What Does It Mean When a Cat Trills?

by Nicholas DeMarino, Demand Media
    Cats usually trill to say hello or get attention.

    Cats usually trill to say hello or get attention.

    You wake up, stumble to the kitchen and pour yourself a glass of water. "Rrrrrrowe." At your feet is your cat. "Rrrrrrowe," he repeats, bright-eyed with open maw. "Rrrrowe," you parrot back, and he saunters away. Trills are usually kitty cat hellos, but sometimes they're cries for attention.

    A Multitude of Meows

    Cats make a multitude of meows, mews, trills, chirps, chatters, purrs, cries, hisses, yowls and growls.
    When someone talks about cat trills, they're usually referring to a soft rolling R. It's similar to the double-R in Spanish words like "arriba" and "arroz," and likewise requires a tongue vibration. Some people call this a chirrup. It sounds like a cross between a meow and a purr and has a rising inflection.
    Some cat vocalizations -- notably purring -- engage the voice box. A trill is largely formed in the mouth, though, perhaps accounting for its wispy inflection.

    Minding Meaning

    As kittens, cats learn trills and chirps from their mother, who uses them to tell her brood to follow her. Kittens mimic the sounds, often in greeting or to get attention. As adults, cats use these sounds when greeting other cats or people.
    A cat trill usually means hello. It's generally seen as an expression of happiness. After trilling, your cat may rub his head against you or raise his back to encourage you to pet him.
    If your cat comes to associate his trill with getting your attention, he may start trilling to get you to pay attention to him. He may be harkening back to kittenhood, too.

    Hey, You!

    If your cat keeps trilling at you he wants your undivided attention.
    If your cat trills, then starts to move away and looks back at you, it's a sure sign he wants to show you something. It's probably just an empty dish or spilled food, but it could be something more serious. Your cat may be sick, injured or otherwise in pain. Excessive trilling can also mean your cat is entering old age and more prone to disorientation and frustration.
    Regardless of why your cat is trilling so much, never punish him for it. Figure out why he's trilling and address the issue or learn to ignore it.

    Conversations

    Some cats are chattier than others. Cats with Siamese or Maine coon blood are especially talky. If you don't mind indulging them -- and encouraging the behavior -- you can trade trills with your cat for minutes at a time.
    While cats have a range of sounds they use to communicate, they probably don't have a specific vocabulary. Certain sounds tend to be associated with certain emotions, though. Longer, lower sounds tend to be negative while quicker sounds with both high and low sounds tend to be positive.
    Trills -- almost always quick and mixed, if not high-sound heavy -- are probably happy sounds.

    About the Author

    Nicholas DeMarino is a journalist and former newspaper associate editor and reporter. His work has appeared in "The Arizona Republic," "The Billings Gazette," "San Antonio Current" and in other publications. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon.

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