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June 11, 2012 at 4:14 PMComments: 4 Faves: 2

Learn to Speak Cat: An Owner's Guide to Cat Language

By Bri Luginbill More Blogs by This Author

“Meoooow? MEEOOOWW!”

My parent’s cat had started meowing loudly I had no idea what she wanted. I got up from the couch and she instantly ran to the door. “Okay! You want to go outside, then?” I asked her. She looked up at me, back to the door, then to me again and let out one more meow. In my mind, that was a definite "Yes!"

We know cats make many different sounds, but what do they all mean? Read on to find out!

The Purr

Translation: "I just couldn't be more happy right now!" OR "Happy place, happy place, I'm going to TRY to be nice..."

A purr is the first sound I relate to cats. Most of the time, a purring cat is a happy cat. It’s their way of telling you, “I love you. Whatever you are doing, don’t stop!”

However, sometimes a happy purr turns into an agitated purr. Watch your cat’s body language. If their eyes are wide and ears are back, they aren’t enjoying the activity anymore.

The “Chirp” and Chattering of Teeth

Translation: "Heeeerrreee, little birdie..."

A cat who is hunting prey, will clack their teeth together or “chirp.” The hope is that birds will hear this and think it’s another bird calling to them. It's supposed to draw birds nearer for a pounce! This explains why indoor cats make this noise if they see a bird through the window. Too bad for the indoor cats though. They won’t be able to catch the bird! ;)

The Meow of Request

Translation: "Eh-EM! I need some human assistance here!"

This meow is one cat lovers hear often. When a cat wants food, to go outside, or just about anything, they will make this sound. To be sure it’s a meow of request, watch their body language. If their head is held high and front paws are together, they are asking you for something. Cats will tend to show you if you follow their lead. Who knows they may just guide you to their food bowl!


Translation: "Huh?"

When a cat trills, they may be expressing their love for you. This sound is also the main sound a mother cat makes when trying to keep her kittens close. If one wanders off, she will instantly make this sound to draw them back. A trill can also mean your cat is feeling curious. If a cat is interested in something, she may make this noise as an inquiry before exploring.

Growl or Grumble

Translation: "Oh, buddy are you messing with the wrong cat right now..."

When a feline feels threatened, they will first respond by growling or making a low grumble in the back of their throat. Often, these noises are preludes to hissing or spitting. They are trying to communicate that they feel scared and we should keep our distance.

Hissing and Spitting

Translation: "Back off!!!"

These sounds are the next one a cat makes after a growl. It’s a cat’s way of giving a final warning before they take action. Imagine your cat saying “Last warning, I’m really really afraid!” Cats will attack by pouncing if they feel it’s the last resort left.


Translation: "I'm so sad right now. Someone please make things better?"

A howling cat is letting you know something is wrong. They could feel sad, stressed, or afraid. If there has been a sudden change in your family, such as a move, new people or pets, your cat may howl to express their confusion or anxiety. At this time, it’s important to give your cat lots of attention and reassurance. Sometimes a cat may just howl out of boredom. It’s their way of telling you, “Can we please play now? I'm bored!” The last thing a howl may mean is that your cat is in pain. If your cat howls often and there seems to be no precursors, talk to your veterinarian to see what could be wrong.


Translation: "Ouch!"

Cats will  sometimes yelp to express pain. However, most cats do not yelp because they don’t want to show that they are hurt. To them it’s instinct not to draw attention to their injury. In the wild, the last thing cats want to do is to scream. This shows weakness to their opponent.


Translation: "Bow-chicka-wow-wow."

This sound has a distinctive meaning - it’s the noise female cats make when they are in heat. It’s their way of trying to alert male cats that they are looking for a mate. If your cat is not spayed and they start making this noise, make sure to keep them indoors during this time. (Unless you want little kitties!)

The Silent Meow

Translation: "I love you so much words just cannot express!"

Have you ever seen a cat open it’s mouth, but no sound comes out? You are witnesses a silent meow! Well…silent to us humans. ;) Cats can make sounds that are above the range of human hearing. Cats hear up to 65,000 cycles per second while we can only hear 20,000 per second. This meow is the most coveted one in my opinion because it’s expressing how much affection your cat has for you. It’s also their way of saying “thank you for being my owner!”

Learn to Speak Cat Infographic

Does your cat make a sound that’s not on this list? What do you think it means?


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  • One of our five cats regularly comes in from outdoors (they have their own door) and meows very distinctly and VERY loudly. It starts out as a "meow" but ends with a distinct "roupe" sound. Sometimes it is somewhat mournful. It doesn't matter if it is 3 p.m. or 3 a.m. It seems that the cat is checking to see if anyone is home. Once you vocally acknowledge the cat, either by name or just "Hey. I'm in here", the meow becomes a typical greeting meow and the kitty comes running.

  • Aww, so that's what a silent meow means, how sweet..
    This'll be a good reference for learning how to speak cat :3

  • I always thought the silent meow was the ultimate act of passive aggression. I stand corrected 😻

  • i have a kitten when she meows theres no sound comeing out

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