Did you know that most adult cats in the wild don’t use meowing as their primary mode of communication? Once they reach adulthood, they mainly speak to each other through the use of body language – think ear and mouth placement. Cats have been domesticated for over 10,000 years, and you’d better believe they’ve learned how to control their human counterparts!
This is where cats’ “language” comes into play. Human idiots that we are, we don’t normally catch on to their subtle body language signals such as a tail swish or a stiffened ear, so they have to pander to us in the form of meows.
Read ahead for a few of the most common meows and what they mean:
1. The Classic "Meow"
Kittens meow or mew at their mothers for attention and food. A meow from an adult cat is generally directed at a human and can mean many things depending on intonation, time of day, and accompanying movements (for instance, if your cat starts meowing while standing next to her empty food dish, you can pretty safely guess what she wants).
The meow can convey anything from, “Hello!” to “Feed me,” to “I want my litter box cleaned,” “Pay attention to me!” and I’m sure many cat owners can decipher the meanings of their own cat’s meows from past practice.
2. The Chirr or Chirrup (sometimes known as Chattering)
You may have observed this type of sound if you’ve ever seen a cat looking at wildlife through a window. It’s not a full meow, but something Wikipedia describes as a “meow rolled off the tongue."
3. The Hiss
Cats hiss when they feel threatened, afraid, or startled. You’ve probably witnessed a cat hissing at some point and know that the sound is often accompanied by an arched back and fur that stands straight up.
4. The Yowl
This one is like a meow but is a more forceful and drawn out sound. You’ll usually hear this from a cat who is in heat.
5. The Wail
Similar to a yowl, you may have heard this meow if your cat can’t have access to somewhere it’s usually allowed, or if you’ve ever left for work and felt guilty hearing your cat’s “Come back!” wail. Etymology of the word “caterwaul” is basically “cat” + “waul (or wail)” and means, “long wailing cries or similar sounds; quarreling like cats.”