by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Most people realize that purring indicates contentment. But beyond that, cat vocalizations baffle many people. Here’s a rundown of basic cat chat.

Meowing can mean all sorts of messages, from “I want to be fed right now!” to “Hi there!” More than other vocalization, meowing depends upon body language and context for its meaning.


Purring generally indicates contentment and happiness. “I like this petting” or “Boy, this cat food is good” or even “I’m excited about playing with the laser light!” Cats begin purring as happy kittens suckling their cat mom. Cats sometimes self-comfort by purring. Fatally sick cats who are euthanized sometimes purr during the procedures, for example.

Most people understand that growls and hisses show anger, fear or defensiveness. Cats instinctively spit with wide, open mouths to look like a snake. They often arch and puff their fur to larger when vocalizing with growls. If your cat exhibits aggression issues, pet training may help curb these unwanted pet behaviors.

Soft cooing and trilling usually indicates excitement or happiness. Cats make these softer sounds most often in communication with each other, such as mother cat beckoning her kittens or siblings trying to find each other. When cooing to humans, the message is probably similar, “Where are you?” or “Please toss my cat toy for me!”

Yowling can indicate pain or fear, “I need help!” Think about how your cat sounds on the way to the vet’s or before a bath. If you don’t know his whereabouts, your kitty may be trapped, hurt, or, if elderly, feeling disoriented. Especially if the meows come loud and fast or are long, drown-out cries, hurry to see what you can do to help your cat immediately.

Older cats suffering dementia may cry because they can’t find what they need or have forgotten where they are. They may feel comforted in a smaller setting where their people, food and litter aren’t so far away. Consider eliminating his access to the far reaches of the house and placing him in a smaller room whenever you’re gone. A pet sitter may help him feel more secure if you’re gone for long periods of time.

Unaltered cats also yowl when in heat and/or seeking a mate. If you wish to keep your cat intact, do not let him outside and offer more attention such as petting and playtime.

Cats may chatter their teeth while sitting at the window. Whether it’s their prey drive kicking in (“I’m going to GET you, squirrel!”) or defense of their turf (“Get lost, tabby, this is MY yard!”), chattering is normal. Some experts think that cats chatter because the movement mimics biting.

Familiarize your pet sitter with your cat’s chatty quirks so your cat receives better care. Also, ask that she share with you if your kitty makes any odd sounds or exhibits unusual behavior. By working together, you can keep better tabs on his health.