» Miaowing







Did you know that a cat’s miaow is not its main method of communication?

Wild cats and other felines hardly ever communicate with each other by miaowing. The domestic cat, on the other hand, lives in contact with humans and is much more chatty.


Cats can vocalise in three ways:

  • Screaming and yowling at other cats, humans and animals. These sounds are intended to scare off or keep potential adversaries at a distance. With one exception: the male cat’s sexual cries to announce its presence to females in heat. This specific noise sounds very like a baby crying ;
  • Miaowing is very rarely used between cats but is common for communicating with humans. They use it to attract your attention to something they want you to see: look at me, I have something to tell you and show you. Think of cats miaowing at the door to be let out or at their food bowls when they want to be fed ;
  • There are also very particular types of miaows:

    • Kittens emit mews that sound like distress cries when they find themselves alone, separated from the rest of the litter or trapped under their mother,
    • The particularly noisy miaowing of Siamese cats, which might be genetic,
    • The abnormal miaows of cats suffering from deafness or senile dementia. These sound more like groans and are particularly loud ;
  • Purring. It is not known exactly where purring comes from but it is probably caused by some of the muscles in the larynx vibrating. Cats and many other felines purr. Cats purr for themselves and also for others. They purr to soothe and reassure their kittens. They purr when they are curled up in their owner’s lap and both seem to be enjoying the moment. They also purr when they are unwell. A sick or injured cat may purr. The purring seems to ease the pain and have a calming, reassuring, healing effect on a sick or stressed cat.

Cats do not understand our language but can recognise meaningful sounds such as the characteristic noise of a tin of cat food being opened or a bag of dry food being shaken. They can also distinguish the sound of their owner’s voice and of a friendly voice (child, high-pitched) from the deeper, hoarser sound of a menacing or angry voice.

So vocal communication with cats is not easy. Plus, not all cats miaow in the same way, for the same reasons, with the same intensity or the same insistence. Some are talkative, others less communicative.

Owners are obviously the people most likely to understand the meaning of their cats’ miaowing. When you live in daily contact with your cat you gradually start to understand its language. You learn that one specific miaow means one thing and another means something completely different.

So it is not at all easy to generalise about miaowing.

To conclude, the more you observe your cat, the more you will be in touch with it and the better you will understand it.
Listening to your cat is the purrfect solution!


Dr Eric Witvrouw
DMV | Animal Behaviourist
Veterinary Center ÉducaVet’s

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