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When you share a home with a feline friend, you hear many different cat sounds throughout the day. And although the meaning of some noises is easily discernible (circling their food dish and meowing while looking up at you, for example), it's not always that obvious. In some cases you may be the pet parent of a particularly chatty kitty. This is especially true with older furry friends, as cats become more vocal as they age or their hearing worsens.
Here's what your cat is expressing with the following distinctive cat sounds:
As a pet parent you already know your cat emits a classic meow for a variety of things. But cats don't do this between each other, so what is your cat trying to tell you? They may use their meow for a food or water refill, greet you when you return home, or request a soothing pet or tummy rub (they'll roll over for that one). Cats also speak to you with different kinds of meows depending on the situation, such as "I want that spot on the couch"–something they always seem to want.
Although incessant meowing when eating, using the litter box, or a similarly odd time could mean they're not feeling well, your furbaby is usually just coming over to say hi.
Life doesn't get much better than when your cat snuggles up to you, nuzzling and purring at the end of a long day. As Trupanion notes, purring is how kittens who are born blind and deaf communicate with their mom, but all cats use this method throughout their lives–even with you. Pay close attention to your own cat's purrs and you'll notice subtle changes in tone and vibration, all of which help them express that they're happy and doing just fine.
A lesser-known motive: Cats may also use this vocalisation to comfort themselves when they're scared, so be sure to give your furbaby lots of love when you hear their little motor running.
When a cat hisses and or even growls, it's not because they're being mean; they are frightened and therefore defensive. Your cat may hiss at a stranger who visits your home (or, for that matter, someone they know but just don't like) or even at another cat as a warning to "back off." Ultimately they're reminding everyone who the real boss is (hint: It's not you).
"If you can," advises Animal Planet, "ignore the hissing instead of yelling or staring down your cat." Just allow time and your inherent affection for them to resurface, and the hissing will dissipate. Giving them the space they need to calm their nerves will always help your cat feel more secure.
If you think howling is just for dogs, think again! The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) points out that "some breeds of cats, notably the Siamese, are prone to excessive meowing and yowling," so you may just have a loud little girl. Any cat who is "reproductively intact" will howl to attract a mate as well.
If your cat doesn't fit these criteria, they may howl because they're in an emergency situation, perhaps trapped somewhere or even injured. In other scenarios, cats howl because they want you to come right now to see the prey they brought you (and it's not always a toy). In any case, give your vocal housemate your immediate attention to ensure everything is alright.
This is one of the odder cat noises reserved for very special occasions. Often times your cat will chirp, or trill, to alert the household when they see a bird, squirrel, or bunny outside the window. It's not a full-length meow but rather a command kittens learn at a young age, according The Humane Society, when their mom uses the sound to keep their babies in line. If you have more than one cat, you may also hear them converse with one another the same way. They'll eventually use this trick on you to lead you to their food dish or herd you to bed
Paying close attention to these cat sounds will create an even more meaningful bond between you and your best pal. It will also help you better understand their needs so you can provide them with everything they need to feel happy, healthy, and safe.
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.