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Why Do Cats Meow?

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Layne is an animal lover who grew up in a household full of rescued critters. She is a registered veterinary technician.

So why does your cat meow at you? If they're trying to communicate, what are they trying to say?

So why does your cat meow at you? If they're trying to communicate, what are they trying to say?

Why Do Cats Meow All the Time?

Cats can be fairly talkative, and certain breeds like the Siamese are known to talk a lot. Some cats talk nonstop, some meow at birds, in the middle of the night, or out the window. There are various reasons for this kind of behavior. But what is it that they are trying to say, and what do their different sounds mean?

Clearly, your cat is trying to say something. You can figure out what they are trying to say by evaluating their tone and body language. Research has actually indicated that the “meow” is a method of communication that was learned by cats and is meant to be directed solely at humans. This means that cats talk to each other differently than they do to humans. So, find out what your cat is trying to tell you.

Why Do Cats Meow Constantly or Excessively?

Cats can meow excessively because of:

  1. Sociability: Some cats are simply social (like the Siamese) and love to talk to let you know they see you, they missed you, they want to play, or they are looking for something to do. A simple meow might just mean "Hi" or "Nice to see you."
  2. Stress or Anxiety: Cats that are in distress or anxious might be meowing repeatedly from within a cat crate (on the way to the vet), because they are trapped or injured somewhere in the house (asking for help), are nervous (upon seeing a stranger or something changing in the house), or maybe they are looking for someone or another animal in the house (like their companion) because they miss them.
  3. Loneliness: Your cat might be meowing excessively because they are lonely and want affection. This is likely true if you come home and haven't spent time with them. Set aside some time every day to play with them and cuddle them. Your cat might also be meowing if someone recently left the house or another pet in the house is gone or passed away. They are calling for them.
  4. Hormones: If your cat has not been fixed, she will be very vocal when in heat. It is always encourage that you spay and neuter your pets to not only prevent undesirable behaviors but to prevent pet overpopulation. Thousands of adoptable animals get euthanized every year because they cannot find homes. If you’re really set on a particular breed, find a breed rescue. Adopt, don't shop.
  5. Hunger: Cats tend to get pretty loud and noisy when they anticipate that they will get something that they want. Cats know with the pop of a can lid that it is food time, in addition, they probably come meowing when they think they will get their favorite treat. It’s just their way of saying how enthusiastic they are.
  6. Pain: A cat that is in pain will meow or yowl. It is often an unpleasant meow, a sad one. Sometimes cats meow if they are stuck, hungry, or injured, and in a bad spot. They might meow even if they are scared or stuck up on a fence being chased by a dog or up in a tree. If you suspect that your cat is in pain and they are struggling in other ways, go see your vet immediately. Meowing can indicate that they are not feeling well and need help.
  7. Other Cats: A cat will meow rather loudly if they see another cat outside. Indoor cats are especially on watch as other cats come through the neighborhood and into their territory. Some cats are simply curious and others are territorial and might give a more robust meow paired with a hiss or a growl. This can be very stressful for your indoor cat. Cats also stare each other down and make low meowing sounds and growls when they encounter each other on unsettled territory.

Why Does My Cat Meow at Me?

Your cat is meowing at you to communicate their state of mind. It’s either that they are happy to see you, bored, confused, hungry, or want something from you. Some cats meow just to simply greet their owners, and others meow just to indicate their presence/that they have arrived to see you.

You might be wondering why your cat meows at you even when they aren’t hungry or don't seem to want anything in particular. Some cats take our body language as queues as though something is about to happen. So even though you aren’t going to feed your cat, they might interpret you walking in the same direction where the food is stored as an indication that the feeding is going to happen again (as if anticipating your moves). Maybe they simply want a snack or a treat. They might even want pets or to play.

Sometimes cats even meow when they’ve done something wrong and will lead you to it, like kicked up dirty in a flower pot or threw up a hairball on the rug. Maybe they caught a spider or a fly and want to show you where it is. Cats are fairly intelligent, so if you follow there lead or give them an opportunity to guide you to their notion, you very well might find out what it is they are fixated on.

A cat watching a bird from a window.

A cat watching a bird from a window.

At Birds

Cats meow at birds because they are interested in them and want to hunt them. They are likely telling you, “Hey, look what I see,” except, it is unlikely that you are interested in the bird. Your cat probably wants to catch the bird or get a closer look at it. This is a common behavior of indoor-only cats. If your cat is really into hunting birds, you will also probably hear them chirp or chatter, which is explained further down.

At the Door

Your cat is likely meowing at the door because it's and indoor-outdoor cat and it wants to either be let out or there is something of interest behind the door. They are trying to tell you quite literally, “Hi, please open the door.” If your cat is outside and meowing from behind the door, they want to be let back in the house.

At My Other Cat

Your cat might be meowing at the other cat to get their attention, rile them up, or communicate something to the group (you included). It’s kind of like someone walking into the house being like “Hey, what’s up, want to do something?” or “Hey what are you doing?” or “Hi, I’m here.” While they could communicate through other means (body language, chirps, or chatters), it’s likely that they are being chatty just to chat. Sometimes, meowing at another cat can have to do with territoriality, too—your cat wants the other cat to move or keep walking by. Generally, so long as ears aren’t back and there isn’t any growling, this type of meowing is fairly innocent.

At Nothing

Cats might seem to be meowing at absolutely nothing—like the other room, out the window, at the door, and so on. While you might think that they are meowing at nothing, they are much more sensitive than we are. Cats can detect minute noises, such as a mouse scuttling by or another animal walking by the house outside. They can also detect major events like large changes in weather (rumbling lightning or thunderstorms), earthquakes, and so on.

What the Different Types of Meows Mean

What the Different Types of Meows Mean

The Different Types of Cat Meows

  • Short meow: Is a quick greeting or almost like saying “Hi” or “Hi, I’m here.”
  • Several meows: Several meows may indicate that your cat is excited to see you or may even be looking for you throughout the house. They might have spotted something outside through the window and want your attention. Maybe they are even hungry and waiting to be fed.
  • Long meow: A long meow is often a sign of discontent.
  • Medium-pitch meow: A medium-pitch meow might be more of a command or directive. Such as “Feed me, now” or “Can I see that?” or “Play with me.”
  • Low meow: A low meow usually indicates that they are not happy about something.
  • A high-pitch meow: A high pitch meow will likely be paired with other body language like a struggle or injury and indicates that they are not pleased.
  • Chirping or chatter: Chirping or chatter is a much more natural way of cat communication and often expresses that your cat is clued in on their ancestral instincts. They might be stalking something and hunting or highly interested in something in front of them. Generally, their eyes will also be pinpoint and focused on something of interest. You might even notice that their ears are erect and they are alert and focused.

Why Does My Cat Meow All Night?

If your cat is meowing in the middle of the night, you might find this behavior to be a bit annoying. Unfortunately, cats are actually nocturnal, which means they prefer to be active at night when the rest of us sleep. They do learn to sync with our schedules in most cases and demonstrate crepuscular behavior, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk. So, while you are sleeping, this means that your cat walks around the house meowing, knocking stuff over, and jumping on your head.

Your best bet is to bar your cat from your room and to wear earplugs. Unfortunately, there’s not much else that you can do unless you train your cat to “sleep” in a specific space or room. Cats that are active at night are probably roaming around wondering why things are slowing down once the sun sets (where is all the fun?). It’s just them being on the prowl for sights and sounds.

You can try exhausting your cat right before you go to bed with rigorous play—you might actually coax them into a nap. You might also try a white noise machine to drown out the meows through the house as you sleep, but ear plugs and closing your bedroom door should work in a pinch. After all, this is normal feline behavior. They probably miss you or the daytime activity and are just calling out for things to do.

As much as we love our cats, it’s important to remember that they may be “domesticated” but they still have their wild, roaming instincts and they like to stay busy.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Laynie H


Sp Greaney from Ireland on January 25, 2021:

You do eventually begin to understand what your cat's different meows are trying to tell you. You just gotta watch how they behave as well.

My cat loves ham and she won't stop meowing until she gets a slice. I think she was fed it by some cat friendly people when she was a stray prior to her being rescued.

Laynie H (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 24, 2021:

Hi Peggy, that is cute that your cat comes running. Our cat, too, has a favorite treat and she spends all day trying to get some treats from us. Luckily, she is pretty lean, but it's that same effect. I think they just really enjoy tuna and fishy smells like you said. Probably tastes pretty good compared to the other foods they are used to.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 18, 2021:

You are so right when you said that cats can hear a can being opened. Our cats would come running from distant rooms, hoping to get some tuna juice or some other treat. They loved tuna juice! They also liked to have some moist cat food each morning. Occasionally they would tell us to wake up and feed us with a meow or two.

Laynie H (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 18, 2021:

Hi Dora, thanks for reading. They are quite social and communicative. I understand dogs fairly well, so learning more and more about cat has always been a goal of mine. Cats are always "thinking."

Laynie H (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 18, 2021:

Hi Brenda, thanks for reading. I absolutely love chirping, too! It's so funny, cute, and weird. In fact, I meant to put a video of that in this article. Thanks for reminding me. The squirrels definitely tease them. This year the squirrels were very active in our area. My cat chirped all day long. Kitties definitely love to talk to us. I like hearing more of their natural vocalizations. Glad you found the article of interest.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on January 17, 2021:

Interesting topic...the kitty cat meow.

I've always found that kittys usually talk to people..not other cats.

I love watching them chatter when they see a squirrel outside. It is so cute...although I'm certain my cat would love for me to open the door. Those squirrels tease them everyday.

Kittys do roam at night but they can be trained to sleep when you do.

Cats are alot of fun...but they can definitely be vocal.

Thanks for sharing a few of the reasons.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 17, 2021:

Very interesting. Your article presents cats as being intelligent and sociable in a human-like way. They make good company for people who like them.Thanks for sharing.