What Is My Cat Saying?
Just what does the cat meow mean?
Do you ever find yourself wishing your cat could speak to you? Well, actually, she can!
Cats do speak to us with their “meows” every day; we just don’t always understand what they are saying.
Since cats can’t learn to speak our language, it’s up to us to learn to their language of cat meow.
Types of Cat Meows and their Meaning
Cats don’t meow to one another past kittenhood; they communicate with each other through more guttural sounds and body language. Meow is reserved just for communicating with us humans (except when kittens and momma cats meow to one another), so we owe it to them to pay attention.
I have identified a few distinctive types of meows that I have experienced with my own cats, as well as with the cats I have visited in both my cat sitting business and my cat behavior practice.
Use these as a guide while decoding your own cat’s meows, body language, and actions to help you understand what your cat is saying.
Types of Cat Meows
Kitten Mew: The kitten meow is the only one used between cats. It is a high-pitch short “mew” sound that is quite endearing. Kittens will mew to their mothers, communicating that they want her care or that it’s time to nurse. As kittens grow up, they eventually stop meowing to each other, and the meow would disappear entirely from their language if it wasn’t for their communications with us humans. You may hear your adult cat revert to the high-pitched short kitten “mew” when he wants your attention. My 11-year-old cat, Pinky, gives me kitten mews in the morning as soon as she sees my eyes open. She’s asking me to get out of bed and feed her, of course.
Welcome Home Meow: Whenever I walk in the door after being away, I am greeted by the happy meows of my Siamese cat, Bella. Siamese cats are among the most talkative feline breeds, and Bella has a meow for every mood. Her greeting meow is actually a couple of meows in a row, followed by a body rub against my legs. I think it’s her way of reclaiming me. The next time you return home, notice if you are getting these happy meows of welcome home, too.
Answer Back Meow: My cats all know when I say “Do you wanna eat?” that I am about to prepare their dinner. My Pinky cat always answers me with a long high pitched “meowwwwww” when I ask her a question or just tell her I love her. It’s one single meow of agreement. It’s easy to teach your cat to answer you back. Ask a question, and follow it up with an immediate action, for example giving a treat or feeding your cat. Once the association is made in your cat’s mind, asking that question a few times in a row before actually doing it should elicit a very enthusiastic MEOW in reply.
Need for Attention Meow: Some cats will ask for attention when they need it. Mr. Peanut Butter is a big 16-pound silver tabby who looks tough but is a marshmallow, truth be told. Whenever he decides he wants love and affection, he gets up on my dresser or table, putting himself at chest level with me. He then lets out a series of long meows. He often accompanies this with a bowed head, offering it for me to scratch. If I don’t pet him, he will follow me around and rub against my legs as he meows until he has my full attention. Next time your cat is looking up at you and meowing, he may be telling you he wants to play or that he wants an ear scratch or two.
Meow of Complaint: This is the meow of protest, a loud wailing drawn out type of meow you will hear when your cat can’t get what he wants. For example, one of my behavior clients has a cat that meows his protest about been excluded from the bedroom at night. He will keep it up for hours. In my home, my late Sweet Pea used to sit in the bathtub and complain that she wanted the water turned on. She, too, could keep it up for hours. Smart cats train us with these meows to give them what they want, and cats can be pretty relentless when they complain!
Help Me Meow: This meow sounds a lot like the kitten mew, but often sounds more frantic. “Help Me” meows are high pitched loud but short meows that sound as if they end in a question mark. Many years ago, I had a cat named Inga. I also had one of those heated waterbeds with the drawers underneath, and unbeknownst to me Inga had crawled into the drawers as my husband was getting his clothes out. Poor Inga was in there all day while we were at work, so when we got home we couldn’t find her. Every once in a while we would here this loud “mew? mew?” from the bedroom. We followed the sound and were able to let her out of the drawer.
Senior Meow: As some cats get older, they tend to verbalize more. It can be an incessant type of meowing, where you find your older cat alone in the kitchen or bathroom meowing for no apparent reason. A cat that suddenly vocalizes in this way should be seen by a vet to rule out pain or other medical causes like dementia. As he got older, I would sometimes find my late cat, Trouble, meowing alone in the kitchen, staring at the refrigerator. Also, a cat that is losing his eyesight as he ages may suddenly start vocalizing if he is having trouble finding his way around.
If you have a cat that doesn’t vocalize, don’t worry. Some cats are just not talkative, or they may have been separated from their mothers too young and never learned the cat meow.
If you do have a talkative cat, learning the meaning behind your cat’s different types of meows. Understanding what your cat is trying to tell you will help you build a stronger relationship with him, and help keep him out of trouble, too.