What Are the Meanings of Common Cat Sounds?


Quick Answer

Growling, hissing and spitting mean a cat is angry or frightened, while a "meow" can mean anything from a greeting to a command. Cats make different sounds depending on what they are trying to express.

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Full Answer

Meows are one of the hardest cat sounds to translate, because they have so many different meanings. In some contexts, a cat might meow at its owner as a command to do something, such as get it more food. In other circumstances, meows can be simple announcements, such as when a cat meows to bring attention to a present it has brought to its owner. Cats can even meow when they are objecting to something or feeling defensive. The best way to interpret a meow is to take into account both the situation and the body language of the cat.

A cat will typically purr to express contentment, but might purr when anxious or sick in an attempt to comfort itself. Yowls and howls generally express some sort of distress, such as when a cat is looking for its owner, stuck in a closet or in pain. If a cat is not neutered or spayed, it could make these noises simply as part of mating behavior. Finally, chattering, chittering or twittering sounds are typically reserved for when a cat is watching birds or squirrels out a window. Some experts believe that these noises are exaggerations of the "killing bite" cats use to snap prey's necks.

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