How It Works

How to Speak Cat: A phrase book to speak to our furry feline friends.

What does the cat say? The typical answer is ‘meow’, but cats actually have the ability to make one of the widest range of vocalisations of any pet. The team here at How it Works magazine feels that we have oversimplified the language of our fuzzy feline friends for far too long and compiled a comprehensive cat dictionary so we can better understand our cats and kittens.

Purr

Translation: “I am here” / “I am okay”

This sound is a deep vibration that we usually associate with a content and happy cat and part of the bonding experience between feline and human. However, it can sometimes be a response to feeling frightened or threatened. Dr. Elizabeth Von Muggenthaler has suggested that a purr is a “natural healing mechanism” and scientific studies have shown that purring may be involved with strengthening and repairing bones, as well as pain relief and wound healing.

Trill

Translation: “Hello!” / “Give me attention!” 

This trilling sound is learnt from their mother when they were kittens. She would use this trill to tell her kittens to follow her, and her offspring would use the sound in return to receive attention or to greet her. As adults, they start to use the trill as a greeting usually towards their owner.

 

Growling

Translation: “This is mine” / “I am not happy” 

These rumbling growls are usually signalling to people or other cats that something belongs to them. They can often be scared, agitated, or angry when making this sound.

Howl

Translation: “This is my territory” / “I want to take over your territory”

When you see two (or more) cats locked in a howling battle it is usually a fight for territory. One of the cats will have stepped into the others stomping grounds, and both will fiercely howl to determine who is the rightful owner of that land.

 

Chatter

Translation: “I am excited because I can see something fun to play with” / “I am frustrated because I can’t reach it” 

This stuttering sound sounds like a mix between a chirp and a bleat. Cats mostly make these noises when they are watching something they want to play with. It’s thought to communicate excitement or frustration, though some studies suggest it is a sound made to disorient prey species as it so closely resembles the sound of a bird.

Hiss

Translation: “Go away!” / “I am angry or scared

A hissing cat makes their emotions pretty clear. Whether it is because another cat is in their territory, or the vet is about to give them a vaccination, a cat that is hissing means they are angry or scared and they want to scare you away from them. It’s best to leave a hissing animal alone if possible.

Caterwaul

Translation: “I am in heat

This ear-piercing shrill wail is the sound of a cat of breeding age that has not been spayed or neutered and is in heat. A caterwauling cat is one that is seeking a mate of the opposite sex to breed with.

Meow

Translation: “I am communicating with a human

Kittens first start meowing to their mothers, but as they grow older they stop using this to communicate with other cats and instead it develops as a language just to speak to humans. They will use tone and pitch to communicate with their owner; multiple meows to great you excitedly, drawn-out meows when they are demanding something and a low-pitch meow when they want to complain about something.

 

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