Why Do Cats Meow?


This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian (and self-professed cat lady), Dr Carla Paszkowski BVSc.

Meowing is an incredibly unique feline behaviour. Interestingly, cats don't tend to meow at each other; instead they communicate via scent, body language, facial expression, and touch. The only time cats meow at each other is when young kittens mew at their mother as a means of telling her they need something.

Adapting to us 'simple' humans

For the most part, cats seem to have developed meowing exclusively as a means of communicating with humans. Cats are smart enough to realise that us humans don't respond to their usual cues, such as facial expression, scent messages and body language. So they developed meowing as a means of getting through to us.

It's almost like they're saying 'I left multiple subtle hints and messages, but nothing gets through to you! Now I have to resort to screaming like a neanderthal!'

A voice as individual as ours

Anyone who has heard the meows of multiple cats will know that every cat has a different and unique voice. Feline voices also change as they age, with older cats often sporting a deeper, croaky tone. Males also tend to have a different tone to females, however this is often not noticeable if they were desexed as kittens.

Interestingly, most cat owners learn to recognise their own cat's meow and can often pick it among that of other cats.

Different meows for different reasons

Not only can many cat owners recognise their own cat's meow among others, but they can usually understand what the cat wants based on the type of meow. Not surprisingly, cat people are much more likely to understand what any cat wants based on their meow.

There are a multitude of reasons as to why a cat might meow.

While every cat is unique, the typical types of meows and their reasons include:

  • 1. Regular greeting: short meow (mew!) ie 'Hello, how you doing?'
  • 2. Extra excited hello: multiple short meows (mew! mew! mew!) ie, 'You're home! Thank goodness!'
  • 3. Asking for something politely: medium-pitch meow ('meooooow! Meeeeow!'), ie 'Can you please open the door now?'
  • 4. Demanding something not-so-politely: drawn-out medium-pitch meow ('meeeeeeeeeww!'), ie 'I'm reaaaally hungry!'
  • 5. Complaint about something you are doing wrong: long drawn-out lower-pitch meow ('mmrrrooooowww') ie 'Seriously I hate being held on my back, let me go nowwwwww.'
  • 6. Pain response or anger: high-pitched scream-like meow ('reeeeeeow!') ie 'Ouch you stood on my tail!'

If you notice excessive vocalisation in your cat, they may require examination by a vet. Vocalising while urinating is never a good sign and requires immediate veterinary attention. Also, being on heat is a reason for excessive vocalisation - this is extremely annoying and therefore good reason for desexing your cat!

Ultimately, the bond between cats and (their) humans is a special one, and meowing is just one part of the relationship that makes it ever more unique. Why not show them you care by spoiling them with a special tasty treat or fun toy? Or maybe your cat deserves an extra special gift box full of little treats and surprises.