A guide to cat meowing: Why do cat’s meow?

Communicating with our pet cats can sometimes be a little tricky. They don't speak our language, so we have to learn to interpret their behaviours and vocalisations to understand what they're trying to tell us.

If your cat meowing is confusing or concerning, don't worry – you're not alone. Let's decode some of the most common meow sounds of cats so you can kōrero with your furry little pal!

The purpose of the meow

You open the door, put your keys on the bench and hear a meow. Ever wonder why they greet you with a meow as soon as you come home? It turns out that this behaviour is part of a feline's natural repertoire for communicating with humans.

Dr. Rosalind Holland (BVSc) explains, "Meowing is most typically seen between mother cats and their offspring, with meows being uncommon between adult cats. However, meows are one of the most common communications between cats and humans."

Unlike adult cats, who rarely meow to each other, kittens use meows as a way to get their mothers' attention.

And since humans are the stand-ins for mother cats in our feline companions' lives, it makes sense that they’d use the same sounds to get our attention. So next time your cat greets you with a meow, just think of it as their way of saying "hello!"

Why does my cat meow when they see me?

Have you ever noticed that your cat seems to meow more when they see you, even if you're not engaging with them?

Dr. Holland says this is because cats are trying to communicate with us "[meows] are closely linked to emotions, so they can be a useful way for cats to communicate their feelings, and for us to understand cats."

In other words, cats meow to us because they’ve learned we’ll respond. They know that meowing is the best way to get our attention!

The 3 common cat meow sounds

Not all meows are created equal. Cats use different types of meows to communicate different things, these will be unique to the cat itself and can also be shaped by your response.

1. Attention-seeking

These meows are typically short, sharp, and repetitive. They usually mean your cat wants something from you – whether it's food, water, or just some love and attention. This meow may also be a simple greeting or announcement.

It may be accompanied by other behaviours like rubbing against you or following you around.

2. Stress

A stressed meow is usually longer and more drawn-out than an attention-seeking meow, often sounding sad or panicked.

The stress may be related to either physical or behavioural causes. For example, cats in pain may meow to signal their discomfort, or bored cats may meow to express their feelings.

It is important to note that many cats who are stressed or in pain will make no noise at all so look out for these other signs.

3. Anticipation

This meow is a bit longer than other types and often sounds impatient. According to Dr. Holland, “this meow is usually used by cats when they know that food or a treat is on the way.” Cats meow like this when they're anticipating something they want – like their next meal or a chance to go outside.

When meowing becomes excessive

While cats typically meow to communicate with us, some breeds or individuals may meow more often than others.

The key is to take note of any significant changes in your cat's meowing habits. If they suddenly start meowing more than usual, it may signal something is wrong.

Some causes of excessive meowing may include:

  • Estrus
  • Cognitive deterioration
  • Disorientation
  • Hearing loss
  • Illness
  • Anxiety
  • Boredom

If you’re concerned about your cat's excessive meowing, it's important to talk to your vet as they’ll be able to rule out any potential medical causes. To soften the stress of eligible vet bills that may occur, consider SPCA Pet Insurance.

We're dedicated to helping your furry friends stay healthy and happy!

Love them. Protect you.