Cat Sounds and their Meaning

Cats and the Sounds they Make: What do they mean?

All information below has been Taken from the BBC website – December 6th/09

The meow – everybody knows that cats meow, but they only do it to humans. Cats don’t talk to each other using meows at all, and we’ll explain why later in the section on cat psychology. The meow generally means that the cat wants something from the human, perhaps to go out, or in, or out again, or some food. Food is always welcome.

The chirrup – this sound is like a high-pitched trill and usually goes up in pitch. Imagine a Spaniard or Italian rolling their ‘r’s and saying a long ‘rrrr’. The chirrup is a cat’s way of saying: ‘Hello, I’m pleased to meet you.’

The purr – cats purr deep in their throats as a sign that they are happy. A contented cat can apparently keep up a continuous purring, as they can make the sound while breathing in as well as breathing out. It sounds like a trilled ‘r’ – once again, using our Spanish or Italian friend to do the trilling, but without a break. Cats also occasionally purr when they are under stress, frightened, sick, in pain, in labour, or even dying. It shouldn’t be too hard, though, to work out whether your cat is happy or in pain.

The hiss – is a throaty ‘h’ sound accompanied by backward-pointing ears. It signifies anger and fright. A cat will hiss as a warning to you not to come any closer. A cat will not normally hiss at his owner. If it does, it will feel mixed emotions while doing so – perhaps shame, perhaps apprehension that it is going to get clouted.

The caterwaul – this wailing noise is not usually used by cats to talk to humans. It is generally reserved for the middle of the night when the cat is on a wall outside in the dark and you are trying to sleep. It sounds like someone with a very high-pitched voice being tortured, and will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. The traditional human response to a caterwaul is to fire a boot at the cat, but this is fairly ineffective. Putting your head under the pillow might help.

The chatter – a cat that is staring intently at a bird before pouncing on it will often make a chattering noise. It sounds like ‘ya-ya-ya-ya’ and is made while moving the jaw but keeping the rest of the body absolutely stationary. It’s not known exactly why cats do this. They are not trying to talk to the bird, quite the opposite. It could perhaps be a method of exercising the jaw before crunching on the bird’s neck, but this seems unlikely. All the rest of the cat’s muscles are ready for action without the need for any such exercise.

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