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How Many Different Cat Meows Are There and What Do They Mean?

How Many Different Cat Meows Are There and What Do They Mean?

✔ This article was reviewed for accuracy by a licensed veterinarian.

Have you ever wondered how many different sounds your cat can make? How about how many different cat meows they can make? Well, cats can make many different sounds, and the truth is – scientists are still researching more about cat vocalization. Cats have up to 21 different vocalizations known today.

A 2019 study on feline vocal communication noted the following: “At the present time, research about cat vocalization is sparse and in the popular mind few facts are known about cat vocalization.”

The funny thing about meowing in cats is that it can mean so many different things. Cats can meow:

In addition to reading the leading research on this topic, we worked with our staff vet to get her opinion on the matter as well. A few days of research have led to the creation of this article.

We will cover some of the popular cat meows and sounds in this post, and also detail what each different cat meows mean. We’ve provided links to YouTube videos so you can hear what each vocalization sounds like!

As a cat owner, the better you can understand your cat’s language, the better you’ll be able to respond to its needs, including when your cat is sick or in pain.

Below is an overview of everything we cover in this post:

The different cat meows:

Other cat sounds:

Additional insights:


A cat meowing towards a person. What are the different cat meows?
Cats only meow at humans. Usually to get your attention and demand treats in a timely manner.

The number one sound cats make, and with which everyone is familiar, is the meow. There are numerous different cat meows, but in general, it is mid-range in pitch and duration and usually means your cat wants something. 

Now the challenge is to figure out what they want! If you listen carefully, you may begin to associate the meow with the things your cat needs. 

The Mewl

The mewl is a light crying sound. Merriam-Webster defines it as a “whimper.” A kitten might mewl to get its mother’s attention.

It can sound like this:

The Long Meow

Not only do they want something, but they’re also demanding it with a long, drawn-out meow. Breakfast? Time to go outside? This is not the type of meow you want as your unplanned wake-up call. 

I frequently hear this as I prepare breakfast or dinner for my cats. It’s just as annoying today as it was when we first rescued them!

It can sound like this:

Repeated Meows

A never-ending series of meows usually means your cat is excited about something, such as when you are about to put their food bowl down, or possibly when you get home after a day of work.

It can sound like this (it starts about 14 seconds into this video):

Higher Pitch Meow

This meow almost sounds like a cry of pain, which it usually is. It most likely means your cat has been surprised or hurt by something.

It can sound like this:

Lower Pitch Meow

Cats do know how to complain, and this is how they do it. Sounding much like a grumble, your cat may use this sound to alert you that you are late for dinner … again! This may also be heard if you don’t let your cat out when they demand it. Or possibly if your cat feels alone or ill. 

It can sound like this (it starts about 41 seconds into this video):


A human petting a cat. What are the different cat meows?
Yes, John. That is indeed the spot. For at least another 25 seconds. Then I might decide it’s not the spot and attack your little hand. Proceed for now…cautiously.

This is the sound, and accompanied vibration, that all cat lovers point to when we know our cats love us. It is like a low rumble and is often your cat’s response to your act of petting or scratching them in their favorite places. It is sometimes accompanied by kneading.

Most of the time, purring is your cat’s way of expressing its contentment. However, a purr is not always a sign of relaxation or joy. It could also be a sign of illness or pain. Interestingly, scientists have determined that the purr causes a vibration in the cat’s body which helps soothe and even heal their bodies!

It can sound like this:

Chirp or Chatter

A cat chirping at the window. What are the different cat meows?
Come on little birdie. Just make it through the glass. I want to show you a magic trick I’ve been working on.

This is a sound you won’t hear often, but it is unforgettable when you do. Think of a cry or a stuttered meow. The meaning of this sound is not as clear as some of the other sounds, but the primary theory is that it has to do with hunting. 

Perhaps you have heard it when your cat is sitting in the window, watching birds, rabbits, or squirrels walk by.  You can’t confuse this vocalization for one of the different cat meows as it’s such a unique sound.

Frustration? Anticipation? Excitement? Or some combination of these? Most likely it is an instinctual sound that precedes stalking for killing prey.

It can sound like this:


Have you ever awakened in the middle of the night to what you think is the sound of a woman screaming? That is the caterwaul. 

It is a piercing wail and sounds like something is in its final death throes. It is actually the sound made when a female cat is in heat. Caterwauling is made by unspayed and unneutered females and males as part of their mating ritual. It can also be made if your cat is uncomfortable or unhappy.

It can sound like this:

Friendly tip: spay or neuter your cats! A University of Georgia study around medical records of over 70,000 pets found that:

  • Spayed female cats lived 39% longer.
  • Neutered male cats lived 62% longer.


A cat hissing loudly. What are the different cat meows?

A cat who is hissing and possibly also spitting is a cat that needs to be left alone, or at least, handled very carefully. 

Hissing can mean your pet feels threatened or is in pain. A cat usually only hisses at other animals, such as the neighborhood dog who may be stalking it. 

The hiss is also an indication that the cat will fight if need be. However, a cat who is hurt or in pain may also hiss as a warning for humans and animals to keep away.

It can sound like this:


A sweet sound, the trill is made without opening the mouth and is something between a purr and a meow. It is a sound a mother cat and her kittens make to each other. It is often associated with happiness in cats. It sounds similar to rolling your Rs.

It can sound like this:


The growl communicates that the cat is stressed or angry, and like the hiss, it is a sign that it wants to be left alone. A growl is often associated with a puffy tail in your cat.

Another message of the growl is that the cat is ill or injured, so if your cat is doing this often, it’s a good idea to contact the vet.

It can sound like this:

Howl or Yowl

Different from the caterwaul, a howl, or yowl, sounds like very long meows, and indicates that your cat needs you! 

He/she could be locked away somewhere and can’t get out, calling to you if they can’t find you, or letting you know they’re in pain. 

The howl is the next step in intensity after the growl and if your cat is doing it with another cat – it’s best to separate them in order to resolve whatever conflict they are having. 

It can sound like this:

How to Control or Limit a Cats’ Meowing

A cat chirping at the window. What are the different cat meows?
Ignoring your cat’s demands is the best way to curb the behavior of excessive meowing. Keep in mind that your cat may plot your demise due to this.

In order to control or limit your cat’s meowing, it will take patience and consistency from you. Your cat has noted that certain sounds almost guarantee a response by you, so they continue to use them in order to gather your attention.

Ignoring your cat is the key to success. It will be hard to do, but once your cat realizes that it can’t get your attention simply by meowing at you, it won’t do it as often. They’ll try some of their different cat meows out on you to test your response.

However, there are some legitimate reasons a cat may be meowing, yowling, or making sounds more consistently. Certain health issues may lead to more meowing, so don’t jump to ignoring your cat unless you are certain it is simply for attention. 

Some health issues you and your vet can look out for include:

  • Cats suffering from dementia or alzheimers may vocalize more often. This is generally only seen in older cats.
  • Deaf cats may meow more often or at a higher volume as they are unable to control their volume as well. You can limit this noise by getting your cat’s attention and letting them know they are heard.
  • Separation anxiety in cats, like dogs, can lead to more vocalization. Your cat is sad, anxious, and is letting it be known through their meowing.
  • Hyperthyroidism in cats can lead to a change in meowing as the thyroid and larynx are close together.
  • Kidney disease in cats can lead to excess vocalization due to the pain they’re feeling.

Be Firm in Order to Stop Your Cat’s Meowing 

Once you are certain your cat is in good health, you need to be firm in order to stop their meowing.

As we stated above, ignoring your cat is the best way to prove that you don’t jump whenever they tell you to. 

Especially if you’ve trained your cat to walk on a leash or they have other interests that require your involvement. Don’t reward crying with what they want, or it will strengthen their conviction in knowing you will respond and act as they want you to. Be strong! 

When Should You Be Worried About Your Cat’s Meowing

As time goes on, your cat’s normal meow should be familiar to you. This familiarity will allow you to notice when something has changed and requires your attention. 

The below items may be cause for concern, and warrant an appointment with your vet to check on your cat:

  • A change in meowing sounds. Cats don’t often begin using new sounds to get your attention after a period of time (they know what works and stick with it). This may indicate a change in health.
  • A change in energy or posture when making sounds. If your cat seems less energetic or has a different posture, and is meowing or making other noises, it may also indicate a change in health.
  • A change in volume. If your cat is meowing louder or softer, and this change is noticeable and consistent, they may need to see the vet in order to find the root cause.

Final Thoughts on The Different Cat Meows 

The bottom line is to listen to what your cat is telling you because they may have something very important to say. Your cat meows for attention, affection, or potential health issues. They make more sounds than just their different cat meows, and each once indicates something slightly different.

Remember that nobody knows your cat better than you, so if something seems off, take them to the vet. It’s better to be safe than sorry. I’d always rather be the person who went to the vet and found out my cat was being needy rather than ignoring a potentially bigger issue!