Cat communication can be complex and fascinating. After all, the classic "meow" has no one set meaning. Context is everything when it comes to figuring out what your cutie means when she meows; it can be the difference between a request for food to a demand for your undivided attention.
According to the ASPCA, one common meow is a request -- or perhaps an urgent demand -- for food. Whether kibble or tasty tuna flake treats, cats love their food and usually aren't shy about asking for it. No matter if a cat is simply meowing out of hunger or out of habit, one thing is certainly clear -- she wants you to open up that can or bag, immediately.
The Humane Society of the United States indicates that another type of meow is the cheery "hello" meow. If your cat approaches you and meows, she likely is greeting you. Maybe she's delighted to see you first thing in the morning after you wake up. Perhaps you're coming back from a weeklong business trip across the country, and the little one missed you. Sometimes a meow is a simple friendly "hi" -- nothing more, nothing less.
In some cases, a kitty's meow may be a proud presentation of sorts, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Perhaps your fluff ball went outdoors and brought inside -- much to your horror and disgust -- a dead mouse. If she plops the thing down in front of you and meows, she's basically offering it to you as a gift. It may seem bizarre, but take it as a sincere honor coming from your cat.
Meowing can indicate pain, sickness and other medical issues in cats, especially if the sound goes on particularly long, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Play it safe and take your cat to the veterinarian to rule out the possibility of illness. The ASPCA states that meowing could be caused by anything from the disorientation and stress of cognitive issues to severe kidney region pain caused by renal failure, among other illnesses. Cognitive issues are especially prevalent in geriatric cats. Your senior cat may be meowing loudly to get your attention because he's lost somewhere in your home. His vision and his memory may be going, and he's understandably frustrated.
The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine advises that in both genders, meowing can be a sign that a cat is looking to mate, especially if it's inordinate. Tomcats typically call out during the nighttime to publicize mating availability to queens. Female cats do the same thing to attract male cats, though usually only during their heat cycles every couple of weeks or so. If the vocalization is keeping you up, consider getting your cat fixed. Not only will fixing your cat likely stop the meowing, it will also stop her from contributing to feline overpopulation. You're golden.
A cat's meow may be as straightforward as a request, such as for you to open the door, according to the ASPCA website. Perhaps your kitty is feeling antsy inside and wants to go outdoors and play, or to get into a closed room. You may also catch your cat pawing nonstop at the door as she meows at you. Your sweet pet wants out. Or in.
According to the Humane Society, an innocent-sounding meow may even be a warning. Perhaps your cat just doesn't want you to pet her. If she sees your hand approaching, she may let a little meow out to let you know she really isn't in the mood right now. Essentially, your curmudgeonly cutie is telling you to back off.
- UC Davis Veterinary Medicine: Feline Excessive Vocalization
- ASPCA: Cat Vocalizations
- ASPCA: Meowing and Yowling
- The Humane Society of the United States: Understanding Your Feline Friend
- Cornell University News: Cat Talk?
- Animal Humane Society: Excessive Vocalization in Cats
- ASPCA: Communicating With Your Cat
- ASPCA: Kidney Disease
- The Humane Society of the United States: Understanding Feline Language
- Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images