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As a cat parent you know that your cat meows to communicate with you, but you might wonder why your cat meows at seemingly random times, or even in their sleep! Every cat is unique, and not all cats meow the same way or for the same reasons. In this article we’ll explore all the whys behind a cat’s meow so you can better understand your cat’s behavior and strengthen your bond.

The Most Common Reasons Why Cats Meow

Did you know that cats mostly meow to communicate with their humans, rather than other cats? Over millennia of living with people, cats have evolved to use meowing to talk to us because we’re not as good at picking up on subtle communication signals from body language and scent. In fact, many cats use different types of meows to tell you different things.

Meowing as a greeting 

Often when your cat meows at you they’re saying hello and expressing how excited they are to see you. When your cat meows at you in the morning, when you come home, or when you come into the room, it’s their way of greeting you. So be sure to give them some attention in return!

Meowing to get your attention 

Your cat may be meowing because they’re lonely and want you to pay attention to them. Just like us, cats are social creatures who need attention and interaction—and meowing is one way they’ve learned to get it. If your cat is meowing while rubbing up against you, while bringing you a toy  or carrying  something around in their mouth, they’re probably trying to initiate some social interaction or play time. Your cat following you around is another common attention-seeking behavior.

If your cat goes into another room and meows, they could be calling you over because they want you to see something. It’s possible your cat thinks there’s something wrong, or they could prefer being in the other room and want your company.

Meowing to express happiness

Just like people, cats need to express their energy and engage with those around them. If your cat meows while you’re playing with them, during/after eating, when you pet them, or while rolling on the floor, they’re most likely expressing comfort and contentment. 

Meowing to get you to do something for them

Domesticated cats have learned that meowing can be an effective way to manipulate people. Your cat meowing after they use the litter box may very well be asking you to clean it! Cats also meow when they want you to give them food, open a door for them, or help if they’ve gotten stuck somewhere.

While it’s important to make sure your cat is safe and well cared for, it’s also important to be aware of your response to their meowing. If you jump up and feed your cat a treat every time they meow a certain way, they’ll do it even more.

Meowing out of boredom

Cats can meow when they’re bored, as a way of expressing frustration or seeking stimulation. If you suspect your cat often meows from boredom, make sure you’re not leaving your cat alone too much, give them attention and playtime every day, and provide enrichment activities.

Meowing to express anxiety or fear

Cats can meow when they’re frightened or stressed, which is often paired with other behaviors including:

If your cat is meowing more than usual and you believe it could be caused by anxiety, think about recent events that could be causing it: a new pet or baby in the household, a change in routine, or moving to a new home. Take steps to help your cat manage their anxiety, and consult with your vet if you’re concerned.

Meowing can be a warning

Cats will meow as a warning if they’re in a tense situation with another cat. In this case, meowing is a way of expressing whether they feel angry or defensive, and vocalizing their intention to fight if they feel threatened. Cats also meow before fighting to assert dominance or intimidate the other cat – though not all cats will meow before aggressive behavior.

Meowing for a mate

Though cats typically don’t meow at other cats, mating season is a notable exception! Intact male & female cats meow a lot (and loudly) when they want to mate. Meowing not only expresses a desire to mate, it’s used to establish a territory, warn off potential rivals, and attract a mate.

Meowing can mean illness or injury

Cats are good at hiding pain, but meowing more at nighttime, or meows that sound different than usual can be signs your cat is sick or injured. Meowing to express discomfort or pain will often have a different tone or intensity, and happen more frequently. Keep an eye out for other signs your cat isn’t well (such as hiding, lack of energy, not eating, or changes in grooming habits) and take them to the vet if you think they could be sick or hurt. 

Elderly cats can meow more

Older cats are more susceptible to diminished eyesight, deafness and cognitive decline, all of which can cause confusion and stress, which can lead to more meowing. As cats get older they’re more likely to experience pain from age-related conditions like arthritis and dental issues, and meowing is one way they might express discomfort or ask for comfort and attention.

Meowing out of habit

Sometimes, meowing is simply a learned behavior your cat repeats. If they’ve received attention or rewards as a result of meowing, they may continue to meow to seek more of the same.

Excessive Meowing

If your cat meows excessively or constantly, make sure they’re not suffering from anxiety or physical pain—especially if their meows sound unusual or extra loud. Don’t punish your cat for excessive meowing, and don’t ignore it until you’ve ruled out an underlying condition. The most common reason for excessive meowing in healthy cats is attention-seeking behavior getting out of control. In many cases, human behavior is reinforcing the cat’s excessive meowing.

Training Your Cat to Meow Less Often

You can use positive reinforcement to train your cat not to meow so much. Training will take time and patience, so the most important thing you can do is be consistent in your own behavior when they meow excessively. 

You can use these tips to help curb your cat’s excessive meowing:

Other Kinds of Cat Vocalizations

Cats make many other sounds besides meowing:

There’s also “silent meowing” – this is when a cat opens their mouth as if meowing, but no sound comes out. There are several theories about why cats meow silently, including overwhelming emotion, conserving energy, or simple preference. Because cats can hear much higher-pitched sounds than humans, your cat’s silent meow may not be silent to them, only to you! Every cat is unique, and vocalizations can vary widely. As a cat parent familiar with your cat’s quirks and tendencies, you’re in the best position to interpret what different sounds mean.

Cat Meow FAQ

If you’ve ever been curious about specific ways your cat meows (or doesn’t!), you’re not alone. While each cat will have its own reasons for when and why it meows, you can use these general explanations as a starting point.

Why doesn’t my cat meow?

Cats have individual personalities, and some of them are quieter by nature, don’t meow very often, or never meow. Cats also learn from experience, so if a cat has observed that meowing doesn’t result in the desired outcome (or if they’ve previously had a negative experience such as being punished for meowing) they might be less inclined to meow. The only time to be concerned about your cat not meowing is if they used to meow but suddenly stop. Any abrupt change in your cat’s typical behavior, including meowing, could signal an underlying condition – so consult with your vet to be on the safe side.

Why is my cat’s meowing weird?

There are a few reasons why your cat’s meow can sound different. If your cat’s meow sounds raspy or hoarse it could be from a respiratory issue or other health problem. If your cat suddenly starts meowing differently, look for other signs of discomfort and contact your vet if you have concerns.

Your cat’s vocalization patterns can change as they age, which could stem from hearing loss or other age-related changes. Cats are also very intelligent, and sometimes cats start meowing in unusual ways as a tactic to get more attention from their human.

Why does my cat meow randomly at nothing?

Sometimes it seems like your cat is meowing “at nothing” when in fact they’re able to detect sounds that you can’t hear. If your cat is meowing at a wall or at the ceiling, there may be insect or small rodent movement they’re picking up on, triggering their hunting instincts.

Cats meowing at nothing can also be explained by stress, discomfort, cognitive decline, boredom or other internal experiences that may not be obvious at first.

Why does my cat meow when I take a shower?

Cats are social animals, and some cats experience separation anxiety when their owners are unavailable. If your cat meows when you shower, go to bed, close the door, or move to another room, they might be saying they don’t want to be left alone.

Why does my cat meow when I sing?

If your cat meows when you sing they’re likely intrigued by the sounds you’re making and are meowing to express curiosity, engage with you, or join in the conversation! Cats have very sensitive hearing, so depending on the volume and type of singing it may hurt their ears, prompting them to meow in protest, or to express discomfort. Some cats are particularly talkative and will meow back at you when you sing or talk to them simply because it’s in their nature.

Why does my cat meow when I sneeze?

Similar to a cat meowing in response to singing, your cat might be expressing curiosity about the sounds you make when you sneeze. They may also meow to attempt to imitate the sound, or respond to the noise because they think it’s a form of communication.

Why does my cat meow in their sleep?

Just like us, cats can have dreams, talk in their sleep, or sleep restlessly if they’re feeling stressed or unwell—any of these circumstances can cause occasional “sleep meowing”. If your cat is meowing excessively during sleep, especially if they have other concerning symptoms, consult with your vet to rule out a medical cause.

What cat breeds meow the most (or least)?

No matter their breed, all cats are unique and will have unique meowing habits. That said, there are some generalized meowing tendencies among certain breeds. Siamese, Oriental Shorthair, Burmese, Tonkinese, Bengal, Russian blue and Orange Tabby cats are known for being quite vocally expressive. American and British Shorthair, Ragdoll, Persian and Scottish Fold cats are known for being on the quieter side.

If you’re looking for a vocal or quiet cat, your best bet is to spend some time with the cat you’re thinking of adopting to better understand their personality and communication style, regardless of their breed.
Keep learning about unique cat behavior by discovering why cats love boxes so much!

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