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If something is “the cat’s meow” that means it is extra special, but when it comes to a cat’s actual meow...the definition isn’t quite as clear.
We’ve written before about how cats love to communicate, from meows and yowls to chirps and hisses and everything in between. Whether a longtime pet parent looking to better understand feline sounds or a newbie in the process of becoming a cat parent getting to the intent behind the sound is most important.
The first thing to understand about a “meow” is that it’s a pretty ambiguous vocalization. There isn’t one answer. Meows can serve as a greeting, an acknowledgement, an objection - you name it. One thing has been proven, however. Cats only meow towards humans. The sounds they make towards other cats (yowls, chirps, and chittering) are far more infrequent vocalizations.
Because of this ambiguity, context is key. To better understand a cat’s meows (as well as other forms of communication), it’s important to pay attention to the settings in which the cat is vocalizing and take note of their body language. For example, if a cat meows once its owner or a visitor enters the home, one can deduce the cat is saying “hello!” or perhaps is more interested in protecting their territory. Likewise, if a cat is accustomed to eating meals at the same time every day and their parent veers off schedule, a meow may serve as a courtesy reminder that it’s time for food.
Like humans, some cats are more talkative than others. Oriental, Siamese, and Bengal cats love to chat, while many breeds like Persians, American Shorthairs, and Abyssians, are known for being more on the quiet side. If a cat doesn’t meow often, but is otherwise behaving healthily and all of its needs are met, it may just have a quiet or shy nature.
Excessive meowing usually signals that a cat has an unmet need. Determining which need is easier said than done. Again, context is important.
Has the cat been left alone all day and needs some attention? Has it been recently moved, or introduced to a new pet that may be causing some stress? Identifying the setting will help determine the root cause. In some cases, a more serious condition like thyroid or kidney disease may be at play, so it’s important for cats to get annual veterinary checkups and for pet parents to constantly evaluate if something more serious may be going on with their health that they cannot articulate with human words.
Have more questions about your cat’s meow? Fuzzy members can chat live with a Veterinary Support Team member via 24/7 Live Vet Chat.