Why Do Cats Meow?

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Your cat's meows are adorable, but they can also be mysterious. It seems like your kitty usually meows when she wants something from you, but you want to know for sure: Why do cats meow? How do they do it? And why does my cat keep meowing at me?

Why Do Cats Meow?

While vocalization is vital to many animal communities, you won't find much chatter in a cat colony. Instead, cats mostly rely on body language when communicating with other cats, using their eyes, ears, tails and posture to convey meaning. This nonverbal communication works with other animals, too — you may have noticed that cats don't typically meow at dogs (though you might hear them growl or hiss).

However, humans are often too distracted, so her meowing can tell you a few different things:

  • She wants attention. This is the most common reason for a cat's meow and can mean she wants more food, wants to play, is lonely, wants to be picked up, or just wants to say hello.
  • She's bored. Try mixing up playtime with new toys; you'd be amazed at how much fun even a crumpled up piece of paper can be!
  • She's in heat. A female cat in heat will meow constantly to advertise her availability to males.

If you're wondering, "Why does my cat keep meowing early in the morning and late at night?" the answer is twofold. Many cats are most active at dawn and dusk, their prime hunting times. But instinct isn't always to blame. Early morning meows can also be learned behavior, according to the Cummings Veterinary Medicine. "People often engage with and feed their cats first thing in the morning, so yowling pets are often looking for attention or food." Cats are very good at training their humans.

How Do Cats Meow?

Like all animals, cats create sounds when air from their lungs vibrates the vocal cords in their larynx, also known as a voice box. While all mammals have the anatomical parts to produce a form of speech, a recent study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience reveals that larger brain size and highly developed neural pathways give humans their unique capacity for sophisticated language. Cats, like most other creatures, just don't have the brain power to work it all out.

Cats have made up for this neural deficit by altering the way that they meow. This allows them to communicate their needs to their humans.

Dr. Susanne Schötz, a phonetics professor at Lund University in Sweden, is working on an ongoing study called Meowsic that explores cat vocalization and communication with humans. She explains that a cat's meow is an "opening-closing" mouth mechanism that creates a "combination of vowels resulting in the characteristic [iau] sequence."Black and white cat looking up meowing.

When Should I Be Worried About My Cat's Meows?

If you notice excessive meowing, it's important to note if there are other behavioral changes, too, emphasizes Pets.ca. If the prolonged meowing occurs while she's using the litter box, for example, an underlying illness may be the culprit.

Animal Planet advises that senior cats may also meow differently for reasons including hearing or vision changes, loneliness, health issues like high blood pressure or, in rare cases, feline dementia.

Speak with your veterinarian about any noticeable changes in your cat's vocalization at any age, especially if you notice new behavioral issues, too.

Love Her Meows

When your feline friend talks with you, she's acknowledging that you're her person. You're the one she knows will take care of her, the one who loves her. Isn't that just the cat's meow!

Contributor Bio

Christine O'Brien

Christine O'Brien

Christine O'Brien is a writer, mom, and long-time cat parent whose two Russian Blues rule the house. Her work also appears in Care.com, What to Expect, and Fit Pregnancy, where she writes about pets, pregnancy, and family life. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien.

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