Many cat owners find it adorable when their feline friends meow to communicate, but it’s not always clear what their kitties are actually trying to say. Are they hungry? Bored? Just want to say hello? It turns out they are meowing for very specific reasons — and they want you to pay attention.
Writing for Psychology Today, cat expert Ibrahim Raidhan explains that cats don’t meow just for the sake of meowing — or even to be utterly adorable — and these meows are strictly meant for humans. Have you ever noticed that your cat doesn’t appear to meow at other cats very often? Raidhan says our furry friends communicate with each other by means of scent and touch.
“The meow is human-directed communication,” Raidhan writes. “Cats have learned that they cannot communicate with us the way they do with other cats, which is why cats meow at humans to communicate. Scientists believe cats have refined this ‘meow’ language to converse with humans.”
Aren’t our kitties brilliant? Now, as cat owners, it’s up to us to learn their mysterious language. Raidhan’s list below is a great first step in deciphering what each meow means.
Short, quick meow: Your cat is saying hello to you. How polite!
Multiple meows: This is an excited greeting from your kitty. This might happen if you’ve been away from them for several hours and it’s time for them to get a much-belated pet on the head.
Mid-pitch meow: Your furry friend wants attention or food — or maybe both. You better listen to them.
Drawn-out meow: Your kitty is no longer just suggesting he or she wants something — the little fur-ball is demanding whatever that something is. (We’re guessing it’s probably food.)
Low-pitch meow: Your cat is complaining to you. Uh-oh, looks like the human is in trouble now.
High-pitch meow: Your poor kitty is either mad or in pain. It’s time to get in touch with the vet if necessary — or it’s time to apologize for stepping on their tail by accident. (We’ve all been there!)
Of course, it’s worth keeping in mind that the above list isn’t an all-inclusive rundown of every single reason why cats meow. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, all cats meow to some extent — but some meow more than others, and for a wide variety of reasons. For example, popular cat breeds such as Siamese are more prone to excessive meowing. And reproductively intact cats might actually yowl in some cases in order to attract mates. Felines that like to spend time outdoors might meow to be let outside, or to be let inside if it starts raining. The list of potential reasons why cats meow goes on and on.
As any pet owner knows, no two cat voices — or meows — are precisely the same. According to Vet Street, felines can meow at different frequencies, tones, volumes, and lengths. It takes a keen ear to decipher when your cat is happily meowing or when he or she is upset for whatever reason. If your precious pet begins to meow nonstop out of nowhere, it’s definitely time for a trip to the vet. But more often than not, a big ol’ meow is simply a cat’s way of letting us humans know what’s going on with him or her.
Being able to understand what the kitty is saying? That’s truly the cat’s meow.