7 Things Your Cat Is Trying To Tell You: How To Decode Cat Sounds

cat meowing

You know the drill. You’re in the kitchen washing a pile of zucchini, and here comes your cat. She makes a beeline for your legs, bonks her little head against your shin and starts meowing up a storm.

“I knowwww, Oh I knoww sweetie,” you coo at her indignant face. But do you really know? Of course not. None of us do. Not really, anyway.

What the hell are cats trying to tell us, when they’re making all those strange little noises? I’ve gone ahead and channeled my inner cat psychic to give us all an inside look.



Cat sound 1: The meow

While the range of vocalizations vary from cat to cat, most have at least this one in their arsenal. It goes like this: “meoww.” Sound familiar? I thought it might.


(Hit the audio button in the bottom-right corner to toggle meow-mania on and off)


The most common of kitty sounds, meowing is a vocalization that begins in kitten-hood. Vulnerable kittens meow to call for their mothers, and generally stop once they reach adulthood. Except at humans. In a way, the presence of their human guardians turn our cats into perpetual babies. (Yay?!)

Cats will meow for a variety of reasons, a sampling of which is listed below:


  • The bored meow

(“Cease your trivial activities and pay attention to me, human”)

  • The listless/lonely meow

(“I’ve chewed up all my toys and have nothing left to destroy”)

  • The hungry meow

British Shorthair kitten meowing in front of white background

(“I can see the bottom of my food bowl, are you trying to starve me??”)

  • The annoyed meow

(“Stop touching my feet/belly/butt/tail, peon”)

  • The happy meow

(“Hi mom/dad!”)




Cat sound 2: The purr

Ahh yissss. The most beloved of cat sounds. Some cats purr like lawnmowers, while other cat purrs barely register above a low gurgle.


While most people think of purring as a happy sound (which is mostly is!) cats also purr for a variety of other reasons, like:


cat on back purring

  • Contentment

(“Yess…more scritches”)

  • Happiness

(“Indeed human, I happen to be quite fond of you too”)

  • Stress

(“It’ll all be OK, Mr. Fluffingtons. Everything will be ooookay…”)

More on the superhuman powers of cat purrs in this post.




Cat sound 3: The trill/chirp

I LOVE this cat sound. It’s probably my favorite sound in the world.

I’d always heard of cats “trilling,” but never experienced the phenomenon for myself. At least, not until my second-born, Pippin, came into my life. His incessant trills are a dead ringer for the power-up sound Mario makes when he eats a mushroom.



A post shared by @catnipandcupcakes on


So why all the bird noises, cat? What are you trying to tell me here?


kitten trilling purring meowing

  • A word of greeting

(“Hello mum/pops! Top of the mornin’ to ya!”)

  • A declaration

(“Look! Look at this! Ooohh!”)

  • Playfulness

(“It’s 1am! Time to play!”)

  • Sheer happiness

(“Oh happy day! What a time to be alive..!!”)




Cat sound 4: The chatter

Chattering is a cat sound that generally happens in very specific situations. It sounds like kitty is having an epileptic squeak-spasm, and it’s hilarious.


hunting sounds #catchirp

A post shared by Emma Lemma (@emmalemmadd) on

Talkin to the birds ?#catchirp #dexterthecat #birdsareteasinghim

A post shared by Marisa Fritz (@marisa_fritz) on

Bonus clip, because hilarity.


Cats typically chatter when they’re confronted with something (just out of reach) that they’re dying to eviscerate. Like:


  • Birds

(“Holy shit it’s back, omg…omg…I will kill it and wear its skin as a hat”)

cat looking out window

  • Foreign cats

(“Holy shit it’s back…omg…I will kill it and wear its skin as a hat”)

  • A red dot on the ceiling

(“Omg…It’s back…omg…I will kill it and wear its skin as a hat”)

  • You get it.




Cat sound 5: The yowl

Hm. This is my least favorite cat sound. It’s the sound that used to keep me up every goddamn night before Sita got her little brother Pippin (the brother she never asked for). And, of course, before I successfully retooled her circadian rhythm.


Every night, I fought the urge to yell “WHYYYYY??” into her sweet little face. Instead, we sat down and had a nice heart to heart chat. Here’s a few reasons why cats yowl (or so she says):


  • Boredom

(“Why is everyone asleep? I’m booorrredddd”)

  • Discomfort

(“My stomach hurrrttttttsss”) <–incessant yowling can denote a health isssue. Vet!cat yowling

  • Agitation

(“Let me out, I wanna go outtsidddeeeeee”)

  • Agitation

(“I smell a strange cat on my turf, let me at himmmmmmmm”)

  • Agitation

(“Why did we have to mooooove?? Where’s my old rooooommmm??”)




Cat sound 6: The hiss

Another unpleasant kitty noise. Although it sounds aggressive, a hissing cat is merely issuing a warning. Things are about to get nasty!


A post shared by @lilyandwillow on

I’m afraid Lily thinks you’re an asshole, fella.


Really, it sounds a lot worse than it is. Sita probably hissed a thousand times when we were first introducing her to Pippin, the blithely cheerful newcomer. Hissing is a fairly common cat noise and—while ominous-sounding—isn’t cause for too much alarm. Some reasons for the kitty hiss:


Golden shaded British shorthair, sitting and hissing

  • Cat feels cranky

(“I didn’t get my full 18 hours, leave me alone”)

  • Cat feels irritated

(“Don’t TOUCH me, insolent swine!”)

  • Cat feels threatened

(“You better back off! Or..or ELSE! Dire consequences!!”)


If a cat hisses at you, give her some space. She isn’t in the mood for socializing. Perhaps after a cocktail or two.




Cat sound 7: The snarl/growl

This is where things take a slightly darker turn. While hissing is a commonly-used warning noise, a throaty snarl usually signifies something more dire. Like an impending smackdown.


A post shared by Aileen (@emancipatedgeek) on


So while a cat hiss is intended as a warning, a cat growl is intended as a threat.

Like so:


kitten growling

  • Cat is super pissed

(“I…am gonna…fucking…kill…you…”)

  • Cat is super pissed

(“Prepare…to die…vermin…scum…”)

  • Cat is super pissed

(“Ohhh you’ve done it now, motherfucker…”)

  • Etcetera.


So basically, not butterflies and rainbows. If you’re on the receiving end of a cat growl, run for the hills. Kitty is not messing around.

When cats roughhouse, it’s not uncommon to hear the odd hiss when their play session gets a little too intense. But when growling happens, you know it’s time for an intervention.




Incredible, no? Cats have such a wide range of vocalizations, it can be difficult to discern exactly what they’re trying to say. But with just a little practice, you’ll be having full-fledged philosophical discussions with your fur burger in no time!

And there you have it! 7 cat sounds, decoded. Got any more cat sounds to share? Any insights into what the hell it all means??

I’m all ears!


Forge on, intrepid cat guardian:

Lots of hissing and growling in your life? Learn how to help your cats get along

But…they’re hissing at you, you say? Here’s how to take the edge off.

We’ve covered cat sounds. Now we master the cat tail.


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The mewls, the yowls, the chirps n' chatters... What the hell does it all mean? Our adorable kitties certainly have a lot to say. #cats #catsounds #catbehavior #whycatwhy

13 comments on “7 Things Your Cat Is Trying To Tell You: How To Decode Cat Sounds”

  1. Ellen Pilch says:

    I am familiar with all of the above 🙂 With 13 cats, I get most of those sounds every day, luckily not too much hisses or growls.

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Ha! I can imagine… It must be a symphony of kitty chirps in your house :DD

  2. Lydia says:

    Our “Monkey” has a full spectrum of meow’s, purrs, chatter, and chirps; however, she doesn’t hiss, snarl, or growl. She is probably the most vocal cat who has owned me!

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      She sounds incredibly sweet! I love having vocal cats, they seem to really enjoy hearing the sound of their own voices :p

  3. Paula Nordt says:

    We adopted a stray. Formal name “Fiona”. Nickname “Little Bird” (ironic, right?) because of all the trilling she does. She is truely a pleasure to have around.

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Trilling cats are the best!

  4. Loptr says:

    I have two 5-month-old kittens (Loki and Tore). Tore wanders around trilling all the time! It’s super cute. Loki trills, too, but not as often as her sister. It’s the most common sound from them, along with meowing (usually if I stand in one spot for more than 30 seconds–one or both will meow and/or try to climb me)

    They will occasionally hiss or growl at each other, but very, very rarely–generally only if one of them is playing with their favorite toy and the other gets too close. They have two of that toy, but they always want whichever one the other has!

    I had no idea cats growled until we went to my parents’ house. The family dog seems to really like them, but the feeling is NOT mutual! If he’s outside/in the basement, they’ll happily wander around exploring the house (Loki is particularly curious/adventurous), but once he’s on the main level, they hang out in my old bedroom. He generally stays out of there, so incidents are rare…but on occasion he’ll wander in to investigate, or Loki will wander out to do the same, and if he gets too close, growling and hissing ensues. It sounds more like the growl is the warning, but it doesn’t happen too often. As long as the dog keeps his distance, and the cats are off the ground and/or in their carrier, they can even be in the same room without problems–they’ll even sleep.

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Loki and Tore! What kick-ass names. And yes, I used to get alarmed every time my cat Sita hissed, until I realized that some cats just hiss more than others. When she’s in a foul mood, Pippin only has to look at her to illicit a very unpleasant hiss from her royal highness. Other times, she’ll actively seek him out for a good rough-housing. Ah, temperamental kitties! Never a dull moment.

  5. Lisa says:

    I have another one. Can’t really define it. We had a male cat that would walk around with a rolled up ball of MY (always mine) socks in his mouth, while doing a low throated reow. He would usually bring it to me and drop it at my feet and wait for the inevitable love. Some times I would hear it and then find the socks in a random place like he couldn’t find me and just dropped them and gave up. I miss him so much!

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Yes! I know the exact sound. It’s hard to describe and hard to capture on video, but it always seemed like a mixture of happiness and tension. Hard to decipher!

      1. Charlotte says:

        Our Mary does the same thing only with a string of old fox fur we have for her. I always feel like it sounds sad like she is saying why won’t you play with me.

  6. Bev Shoemaker says:

    WHY must you use profanity????? It adds NOTHING to the content!

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Aw fuck, I’m so sorry. I’ll definitely be more mindful of my language in the future.

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