Decoding Your Cat’s Meow: What Your Feline is Really Saying

understanding your cat's meow

As a cat owner, you’ll be only too aware of the fact that your cat makes a whole array of sounds. The constant meows, chirps, purrs and yowls can leave us scratching our heads, looking at our cats and wondering: “What do you want??”

Apart from birds, cats offer the widest range of sounds of any domestic pet. Believe it or not, it’s actually a secret code, with each sound emitted containing a deeper meaning. As clever creatures, it’s their way of communicating how they’re feeling or what they need. They’re practically speaking to us without using words.

While their vocalisations can mean everything from happiness to stress, fear or hunger, decoding your cat’s meows will help you tap into what they need. And so, to help you understand your feline friend better, here’s everything you need to know about the sounds your cat makes.


Probably the most common sound expressed by cats, the meow is almost entirely contained to communicating with humans, rather than other cats. Initially, kittens unleash the sound to get their mum’s attention, and because they view us humans as their parents, the high pitched sound is continually used throughout their adult lives.

While meows tend to have a variety of meaning, their usual occurrence is due to your cat wanting something, be that access to a room, food or attention. Sometimes, it quite simply means “Hello”, reserved for our welcome return home.

As well as the sound, there’s meaning in its length. A shorter ‘mew’ expresses hunger or wanting attention, while a slightly longer meowwww can be an indicator of worry or feelings of annoyance. Finally, a longer, throaty meow can indicate pain or illness. So, if you notice a change in length or intonation of your cat’s meow, this could signify an issue with their health.


As humans, a soft gentle purr emitted from our cat can be instantly satisfying and soothing. Cats tend to use this expression for relaxation, tiredness or contentment, which gives us reassurance that we are doing our jobs right. Occasionally, however, a purr can portray an entirely different message. We ourselves sometimes reserve humming or whistling for times of nervousness, and cats are known to do the same with their purrs. The difference from a happy purr is all about the stance. When ears are back or their body appears tense, this can indicate fear.


These birdlike chirps were learned in kittenhood, when mother cat used them as a way of demanding attention, and requesting that her offspring follow her. When expressed by your cat, chirps are frequently used to suggest something important needs your attention, which they will usually lead you to. Often, it is a sign of excitement or happiness and so isn’t something to worry about.


Another birdlike sound, you may notice your cat chattering while on a windowsill, with eyes locked on a bird. This funny sound is an expression of predatory excitement, as your cat envisions capturing their prey.


Deemed our least favourite sound, a cat’s hiss is an undeniable sign that they feel threatened. The vocalisation is often accompanied with an arched back, puffed up tail and flattened ears. As humans, the best thing you can do is back off, don’t approach your cat and if possible, and remove the source of threat. This can be anything from a neighbourhood dog trying to get a rise, to an unwelcome feline stalking your cat’s territory. Hiss sounds are usually (thankfully) irregular. They are more frequent in less trusting cats, such as those who have been abused.

Getting in tune with what your cat is expressing is an easy way to effortlessly meet their needs. Does your communicate with you through sounds? Tell us about it in the comments below. 

Aideen is a fashion, beauty and lifestyle writer, from Northern Ireland. She grew up with a sassy tabby cat, named Lucky, who proved unlucky by nature, creating mischief wherever her paws took her. She currently has a British Shorthair cat called Indy, who has a penchant for the finer things in life. She loves combining her passion for writing, fashion and cats, spending her days blogging with Indy by her side.


  • Reply February 15, 2019


    My cat, Mikko, will jump on my bedside table while I am sleeping and meow to wake me up. Sometimes it is a soft meow and other times much louder. I assume the louder meow comes after a quiet one doesn’t do the trick. His timing is amazing too, usually between 6:00 and 6:15 regardless of the time of year. I have had cats my entire life (53 years) and he is the only one to wake me this way.

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