Cats’ Meows: Is it Possible to Know What they Mean?

When it comes to cats, we might think their meows are their primary method of communication, and we’d be right, but cats only really meow at humans. They almost never meow at each other; they use an entirely different type of communication made up of body language and warning sounds, like growls and hisses. When they meow to us, they’re telling us things. Is there a way to figure out what the different meows mean?

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Meows are unique to each cat

According to Dr. Gary Weitzman, the president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society, while it’s true that cats may have anywhere from a dozen to two dozen distinct meows, every cat has its own unique set of meows. Salon reports that he co-wrote a book called “How to Speak Cat,” because, well, we should know how to talk to our cats.

Dr. Weitzman told Salon that you can’t translate a single meow as being, or meaning something, universal, to all cats. However, your cat will have distinct meows for everything from, “Feed me,” to “Let me out,” to “I don’t like this!” And more. Another cat will have meows that sound a little different, that means those same things.

My cats, and their distinctive meows

I’ve noticed some differences with all four of my cats. Their hungry meows, for example, all sound slightly different from one another. Gizmo‘s voice has a very quiet, plaintive sound, while Kali and Chase both have higher pitched meows.

Incredibly enough, Aria doesn’t usually meow when she’s hungry. She does meow when she wants attention. We think she’s losing her voice a little, because she’s getting up there in age, so her “Pet me!” meow has gone from having a musical lilt to being more of a chirp than a meow. She also sometimes has a trill with it.

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As you’ll hear in the video below, Kali likes to combine her hungry meow with trills, while Chase often sounds like he has a “double meow.” Chase is the loudest and most vocal cat at feeding time (and really, all the time), and all those loud, demanding meows you hear are coming from Chase, who is the cat that keeps standing up on his hind feet and pawing at the cabinets.

Put your cat’s meows into context to learn what she’s saying

One way you can learn what your cat’s meows mean is to put context with them. What are you doing, and what is she doing? Is she acting like she wants something? Are you fixing food? Is she in her carrier, in the car, or in another situation where she might be distressed? Is she at the door, or at a closet door? Is she pawing at something? What is her body language saying? All of this can help you learn what your cat’s meows mean.

Dr. Weitzman says that cats’ meows are also a way of bonding, and when you meow back, like a crazy cat person, you might actually be intensifying that bonding experience. It might feel like real dialogue, and he believes that in a way, it is. It’s not futile because it’s communication.

Pay close attention to your cat’s meows, and see how many you can identify. So far, I’ve discovered a minimum of five distinct meows for each one of my cats. How many can you hear, and can you figure out what your cat is telling you? Above all, have fun with it!

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