The Cat’s Meow: Do You Know Why Cats Meow?

Portrait of cat.

(Picture Credit: Elisa Bin/Getty Images)

The other day I was cooking dinner and it seemed to make my cat jealous. First he just roamed around the kitchen a little bit, letting out a plaintive “meow!” every few minutes. But the more time I spent paying attention to my pasta sauce rather than him, the more demanding he became.

Soon, he was meowing at me every 30 seconds, rubbing against my leg, and meowing really loudly the second I looked down. It was like he was in a competition with my sauce pan.

Has your cat ever meowed non-stop to get your attention? Did you ever wonder where they learned to do that? Well, it turns out that adult cats don’t actually meow to each other at all. Sure, they vocalize to one another in other ways. But adult cats typically only meow at people, not other cats.

Don’t you feel special now?

Kittens Meow at Their Mothers

The only time that cats consistently meow at other cats, according to the ASPCA, is when they are kittens.

A kitten will meow to their mom to indicate that they’re hungry or cold. But typically, cats stop meowing at other cats by the time they reach adulthood.

Some cat owners do say they hear their cats meowing to other cats in the home on occasion, and cats certainly use other types of vocalizations with one another, like trills or “yowls.” But meows are, by and large, reserved only for people

Why Do Cats Still Meow at Us?

Some experts theorize that cats retain some of their kitten traits when they are raised as pets. A cat who is less independent might rely more on the meow and other kitten-like behavior to get our attention.

Cats may tend to view their owners as adoptive parents, so they will communicate to them like they’d communicate to their biological cat mom.

In general, the “meow” is used as a communication tool, either to get something specific–like food or a treat–or just to show love and affection.

What Does a Meow Mean?

Image of a yawning lazy cat, sitting on blue chair

(Picture Credit: Carlo de Ruiter/Getty Images)

Meows have many different meanings. Cats may actually vary the pitch and length of their meow depending on what they are communicating to you.

A meow can be a friendly greeting when you get home or a request for playtime. If your cat feels neglected or lonely, they may meow at you to get your attention.

Do you usually play a game of “catch the red laser dot” with your cat but you forgot for the last couple days? You can probably expect a bunch of meows to remind you!

A cat may also sound off to show you that something’s wrong. If they’re low on food or water, expect a vocalization to let you know. If they’ve gotten accidentally locked in a closet, you’ll get a lot of loud meows until you realize where they are!

A cat may also meow if they’re feeling sick. So if your cat suddenly becomes more vocal than usual for no apparent reason, you might want to take them to the vet to get checked out.

If your cat always meows for attention and it’s getting a little out of hand, don’t punish them. Instead, just start ignoring them when they vocalize. Reward them with pets and attention when they’re quiet. They’ll likely figure out pretty quickly that meowing isn’t getting the results they’re seeking.

So the next time your cat meows at you, remember that it means you’re pretty special. Sure, Kitty may think that you’re their servant and they’re issuing you a direct order. But you’re also the only species that gets this grand treatment.

Turn the meows into a game and see if you can figure out exactly what they’re trying to tell you based on the pitch and length of their vocalizations.

Does your cat meow at you? Do you know what those meows mean? Let us know in the comments below!