We don't usually think of cats as being particularly "vocal". However, around 16 different vocalisations have been described, and there are probably many more than this. It's just that us humans don’t pick up on the subtle differences! The noise your cat is making will tell you exactly how she's feeling, whether a happy purr or an angry hiss.
Young cats playing - happy, energetic - and vocal!
Why Do Cats Purr?
Purring is one of the first sounds a kitten will make. As they nurse from their mother they will gently purr. From this young age purring is associated with positive experiences such as feeding, playing with their siblings, and grooming.
There are several theories surrounding how cats purr. One theory is that turbulence in the bloodstream causes a vibration in the chest and windpipe, which causes the sinus cavities of the skull to resonate. Another theory suggests that the muscles of the diaphragm and larynx contract out of phase, causing the purr vibration. A third theory suggests that cats use the vocal folds and muscles on the larynx to alternately dilate and constrict the glottis (the opening between the vocal chords and upper part of the larynx). This causes the air to vibrate which produces the purr sound.
Cats certainly seem to purr when they are relaxed and happy, but purring isn’t restricted to happiness. Cats also purr as a way of calming down in stressful situations, or when they are hurt. Some scientists believe that the frequency of a purr (26 Hertz) promotes tissue regeneration, and that when cats purr they are healing themselves or strengthening bones. Your cat may purr when she is hungry (usually louder purring), and dominant cats will sometimes purr when approaching a submissive cat to signal they come in peace.
An Egyptian Mau playing in a basket - happy and content and almost certainly contemplating a bout of purring!
Why Do Cats Chatter Their Teeth?
Cats will often chatter their teeth when they see something they want to catch. The cat's jaw judders and she makes an odd stuttering sound. Scientists believe that cats do this in excitement or frustration when they spot potential prey. The jaw movement occurs because the cat is practicing her killing bite as if the prey was in her mouth!
Why Do Cats Meow?
Ask them this question, and cats will of course reply "Me? How?"
Alongside purring, meowing is the first sound a kitten will make. Meowing is the main way your pet will try to get your attention. When she is hungry, thirsty, wants attention, or wants to go outside, your cat will meow until you satisfy her needs.
Some scientists believe that cats meow specifically to communicate with humans, and that it's rare that adult cats meow in the same manner to other adult cats.
When your cat's meow is high pitch and short she is usually just greeting you. If the meow is drawn out, this can mean she wants something from you. A low pitched, drawn-out meow can mean she is agitated and wants her request to be answered immediately.p>To understand what your cat is after you need to put her meow into context. If she is standing at the door meowing loudly she probably wants to be let out. If she is looking at her food bowl and meowing, then you can assume she is hungry. If you have your legs crossed and she is sat by you meowing, then she would probably like you to unfold them so she can cuddle up on your lap!
Why Do Cats Growl And Hiss?
When your cat is feeling scared, frightened, threatened, or aggressive she will growl and hiss. Cats growl and hiss as a warning before they attack. If your cat is hissing and growling at you, you need to leave her alone as she will likely lash out at you if you keep bothering her. A growl and hiss will be accompanied by anxious, fearful or angry body language.
An angry cat hissing
Why Do Cats Yowl And Caterwaul?
Cat’s tend to yowl when they are communicating with each other. When you hear cats being noisy at night they are usually always yowling. Its a very distinctive sound that is a long drawn out wail. Cats yowl when they are defending their territory, fighting, or in pain. Un-neutered cats will caterwaul, which is a version of a yowl. When in heat female cats will caterwaul (frequently and noisily) and try their best to escape to find a mate. Tomcats will also caterwaul to call to females in heat.
Why Do Cats Chirp And Trill?
This sound is inbetween a meow and purr. It sounds like a vibrating meow. Your cat will have learned this from her mother. Mother cats will trill or chirp at their kittens to get their attention usually when she wants them to follow her. Your cat will very likely use this sound to get your attention or as a friendly greeting.