Black and white cat meowing
© Pexels

The meaning behind each cat noise

By Alice Lang Copywriter

Updated on the

Is it a meow, a purrr or a hiss? Cats make a host of different noises which all communicate different thoughts and feelings. Here’s all the common cat noises and what they mean

Listen closely. Every noise your cat makes is different. Meeooooww, hissss, grrrrr, chirrrrp… the sounds they make depends entirely on what mood they’re in, what they’re feeling at that very moment and what their specific needs are.

Nope, cat noises aren’t just gibberish. Each unique noise has way more meaning to them than most owners realise and learning more about them could help you get to know your kitty!

They consider you their family and with every noise they make, they’re trying to communicate with you. Want to understand feline language a little more? You’ve come to the right place - let’s take a look at the meaning behind common cat noises.


It’s the most commonly recognised cat noise of them all - meow! Whether it’s a loud meow, a quiet meow, a high meow or a low meow, it generally means the same thing - your kitty wants attention and they want it now!

If you’ve ever been around a litter of adorable kittens, you’ll know they meow endlessly. It’s their instinct. They need their mother’s warmth, care and milk in order to survive and meowing helps them to command that attention.

You’ll rarely hear cats meow to each other, but you’ll sure hear a lot of meows from your own kitty. That’s because you’re their guardian now.

Does your cat meow for food? Well, that’s exactly what they did when they were a kitten. Maybe they meow when they want you to open the door? Well, they learnt as a kitten to meow when they want something. Ah, it all makes sense!

So, meow basically means “Food. Food. Food.” or “Out. Out. Out”. But hey, it works, right?


Is there a more comforting sound than a relaxed, happy purr from your favourite feline? Probably not!

This deep, soft, chilled-out sound is normally a symbol of happiness from your kitty. Sometimes, all it takes is an under-the-chin rub, a nap on your lap or seeing you walk in through the door after work. If your kitty is purring whilst you’re giving them any sort of cuddle or attention, you can be rest assured they’re experiencing pure contentment. Cuties!

However, purring can actually signal distress, too - which may come as a surprise to many! Do you ever laugh or hum when you’re nervous or anxious? It’s a similar, self-soothing action for cats. In fact, some vets have even witnessed cats lying beside an injured cat-friend and purring as if to soothe the injured-cats stress - yep, super sweet!

It’s pretty easy to see the difference, though. In the rare occasions you might see a stress purr, you’ll probably be able to see it in your kitty’s tense body language, too.


Could this be the strangest cat noise? If you’re not sure what we mean by ‘chattering’, it’s when your kitty makes a strange, vibrating rapid crying sounds, similar to the chirp of a bird.

You might have witnessed your cat making this noise whilst staring at a mouse, squirrel, bird or other small animal from inside your house or even whilst outside. Normally, their jaw is slightly open and they appear fixated on their prey. It’s actually rather interesting to watch!

Chattering can be a sign of frustration or excitement, though some believe it’s simply a natural hunting behaviour of cats when they see their prey. We’re guessing that seeing a bird through the window is the equivalent of us seeing a delicious cake but not being able to access it. And, when we put it like that, the random vocalization is totally understandable!


Out of all cat noises, this is definitely the one we don’t want to hear. It’s an unmistakable, uncomfortable noise which normally means your cat is extremely agitated. It normally comes in hand with an arched back, a puffed up tail and pushed-back ears - it’s almost like a kitty warning sign!

A vicious hiss means your kitty is unhappy, frightened or defensive. No matter how much you love them, it’s best to stay away from your kitty during these times - after a hiss, the next step is claws and teeth!

If you’ve got an outside cat, you might hear this whilst lying in your bed at night and worry yourself silly that your kitty’s in a fight. And you’re probably right - hissing is often a sign of a territorial stand-off or some kind of cat argument. Cats will be cats, though - and if you interfere, you risk getting some nasty scratches from either parties.

On rare occasions, cats might hiss for no apparent reason. In these cases, an underlying medical condition could be present and you should head to your vet for a check-up.


This is the kind of cat sound that makes you want to cover your ears and never let go! A prolonged yowl is a rather unhappy sound, but you’re unlikely to hear it unless your kitty becomes particularly lonely, worried or stressed.

It could occur during a territorial dispute as we mentioned earlier or as your cat tries to adjust to new surroundings after you’ve moved house. It could also signal an underlying illness or loneliness. Whatever it is, sudden yowling usually means your cats not feeling like their usual, happy self.

However, some cats do yowl out of boredom. If your cat has always been a yowler, you’ve got nothing to worry about. If it’s suddenly started happening? Something’s up with kitty - remove any potential stressors, provide more stimulation and attention and head to the vet if it continues.


Those rumbling, growly signs? We can bet it means one thing: “Leave me alone!”. Growling might occur when a stranger tries to play with your kitty, when they’ve simply had too much play-time or patting, or they simple want some kitty alone time. Yep, you know what to do - let kitty be!


If your cat hasn’t been spayed or neutered, you may be familiar with the caterwaul. You can’t mistake this one - the noise is striking, and not in a good way! If your female cat is in heat, they might caterwaul to attract their mate. It’s a perfectly natural behaviour, so there’s no use getting angry at your kitty for being loud.

If it’s getting on your last nerve, the obvious solution would be to spay or neuter your pet. That means no more caterwauling and no risk of pregnancy - win-win!

More advice on...

What did you think of this advice article?

Thanks for your feedback !

Thanks for your feedback !

Leave a comment
Connect to comment
Want to share this article?