Frivolous Friday – What Does Meow Actually Mean?

If you’ve been around many cats you know that they can sound different from one another. There isn’t just a meow sound, there are pitches to the meow—each cat is capable of making a variety of sounds and some have a greater capacity to create different sounds. There are also cats that don’t meow at all. Sophie, for example, prrrrrts and meouwls—there’s no actual meow going on in her vocabulary. (Note: I wrote this over the weekend. The following day, Sophie looked up at me and said a very distinct “Meow!” I guess she told me!)

Our Himalayan, Katy, meowed with what sounded like a southern drawl. That seemed appropriate since she came from a kitten mill in Missouri.

Lily emitted short prrrts or chirps when she’d deliver a stuffed toy at my feet. She mewed while I fixed her meals, and she meowed when she was lonely or bored.

The part Siamese next door meows constantly as long as there’s a human around to hear her. “Meow-Meow-Mew-Meoooow…”

Max was a big snowshoe-type cat with the tiniest mew—no meowing, it was a kittenish Mew. Cuteness.

It’s interesting to note that experts believe cats do not use the meow word with other cats—only with humans. Are they attempting to mimic us? Cats seem to learn early on that vocalizing is a good way to get our attention. Ever have a cat that tried to out talk you? Max would get so excited when I was going to feed him or play one of his favorite games with him that he’d meow loudly and drawn out. I’d talk to him—“Yes, Mommy’s going to feed you now. You want your supper…?” etc. And he would meow louder and louder in response.

Smokey (aka Rags) is a big cat with the tiniest mew. But we learned that he is capable of quite a masterful MEOW. We heard it once when he had been locked outside. He’d evidently tried to let us know he wanted in. When we didn’t hear him, he tried out his big voice–what a shock to hear. As far as I know he has never used it since.

Cats can also purr. Some cats come with very loud purring sounds. Others are hard to hear. Lily did not actually purr until she was about five years old. You couldn’t hear a purr, nor could you feel a vibration at her throat. She flat-out didn’t know how to purr. What a surprise that sound was—to her and to me—when it finally came out. I remember the morning it happened. She was on my lap while I was working on one of the Klepto Cat Mysteries, when suddenly I heard a sort of crackle coming from her—soft and halting, like car trying to start. She lifted her head and looked at me as if to say, “What was that?” She began to work on it, and eventually got a good purring sound going, although it remained very soft.

Have you ever heard a cat chatter? They’ll do this when they see a bird out the window. Experts believe this is a sign that the cat is anxious, excited, or maybe frustrated.

Here’s a lesson in cat-language.

A high pitched trill sound is usually a greeting.

A cat in distress will make a drawn out wailing sound, which is called caterwauling.

Of course there’s also the hiss and the growl, which none of us wants to hear from our beloved cats.

While I love having a kitty-cat conversation with my cats and I enjoy hearing their voices now and then, I’m not a fan of the chatty cat. So I stay away from adopting a Siamese or some of the other short-hair breeds. I opt for the Persian mix, Himalayan (yes I know there’s a Siamese in there somewhere), Maine coon, etc. They’re more inclined to have a softer, sweeter tone in their voice.



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