Communication is important to all creatures, cats included. They have several ways to communicate, including body language (putting the ears back, puffing up the coat), scent marking and vocally.
Cats are capable of making a number of different types of noises including hissing, growling, meowing, purring and chirping. Meowing is the most commonly known vocalisation that cats make. Did you know that meowing is a cat's way of communicating with humans, they don't use meows as a way to communicate with other cats.
Some breeds of cats are more vocal than others. The beautiful Siamese is well known for its love of talking...non-stop. Some pet owners love this, while it has the ability to drive others to distraction.
So, why do cats meow and what does it mean?
We can take cues from our cat and decipher some of what he is trying to tell us. For example:
- Hunger: If we walk into the kitchen, open the pantry door where their food is, and he rushes over meowing, we know he's telling us he is hungry and to "hurry up and feed me".
- Let me in/let me out: Or he may be outside the back door meowing he is saying "let me in" if we are lucky, he will give us a "thank you" meow as he runs past us.
- Welcome home: Often when we return home from work we will open the door to a sleepy-eyed cat who looks up and greets us with a "hello" meow.
- Where are you/I miss you: Meowing can also be an indicator that something is wrong. We had a Burmese cat, Misha who lost her feline companion. She would walk around the house meowing, it was clear that she was missing him and calling out to find him.
- Hey, I'm over here, put down your book/computer and give me some strokes: Attention is another reason for meowing. If your cat feels he's being ignored by us and would like to be stroked for example.
- I'm lonely and scared: Upset, stressed, distressed cats may meow excessively. One example is when you bring a new kitten home. He may initially meow plaintively at the door, this should pass with time and patience. If you have brought a new kitten home who is unsettled, offer him the security of a ticking clock wrapped in a warm blanket, or better still, let him in with you for the first few nights. He is no doubt missing his mum and littermates and just needs to receive some extra comfort from you.
- Female cats in heat will do a mixture of a meow/wail when they are in heat to attract a male companion. This is known as calling. It can go on for several days until she comes back out of heat.
Our Singapura cat, Levi is generally a quiet cat who only ever meows when I talk to him and no other time. I get in close and ask him how he is if he's had a good sleep, if he would like some dinner and he will meow back at me. I will never fully understand what he is trying to say to me, but it's cute nonetheless.
Some pet owners love a talkative cat, others would prefer the strong but silent type. If you are still at the looking stage with choosing a cat, do a little research and ask if the breed (if you are getting a pedigree cat) is a talkative one or not. I have sadly heard of cats being rehomed because they meow all the time. It is better to know which are the quiet breeds and which are the talkers so both cat and owner are happy.
My normally quiet cat has started meowing all the time:
Meowing can be an indicator that something is not right. If you have a normally quiet cat who suddenly starts meowing or a talkative cat who becomes quiet, it may well mean that he is not well. Any changes to normal behaviour warrant a check up with the vet. Even if your cat appears fit and well, there may be an underlying cause which hasn't become apparent yet. Early intervention is always important with your cat and his health.
- Meowing may increase as your cat advances in years. This is because the other senses such as eyesight and hearing are deteriorating and he may be feeling anxious or confused.
- Your cat may be feeling unwell and/or be in pain. Urinary problems are a common cause of meowing in cats. If he is struggling to urinate or experiencing pain when urinating he may meow while he's trying to use the litter box. This is a definite red flag and you should immediately take your cat to the vet. This can quickly become a medical emergency.
- A new cat moving into the neighbourhood and entering your cat's territory may cause a sudden change in meowing as the cat becomes frustrated that his patch is being invaded by a newcomer. Same with wildlife such as possums, birds etc. If that is the case, try to block your cat from seeing the intruder if at all possible (closing curtains on a night, keeping him in another room).
- Your cat may be bored when you go to bed. If possible, engage in him lots during the day with games and activities so that he is more likely to be tired on a night.
- Hunger. Make sure you put a bowl of something to nibble on before you go to bed so he's not hungry.
- Loneliness. He may well be lonely.
Night time/morning meowing:
Many pet owners contact me asking how to stop their cat waking them up at 5.00am by meowing at the door. Cats are crepuscular, which means they are most active at dusk and dawn. So while we are looking forward to a well deserved weekend sleep in, our feline companion may have other ideas and would like you to get out of bed and feed and/or play with him. One way to overcome this is to put out some dry food for him the night before, so he has something to snack on while you sleep. The worst thing that you can do in this situation is to get up and feed the cat/play with him. All you are telling him is that meowing will eventually result in him getting his way. The best way to handle a cat who meows excessively during the night/early morning is to ignore it. If possible, shut him in a different part of the house to you and make sure he has some food and toys to keep him occupied until you are ready to get out of bed.