The cat’s meow is her way of communicating with people. Cats meow for many reasons—to say hello, to ask for things, and to tell us when something’s wrong. Meowing is an interesting vocalization in that adult cats don’t actually meow at each other, just at people. Kittens meow to let their mother know they’re cold or hungry, but once they get a bit older, cats no longer meow to other cats. But they continue to meow to people throughout their lives, probably because meowing gets people to do what they want. Cats also yowl—a sound similar to the meow but more drawn out and melodic. Unlike meowing, adult cats do yowl at one another, specifically during breeding season.
Some breeds of cats, notably the Siamese, are prone to excessive meowing and yowling.
These are the most common reasons why cats meow:
- To greet people.Your cat can be expected to meow in greeting when you come home, when she meets up with you in the house and when you speak to her.
- To solicit attention.Cats enjoy social contact with people, and some will be quite vocal in their requests for attention. The cat may want to be stroked, played with or simply talked to. Cats who are left alone for long periods of time each day may be more likely to meow for attention.
- To ask for food.Most cats like to eat, and they can be quite demanding around mealtimes. Some cats learn to meow whenever anyone enters the kitchen, just in case food might be forthcoming. Others meow to wake you up to serve them breakfast. Cats also learn to beg for human food by meowing.
- To ask to be let in or out. Meowing is the cat’s primary way to let you know what she wants. If she wants to go outside, she’ll likely learn to meow at the door. Likewise, if she’s outdoors and wants in, she’ll meow to get you to let her back inside. If you’re trying to transition a cat from being indoor-outdoor to living exclusively indoors, you may be in for a period of incessant meowing at doors and windows. This is a difficult change for a cat to make, and it will very likely take weeks or even months for the meowing to stop.
- Elderly catssuffering from mental confusion, or cognitive dysfunction, may meow if they become disoriented—a frequent symptom of this feline version of Alzheimer’s Disease. For more information, please read our article on Behavior Problems in Older Cats.
- To find a mate.Reproductively intact cats are more likely to yowl. Females yowl to advertise their receptivity to males, and males yowl to gain access to females.
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