13 Common Cat Sounds And What They Mean

Cat sounds

Cat sounds definitely have very distinct meanings. Of all the domestic pets, cats are one of the most vocal. They communicate with a large palette of varying utterances. And you’ll reduce your cat’s frustration and help your cat communicate better with you if you learn to interpret the sounds your kitty makes.

As a lifelong owner of more cats than I can count on two hands, I have heard and learned to interpret many of these sounds!

Some breeds may be more talkative than others. And different cats say different things depending on their personality.

Keep in mind also that a lot of cat communication is expressed through body language as well. (Like that gentle head bonk or rub your kitty gives you when they are feeling affectionate.)

In this article, we will break down the most common cat sounds and what they mean. So you can understand and anticipate with clarity the needs of your furry friend!

Here is what we’ll cover: 

1. Meow
2. Purring
3. Trill
4. Chirrups & Chatter
5. Hiss & Spit
6. Yowl
7. Caterwaul
8. Scream
9. Beeping
10. Growl & Snarl
11. Distress Call
12. Burbling
13. Vomit Alert!

List of Cat Sounds

#1 Meow:

The Meow is the most common of cat sounds. It can be in a range of different tones or pitches and thus mean several different things.

The first meow happens as a kitten. The purpose is mainly to communicate the need the kitten has for their mother and to be fed.

Kittens meow frequently. They are born with their eyes still closed and unable to hear. So the kitten’s meow is calling for their mother for food or security.

Interestingly enough, in adult cats meowing is almost exclusively used to communicate with humans, not other cats.

As a rule, a meowing cat is telling you they want something. This can range from a request for food, attention, or possibly just wanting to get into a closed room.

The frequency of your cat’s meow is also telling. For instance, a longer, lower-toned meowww can signify annoyance or opposition to something. 

A constant, unceasing meow can be an indicator that something is urgently wrong. They could be sick or in pain. These “meows of discomfort,” as I call them, tend to be more prolonged and guttural

#2 Purring:

Purring is a low, rhythmic, vibratory sound. Cats do this with their mouths closed.

There is are no better cat sounds than your kitty purring while you cuddle with them. In fact, this soft motor-like sound that rumbles from your kitty is usually a sign that they are content, happy, and feeling lovable.

But there can be other reasons for this distinct cat sound.

Cats first learn to purr as kittens. It is a sound they observe while nursing from their mothers.

Because of this, adult cats also sometimes purr as a demand for food. This purr tends to be more urgent than others. It can also be accompanied by very insistent body language and meowing.

Your kitty purring while kneading a blanket is also reminiscent of their time as a kitten. When they would feed and knead into their mother’s belly.

Purring can be solitary, in contact with another cat, or with a human.

According to livescience.com, cats also purr when they are nervous or in pain. Leading experts to believe that it is actually a method of self-healing.

A domestic cat’s purr has a frequency between 25-150 Hertz. Which just happens to be the frequency at which muscles and bones grow and repair themselves.

A rapid purr accompanied by lethargic behavior can be a sign that something is wrong or your cat does not feel well.

#3 Trill:

Trilling is another sound a cat makes with its mouth closed and sounds like a cross between a purr and a meow. It usually lasts a second or so.

Mother cats make these cat sounds to their kittens. But adult cats may use it to greet or show appreciation to other cats or humans.

Your kitty will also do this to get your attention or let you know that they are excited.

#4 Chirrups & Chatter:

Chirrups and Chattering are a series of high-pitched chirping cat sounds that mimic that of a bird or rodent.

When a cat chatters, the high-frequency sounds are accompanied by the jaw trembling.

Your cat might do this when staring out the window at a bird or squirrel.

Typically cats are quiet and stealthy hunters when free to stalk their prey. So this sound is thought to indicate a state of excitement and likely also frustration for not being able to both hunt and catch the prize that is just out of reach.

#5 Hiss & Spit:

The “snakiest of cat sounds. The hiss sounds like a forcefully expelled breath and a sizzle all in one.

It is often accompanied by a change in the cat’s body language.

This can include flat ears or an arched back. The hair on its back or tail can poof up, or its mouth may open wide, revealing its teeth.

Hissing cat sounds undoubtedly mean your cat feels threatened or scared. It is usually best to back away if this is being directed at you, as you have likely crossed a boundary with the cat.

Spitting sometimes accompanies a hiss. Letting the perceived threat know they are ready and willing to defend themselves.

#6 Yowl:

A yowl is a moaning or crying variation of a meow. But it is longer and more drawn out.

A cat’s yowl can be an indicator that they are in pain or not feeling well.

Sometimes it can be towards another cat, animal, or human to let them know to “stay out of my space!”

The intense high-pitched yowling from one cat to another may serve to threaten them so as to avoid a physical fight.

Yowling cat sounds can also be something your kitty makes to express that they are bored. My cat Muffin will often walk around the house yowling if he hasn’t received enough attention or play-time that day.

Yowling insistently may be a cause for concern. If you think your cat is in pain, it could be time for a trip to the vet to make sure they are okay. Use your best judgment here.

#7 Caterwaul:

This most distinctive of cat sounds is uttered by female cats in heat make as a call to potential males to mate with who may be in the vicinity.

Similar to yowling but with a more desperate yet abbreviated tone. It can often sound like the cat is suffering and in pain.

Indoor female cats will be trying to get outside during this time to find their prospective mate. So be extra careful to prevent them from escaping during their heat.

(Note: A female will be in heat for about six days at a time. With only a short break before the next heat if she has not mated or been spayed yet!)

#8 Scream:

If a female in heat does meet with a male and mate, as the mating act is concluding, the female will let out a scream.

Cats engaged in a fight will sometimes also let out a scream if any vicious bite, scratch, or puncture wound occurs.

Similarly, a cat may emit these high-pitched screeching cat sounds when they have hurt themselves.

#9 Beeping:

Beeping is usually just a quick and short “eh” sound. Typically, your kitty will be looking at you as if conveying they want something while making this sound.

When my cat wants attention and is trying to get me to stop, notice and pet him, it is usually communicated by this beeping which he does while focusing on me with big-eyed intent.

#10 Growl & Snarl:

Sounding like a low-pitched agitated rumbling from kitty’s throat, this sound can last anywhere from one to several seconds.

Growling is usually a response to a territorial threat nearby. Or it can just indicate the cat is angry.

It is oftentimes accompanied by hissing and spitting. The growl is meant as a warning to let any perceived threat know to back off, or else!

The growling kitty should just be left alone, as it is sending a clear signal that its boundaries have been crossed and it intends to defend its space.

#11 Distress Call:

Very young kittens will make distress calls to signal to their mother that something is wrong. This sounds like a high-pitched squeal.

Adult cats will also frequently perform a distress call to let humans know they need help or there is a problem. However, the tone will not be quite the high-pitched squeal of a kitten.

One night while sleeping, I was awoken by my cat, who was sitting on the other side of the room. He was repeatedly letting out a very urgent high-pitched call.

I knew something was up as my cat usually sleeps right next to me quietly.

I turned on the light to see what was wrong and found a small lizard on the rug in front of my bed. (Don’t ask me how it got there!)

I was both surprised and proud to find my cat sitting there watching the intruder while alerting me. (As opposed to him trying out the lizard as a snack!) Good kitty!

#12 Burbling:

This sound closely resembles actual human speaking. It is a combination of short meows of differing pitches. It is sometimes mixed with the jaw movement of a chattering sound.

It can range from light-hearted to snarky, depending on what kitty is trying to say. So with this one, it’s really about gauging whatever is happening at the time as a clue to what’s being communicated.

I have sensitive allergies (and always surround myself with tons of cats anyway, go figure – lol.) Unfortunately, this comes with some pretty loud sneezes at times.

My cat hates my sneezing and always lets me know just how much with a disgruntled, complaining type of burbling.

He will even run in from the other room when he hears me sneeze just to let me know how strongly he dislikes it. I assume he is telling me, “Stop that and don’t let it happen again!!” 

#13 Vomit Alert!:

Okay, I saved this one for last because I find it to be one of the strangest sounds a cat can make.

The first time I ever heard one of my cats do this, I thought for sure it was a little girl in the next room.

This weird noise literally sounds like a child saying “La La La La” …I know, creepy, right?!

Cats sometimes do this when they feel sick and need to conjure the vomit up and out.

When you hear this sound, rest assured that kitty is not possessed. But sadly, throwing up is usually what follows.

What’s Next?

Understanding the cat sounds your kitty makes and interpreting what they mean is a bit of a learned art. It is half knowing the palette of sounds possible and half knowing your own cat’s personality.

Check out our article: Cat Facts Galore to learn more interesting tips and facts that will help you to better understand your furry friend!