At one of the local animal adoption centers, people were asking what was wrong with the little brown tabby kitten who was growling so much.
Well it turns out that growling is this kitten’s form of cat communication – when it is happily playing, when it wants attention, when it is curious and when it is unhappy – and yes even when it is angry. For some unknown reason she growls instead of meowing or making another more common cat sound.
Although not the norm, this is not the first time we have heard about a kitten who uses a low growl as a way of communicating. Luckily, her care givers know her well enough to assure everyone that she is not a mean or angry kitten. In fact it was quite the opposite – she is a very social and friendly kitten.
Cats do have a wide range of cat sounds beyond the traditional meow people expect and hopefully this young feline will discover and use all of them as she matures.
Cat sounds are vocalizations used for cat communication. Housecats in particular can develop quite an extensive vocabulary in order to communicate with their humans. According to researchers, cat sounds have a range of more than 60 notes.
Normally, the tone and vocal patterns of cat sounds are an indicator of their mood or intention. A cat sound with a higher tone that goes from higher to lower notes indicates that the cat is friendly. Friendly cat sounds are also of shorter duration.
An urgent cat sound that indicates stress goes from lower to higher notes and is of a longer duration.
An unfriendly cat sound has a low tone. Not only will it vary in duration, it will become louder based on the cat’s level of displeasure or fear.
What are the sounds of a cat?
When you really listen to the sounds that your cat makes, you will discover that most cats meow, chirp, chatter, growl, purr, hiss, rumble and more.
A cat’s meow
The meow is the most well known and common sound a cat makes. Most cats have several types of meows with changes in tone and duration depending on what they are trying to convey.
Cats meow to say hello or to ask for attention. Cats will also meow when they are in pain, but that meow is distinctive – a loud high pitched and guttural meow.
A shortened meow is called a mew and is most commonly used by kittens to attract attention. A kitten’s mew gets louder with fear or distress.
The mew is also heard in adult cats as a quick hello or sign of being startled.
The quietest meow is the silent meow when a cat opens its mouth and everything indicates they are going to meow, but no sound comes out. Some researches believe that a sound is indeed emitted but is too high pitched for us to hear. And it may be that when a silent meow turns into a squeak for emphasis that the squeak is the result of a lowering in pitch.
Did you know? Contrary to what many believe, that cats only meow at people, adult cats do “meow” to one another.
A cat’s chirp
The chirp is a short, high pitched sound that we hear when a cat is anticipating something good, when they want attention, as a surprised greeting of hello or in a moment of excitement during play.
The chirrup or trill is a variation of the chirp that is a cross between a meow and a purr and is a happy sound.
A cat’s chatter
Cat chatter is a series of short sounds made in rapid succession most commonly heard when a cat is excited about seeing a bird outside the window.
The sound originates in the cat’s throat and is traditionally accompanied by a very quick fast movement of their lower jaw.
A cat’s purr
Most people associate a cat’s purr with happiness. The purr is a throaty vibrating, motor-like sound. Purrs vary in tone and loudness from a loud purr that you can hear from across the room to a soft quiet purr that you can only hear if you lean in close.
A happy purr is brought out when a cat is being petted, fed, starting to eat or kneading their bed before a nap.
However, some cats will purr when they are sick or scared as a way of self comforting. This is a natural instinct learned when they were kittens and their mother cat purred to them to provide comfort and security.
A momma cat’s purrs also serve to help the kittens find her when they are newborn and cannot yet see. The vibrations of her purrs lead them to her.
A cat’s hiss
A “hiss” is a sharp sound like an extended “s”, very much like if you extended the s’s the end of the word hiss.
A hiss usually means that the cat is unhappy with their situation or feels frightened or threatened. They use a hiss to help scare away whatever is that is bothering them. If that doesn’t work, many cats will follow-up the hiss with a growl or attack.
A cat’s growl
A growl is a low guttural vocalization typically issued as a warning. It is usually a sign of aggression or used to express anger.
Most other cats and people heed this warning before violence erupts.
Get to know your cat’s vocabulary
When living with a house full of cats, it is important to become familiar with all of the cat sounds your cats make and the nuances of each cat’s vocabulary.
Understanding your cat will go a long way with helping you have the best relationship you can with them.