Why Do Cats Meow? These Are the Top 6 Reasons

Cat noises are a form of communication. Here's what it means when your kitty meows.

You hear it when it’s time for dinner and during snuggle sessions: a familiar kitty meow. If your BFF is a furry feline, you’re probably familiar with the sound. And there’s a good chance you’ve been wondering: Why do cats meow?

We’re here to help you translate this secret cat language. Keep reading to find out what pet experts say are the top reasons why cats meow. Once you’re done, be sure to learn about other interesting cat behaviors, like why cats purr, hiss, and chirp.

What does it mean when a cat meows?

Your cat’s meowing is a sign to pay attention to it.

“A meow is not just a simple cat sound; it’s actually a method of communication,” says Mikel Delgado, a cat behavior expert with pet-care company Rover. Your cat may be trying to communicate the fact that it’s hungry, wants attention, or is bored. Or it might just be saying hello.

Cats are smart creatures, and they’ll quickly learn that when they meow, you meet their demands. Armed with that insight, they may meow to get you to give them what they want, whether that’s a treat, a snuggle, or something else.

In short, the question “Why do cats meow?” has an endless list of answers. The more you get to know your cat, the quicker you’ll understand what it wants from you. And that’s not just the case for meowing; it’s also true for kneading, tail-wagging, and other feline behaviors.

Do cats meow to talk to humans?

Though you might think that meowing is a secret language between cats, they generally don’t meow with one another, says Delgado. Cats began meowing to interact with humans specifically.

The exceptions? Mother cats may meow to help their kittens if they get lost, and kittens will meow at their mothers when they are hungry. But here’s a fascinating cat fact: once they mature into adults, they no longer communicate with one another through meows.

“When cats are communicating with each other, they make a sound similar to a meow but more drawn out, like a yowl,” says Delgado.

What do the different types of meows mean?

Adorable tabby kitten looking up and meowingsuemack/Getty Images

The answer to “why do cats meow?” is pretty nuanced. The reality is that there are all sorts of reasons why cats make the sounds they do. Here are the most common:

1. It’s greeting you

“Cats will meow or chirp to get the attention of someone, simply to say ‘hello’ or ‘I am here,'” says Zac Pilossoph, DVM, consulting veterinarian with Healthy Paws Pet Insurance. “This is commonly seen when someone enters the house or a room for the first time, and the cat will circle the person’s feet and meow.”

Have you seen anything cuter? We haven’t—well, aside from these adorable cat pictures.

2. It’s trying to get your attention

One of the most common reasons cats meow is for attention. “Many cats will meow to us when we come home—to greet us, to get our attention, to play, or to remind us that it is dinnertime and they are ready to eat,” says Brian Evans, DVM, medical director of online veterinary company Dutch.

They may walk around meowing or simply come up to you, rub against you, and meow away. As many cat parents know, these little guys have no problem meowing until they get what they want.

3. It’s feeling happy

Sometimes cats will vocalize after you give them what they want. Maybe you just fed your kitty some tasty treats or are enjoying a nice snuggle session with your drowsy, happy cat. Think of its meow as a sign that it really likes you and wants to show its appreciation and happiness, says Dr. Pilossoph.

4. It’s in distress

Sweet meows usually signal good things, but excessive, distressed-sounding meows typically mean something’s not quite right. So pay attention to the cat sound your pet is making. If your fluffy friend is making a crying cat sound or screaming cat noise like caterwauling (a cross between a yowl, howl, and whine), it may be in distress.

“Cats that are in pain, worried, or scared can use different vocalizations to alert others about their concerns in hopes that they will attract assistance,” Dr. Pilossoph explains. “Oftentimes, the pitch or style of the vocalization will be different sounding than most others, which is a clue that something different is happening.”

You might hear these types of cat noises from an animal that’s injured, lost, stuck somewhere, stressed about recent changes in the home, or feeling intimidated by something scary, like an unknown animal or another cat. If you think the meowing may be a sign of injury, it’s time to take your cat to the vet.

5. It’s not feeling well

Some cats will meow when they are not feeling well. Dr. Evans says that a sick cat sounds a bit different than a happy or attention-seeking one. “Cats tend to hide their illnesses, so if you notice their meow is different or unusual, it is a good idea to have your vet evaluate them and make sure there isn’t something underlying that change.”

6. It’s aging

Like people, cats can develop cognitive decline as they age. “Feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome can cause cats to become disoriented, confused, irritable, and they may vocalize more,” says Dr. Evans. “If you have noticed changes in your older cat, speak with your veterinarian about how to best support them.”

Delgado says that another great way to interpret what your cat is trying to tell you is through its body language. Some cats are more vocal than others, and if yours is on the quiet side, it may ask for your attention in other ways. The more you observe your cat’s behavior, the more you’ll start to understand its specific cat noises and cat language.

You can now confidently answer the question, “Why do cats meow?” But can you spot the signs your cat is secretly mad at you? Find out how.


Wendy Rose Gould
Wendy Rose Gould is a Phoenix-based veteran lifestyle reporter covering home and garden, pets, wellness and travel for outlets such as Martha Stewart Living, Real Simple, Insider and Reader's Digest. She received her bachelor's degree from Franklin College of Indiana's Pulliam School of Journalism, graduating magna cum laude. She has a second bachelor's degree in Philosophy.