, to figure out why your cat is meowing, your best option is to talk to a vet. They can help you understand the reasons behind your feline's mysterious behavior and help you better communicate as a pet parent.

SOURCES: 

Why do cats meow and purr? – De facto Cat | NCSU 

Feline Behavior Problems: Destructive Behavior | Cornell  

It's the cat's meow: Not language, strictly speaking, but close enough to skillfully manage humans, communication study shows | Cornell 

Feeding Your Cat | Cornell  

The cat's meow | Humane Society  

Communicating Cats | UNM 

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