Cat Vocalizations


Now that you let the cat out of the bag and described one cat noise and listed a slew of others, what do
the others mean?


Dr. Nichol:

You mean the cat has been let out of the mailbag. We cat people want definitions, pronunciations and, most important, appropriate responses. Well, of course, I am Dr. Doolittle and I do talk to the animals.


Here is the hard data based on real research (funded, I am sure, by your tax dollars). The “purr” can mean contentment, but in a nervous cat it may signal anxiety. “Meow” is what cats say when they are announcing their presence, when they want attention, or when they are mad at you because you didn’t give them what they wanted. (Notice that meow, like many cat utterances, is a four-letter word.)


A “murmur” is a rhythmically pulsing, open-mouth word that means a cat wants social interaction. I cat will murmur to get something specific. Of course you have no idea what that something is. A “call”, on the other hand, is a murmur with the mouth closed. Female cats call loudly when they want to mate. Male cats call the same way when they fight. And you thought your marriage was rough. But, hey, a catcall is a catcall.


Mother cats “chirr” when they are calling their children for lunch or bed. A chirr is like a meow but it’s rolled. (It’s not English and it’s not Spanish either.) Also, when a cat sees a feline friend he’ll chirr at the other guy, like “Yo, dude.”


“Growling”, “hissing”, and “snarling” are done when one cat is trying to intimidate another or when one is feeling defensive. A growling cat wants to see changes happen.


Among my favorites is the “chatter”. Teenagers chatter on the phone, but cats chatter their teeth while watching a play activity that they wish, for all the world, included them. It usually means they are frustrated that it’s some other guy who’s disemboweling that rodent.


The “mew” is a high pitched word which mom and kids share for locating each other. It’s also used for encouragement of the youngsters. And last, cats who “moan” are care giving and solicitous.


These are the official names; they may be different at your house. It’s important to remember that social interactions with cats are very different than with humans. Cats are capable of saying one thing, then immediately wanting something else. Wait a minute-that sounds more like my children than my cat.




My cats bring me prize “catches” with a yowling sound. “Dixie Cup” (one of your patients) brings her stuffed fish to me several times a day. If I go to another room, the yowling starts again, and she shows up again with the fish. This is as opposed to the growling sound she makes.


Dr. Nichol:

“Meow”. That’s all I can say. Dixie Cup is not yowling (sorry, it’s not in the feline dictionary). But “meow” can have several different meanings. Cats meow when they are soliciting attention, or as a greeting, such as from their caregiver.


You’re right about Dixie Cup. She wants you to be proud of that stuffed fish. But she doesn’t meow when she sees me. She growls and we all know why.  Please tell her that I live to hear her meow. For me it would be the cat’s meow.