From high-pitched chirps to yowls to vocalizations that sound almost human, our cats have a lot to say. Though some are naturally more talkative than others, meows provide important clues to our cats’ needs and wants.
Pet parents know that meows can vary in tone, pitch, and urgency. At times it almost seems like our cats are asking questions – and they are! Does your cat need your help or are they just making conversation? Here is what you need to know to decode your kitty’s meows.
In the same way that human babies cry to let their mothers know they need food or attention, meowing is a behavior learned in kittenhood.
Meows are an important part of the mother-kitten bond, but once our feline friends reach adulthood, their communication style changes. Mature cats rely on scent marking, body language, and other vocalizations like hisses and yowls, but they no longer “talk” to each other by meowing. It’s a different story, however, when it comes to speaking with their human parents.
Adult cats don’t meow at each other, but they certainly meow at us. The reason? It works!
Scientists believe that cats can manipulate the tone and frequency of their vocalizations to effectively solicit our attention. This may be why the meows of many domestic cats mimic the cries of human babies. Though insistent meowing can be grating, it’s no wonder that we feel hard-wired to respond to it.
Cats who are soliciting food, playtime, or affection will often express themselves by meowing. Your kitty could be anticipating dinner time, jealous of the attention you are giving another project, or just happy to see you. In these situations, it is best to use what you know about your cat’s individual patterns and preferences to make sense of their message.
Cats who are seeking out a mate will often let out a low-pitched, drawn-out moan known as a “yowl.” This vocalization is distinct from a meow in that it can be particularly insistent. Unspayed female cats will yowl as a way of letting local males know they have gone into heat, and unneutered males will yowl in return to announce their presence.
Senior cats who are experiencing cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) may cry in response to feeling disoriented. If your aging kitty is excessively vocal, watch out for other signs of dementia-like cognitive decline such as irritability, sleep disruption, and unusual toileting behaviors.
Other common causes of excessive meowing in older cats include hypertension (high blood pressure), chronic pain, and hyperthyroidism. A thorough examination and lab work are necessary to diagnose and treat these conditions.
Fortunately, addressing the root cause of excessive vocalizations in senior cats often resolves the behavior.
Scolding or punishing your cat for meowing isn’t likely to curtail the behavior – but it can harm your relationship. If you are frustrated by your highly vocal cat, your best bet is to take time to understand the motivation behind their cries.
Don’t simply ignore meowing, especially when it is insistent or out of character for your cat. Your kitty may be voicing a legitimate concern, like a dirty litter box, an empty water dish, or a request for a different type of food. Persistent meowing may also warrant a vet visit, as it can be a sign of cognitive decline.
If your cat is incessantly vocal around mealtimes, you may be inadvertently reinforcing that behavior by serving up dinner just when the meowing has hit its crescendo. Instead, wait for a moment of quiet, and then offer food, affection, and praise.
Cats who are lonely or bored are more likely to make frequent bids for your attention. Ensure that your kitty has access to interactive toys throughout the day, and if possible, a window to perch in and watch the world go by. Set aside dedicated playtime each day, and you may see a reduction in late night and early morning vocalizations.