Why Do Cats Meow & What Are They Saying?
Hola! Bonjour! Aloha! Meow! There are many ways to say hello, and cat meowing is one of them. Cats use meows only when they're communicating with humans. They don't meow to other cats. And while their vocalization repertoire includes many sounds (purring equals contentment, hissing equals discontent), the meow is just for us, their humans.
Why Do Cats Meow at Us?
Cats are highly intelligent animals, and they have things to say. When cats meow at you, they are actively engaging you in conversation. They are most likely making eye contact. This vocalization may indicate simple hellos or something the cat would like you to do. In other words, a meow may be your cue to act.
Should You Talk Back to Your Cat?
According to Marilyn Krieger (aka The Cat Coach), a San Francisco-based certified cat behavior consultant and author of Naughty No More: Change Unwanted Behaviors Through Positive Reinforcement), the answer is ABSOLUTELY!
Meowing, she says, is "a form of communication that helps build a bond between a person and cat." Krieger encourages cat owners to chat up their cats, just like they would human friends. "I talk to my cats," she says. "I encourage it."
And when humans respond to cat meowing, the kitty takes note. "The consequences of a behavior predict if a behavior will be repeated," Krieger says. So when you respond to your cat's behavior, such as a meow, it encourages the cat to repeat the action. And this is how you get a conversation going. "When people respond to cats, essentially you are training your cat to talk back to you," Krieger says. (Actually, the jury is out on whether you're training your cat, or Fluffy is training you.)
What’s That Kitty Saying?
"Hi! how are you!" Your cat may meow at you as you walk in the door after work or when she runs into you in the hallway as she looks for a sunny spot to catch some ZZZs. This is a simple one-way communication, much like a human's nod or tip of the hat.
"Hey, please notice me." Cats are social creatures, just like humans, and they may throw a meow your way to get your attention. You can answer them back, and that may satisfy their need for conversation and attention. Or they may have other needs to be filled. (Read on.)
"I'm hungry over here!" Most cats aren't shrinking violets when it comes to demanding food. If they're used to seeing that bowl full of vittles, they may meow at you to get you to fill it up again if—heaven forbid!—you forget. Likewise, if you offer treats at a certain time of day, say just before bed, an inquiring meow could be asking, "Shouldn't we be breaking out the Whisker Lickin's right about now?"
"Where have you been?" Some cat owners find their pets are a little more verbal if they've been left alone for longer than usual. For example, a cat could become super chatty after her owner returns from vacation.
"Lemme out!" or "Lemme in!" Felines want to go where felines want to go, and when an indoor-outdoor cat keeps meowing at the door, she could be telling you it's time to go out or to come back in. Pet owners who have screened porches may find their cats meowing when they want in and out of the screened areas. Some cats have specific rooms they prefer, and if the door is closed, they will let you know about it.
What If My Cat Meows Too Much?
If your cat suddenly becomes more verbal than usual, something might be wrong. Time to check in with your veterinarian.