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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Decoding your cat's sounds

Jan 02, 2024 03:37PM ● By Ask Ms. Kitty

Dear Ms. Kitty:

I love talking to my Siamese mix kitty, Saffron, because she talks back to me! She makes lots of different sounds that seem to mean different things. I’ve read that cats only talk to their guardians, not to other cats. Is that true? Signed, Chatting in Castle Rock

Dear Chatting: 

Some experts would agree that Saffron’s chattiness with you is more common than it would be with other cats. The idea is that cats in the wild risk being found by predators if they are too noisy. 

Cats have a diverse oral repertoire. According to research, cats have at least 21 different vocalizations. Cats use these vocalizations to share information about their world and feelings. 

Some breeds are more vocal than others. As a Siamese, Saffron’s breed is known for chatting with their guardians, whereas the Maine Coon is relatively quiet. 

A cat’s age also affects vocalization. For example, kittens are born blind and deaf. But they have a set of sounds to communicate with their mother and littermates. 

As they grow older, kittens develop a more comprehensive range of sounds. Furthermore, senior cats can experience changes in their voice due to aging or health issues, like respiratory infections or dental problems.

Learning to interpret Saffron’s unique vocalizations will increase your ability to communicate. The most common vocalizations are meowing, yowling, howling, purring, chirping, chattering, trilling, growling, hissing, and spitting.

Perhaps the best-known vocalization is a cat’s meow. Kittens meow for their mother’s attention. However, adult cats almost exclusively use this sound to communicate with humans. 

So, what does it mean? A meow is often a greeting, a solicitation for play, an indication of excitement, or a request for something, usually food or attention. Occasionally, a meow can signify loneliness, frustration, or illness. Paying attention to the environment and Saffron’s body language will provide additional context to decode her meow.

Yowling and howling are similar to the meow. However, they are often louder, drawn out and a sign of distress due to physical pain or illness, anxiety, or boredom. Older cats with cognitive dysfunction may also yowl.

Purring, a cat’s low, rhythmic rumble, is another well-known vocalization. This soothing sound is considered the epitome of contentment. However, cats purr in many different situations.

Experts suggest that purring can act as a self-soothing mechanism to alleviate stress. The vibration frequency created by purring also aids in healing a cat’s injuries. Purring has therapeutic benefits for people as well, such as lowering blood pressure and reducing stress.

A chirp is a short, high-pitched call that resembles a bird. Chattering, a low-smacking sound produced by the clashing of a cat’s jaw, often accompanies chirping. You might hear Saffron chirp and chatter while watching birds or squirrels from the window. However, this sound is also a greeting or a request.

Cats also trill. The sound is made with a closed mouth and is a cross between a meow and a purr. It may sound similar to a chirp. However, trills are commonly used as a form of acknowledgment or greeting.

Growling and hissing are also familiar sounds. Cats make both sounds with an open mouth. A cat’s growl is a sustained sound, like a dog’s growl. Hissing may be intermingled with growling. Typically, you see a cat’s teeth when he or she hisses. Neither vocalization is positive; they are warnings to back off. 

Sometimes a growling cat will spit before hissing. A spit is a sudden, short burst of noise. Your cat may lash out with her paw, too. Spitting is a more intense variation of a hiss. Like growling and hissing, cats spit in response to perceived threats.

These are ten sounds in the rich and diverse language cats use to communicate. No two cats are alike. Understanding Saffron’s vocalizations and nuances will help you build a stronger relationship with your furry companion.