What Is My Cat Trying To Tell Me? Understanding Cat Vocalization

Posted: March 17, 2020 by Anita

cat vocalization


The first time I saw my cat arch her back, hiss, and walk sideways, I was a little frightened.  It reminded me of a movie I saw back in the 80s, starring Drew Barrymore.  In the film, the cat would steal Drew’s breath at night when she was asleep.

I know.  I’m a little over the top.  But I do not exaggerate when I tell you that a cat’s behavior is a bit of a mystery, at times.

One minute you can be stroking your cat, and she seems to love it.  But then, out of nowhere, she scratches the hell out of you for no apparent reason.

What you might have failed to realize was she was giving you all kinds of signs that you’re rubbing her was working her nerves.  Her cat sounds might have taken on a more irritated tone. Her tail swoosh might have picked up in speed.  She got upset with you because you didn’t pick up on the signs.

Cats are subtle creatures.  And if you’re going to understand your cat, you got to be able to read her and her moods.

One way to pick up on cat behavior is through understanding their cat language.  Cat language is the method that cats communicate with humans using vocalization, movement, sense of smell, sight, and hearing.

In this article, I will be discussing vocalization – the cat’s meow.

cat vocalization

Cat vocalization

Cats vocalize to get attention and to communicate their needs to their owners.  Understanding her vocal cues is vital to developing a relationship with your cat.

Adult cats only use meows to communicate with humans.  It is a skill that has evolved in the domestic cat.  The cat species figured out that they can’t chat with us the same way they do with other cats.  If you’re lucky enough to have two cats in your household, you will notice they don’t meow at each other.

Cat sound?

Mildred Moelik did the first research on cat vocalization in 1944.  Her work on cat conversation remains the standard after all these years.

She identified sixteen different tonal patterns in three categories.  The categories are:

  • soft murmurs made with mouth closed (I would call this purring) – greeting or satisfaction
  • meowing (open-to-close mouth_ requests or complaints
  • loud sounds from a wide-open mouth – stress or arousal

Mildred Moelk believed that cats switched up and utilized the three categories of sounds to relay goals, desires, and emotions.

Soft murmurs

The soft murmurs made with mouth closed include:

  • purr – usually signifies positive emotions
  • trill – welcome (greeting)
  • chirp – the sound of reassurance
  • mating call – in heat


Meowing (open to close mouth) can indicate a lot of things:

  • a request
  • complaining
  • can be a silent meow
  • she wants your full attention
  • I miss you – where the hell you been all day?

Loud sounds

Loud sounds with mouth wide open usually indicate aggression, irritation, and anger:

  • howl
  • growl
  • hiss
  • moan
  • wail


Opposing view on cat vocalization

However, about ten years ago, Michael Owren, Ph.D. (an animal psychologist) said the sounds that cats make to communicate to their owners aren’t all that complicated.  Cats vocalize to manipulate humans into getting their needs met.

Bottom line.


Michael Owren theorizes that cats have figured out that humans kind of like the sound of purring.  According to Owren, your cat either crank the volume up or down on the vocals, depending upon their sense of urgency or perceived level of irritation.

cat vocalization

Why does my cat meow so much

Each cat is different.  The amount of meowing can differ depending on the breed.  Siamese cats are very talkative, so if you’re a light sleeper, you might want to rethink making this cutie your pet.

But there are other reasons why cats meow a lot.


If your cat isn’t quiet, she might be telling you that you forgot to feed her.  Or, like my daughter’s cat Gigi, her food bowl is empty.  We noticed that Gigi meows a lot when her bowl is empty, even though she might not be hungry.  Gigi likes to graze all day.

Her grazing has led to her being overweight. To fix her weight issue, we’ve had to go with set eating times and slowly to decrease the amount of food she gets daily. Read more about how to help your cat lose weight by clicking here.

Gigi’s on a special diet cat food, click here to see which brand.

She’s not too happy with the change.  Gigi is letting my daughter know it with her constant meowing and moaning (LOL).


If your cat is meowing a lot, she might not be feeling well. There are some cat illnesses such as thyroid or kidney diseases that could lead to excessive hunger and thirst, causing your cat to become very vocal.  She could also be in pain.

If your cat is meowing a lot, it might be time to take her to the vet for a check-up to see if there are any underlying medical issues.

Have you ever considered getting health insurance for your cat?  Click here for information from Pet Best Health Insurance.

Bored or lonely

Cats might seem like solitary creatures, but they’re very social.  They do get bored and lonely.  Unfortunately, their cry for attention might happen at night when you’re trying to sleep.

Here are some tips for combating boredom in your cats:

  • set some time (I recommend in the evening after work) to play with your cat.  Get them tired, so they sleep through the night.  I absolutely love the Cat Dancer.  I don’t know of any cat that can resist this toy.  What’s so great is it doesn’t require you to do much moving if you don’t want to.
  • Toys, toys, toys – my favorite is those ones where they figure out how to get the food out of some gadget, like this one – click here.
  • Cats don’t like to be ignored.  Spend some quality time with your cat.  Eventually, they will get bored with you.  Your cat will walk away and find a nice spot to sit that’s close so she can keep an eye on you.

In heat

Oh my God, this cat racquet is the absolute worse cat noise.  Ever.  Cat mating season usually happens twice a year – in spring and fall.  Your cat will be very affectionate (rubbing up against everything) and very vocal (loud screeching and howling).  She might even spray (urine), which can be quite smelly.

Hopefully, you’ve had your cat fixed (spade or neutered) which will nip this problem in the bud (pun intended).


One of the keys to building a bond with your cat is learning her language.  Cat language includes vocalization, movement, sense of smell, sight, and hearing.  In this article, I discuss the mystery behind cat vocalization.

There are many reasons why cats are vocal.    Those reasons can be hunger, illness, boredom, loneliness, and mating.

In the next article, I discuss cat movement and how it works with cat verbalization.


Looking for more information on cat health and behavior?  Check out the following articles: