Feline Vocalization: What Chatters, Chirps, Trills Mean

Your cat has a number of different vocalizations, and if you’re like many of us, you have no idea what they all mean. She might “chatter” when she sees a bird outside, or when you put the little red dot on the ceiling where she can’t reach it. Sometimes, she chirps, and sometimes she trills, but you can’t quite figure out what she’s saying. What does a uniquely feline vocalization mean?

Feline vocalization 1: The chatter

Many of us have seen and heard this particular feline vocalization. Your cat, while watching out the window or staring at something on the ceiling, issues a strange sound from her throat while her lower jaw shudders. This is known as chattering, and, according to Cat Behavior Associates, there are a couple of possible explanations for this.

Some experts think that cats chatter this way because they’re frustrated they can’t reach their prey. Others think it’s a reflex action that comes from anticipating the killing bite. Still others believe that it’s how cats control their excitement over seeing their prey appear.

It’s also entirely possible that cats chatter for all three reasons, and it depends on the cat. If your cat chatters, see if you can find out what she’s watching, and if you can determine her mood. Perhaps you’ll be able to decode her personal chatter.

Feline vocalization 2: The chirp

This is often a high-pitched sound that cats make when they’re surprised, according to Petplace. You’ve probably heard your cat do this when you’ve touched her while she wasn’t even aware of your presence. Dr. Debra Primovic says that it’s similar to her giving you a surprised, “Hi!”

Kali’s behavior certainly bears this out. She’s our most prolific chirper, and almost always does it when we surprise her. Chase sometimes does it, too, but Aria and Gizmo almost never chirp at us.

Feline vocalization 3: The trill

Some think this is the same thing as a chirp, and use the two terms interchangeably. Indeed, the sounds are quite similar, but a trill might be a little bit longer. The Humane Society says that trills are how a mother tells her kittens to follow her. It may also be how adult cats talk vocally to one another.

If your cat uses this feline vocalization on you, she’s probably telling you to follow her. Next time she trills at you and starts walking away, follow her and see if she keeps doing it, and also to see if you can find out what she wants. If she leads you to her empty food bowl or to her favorite napping spot, you know you’ve understood her language.

Of course, she may also just lead you in circles, in which case she’s either playing a game, or she doesn’t know to where she should lead you. But if you pay attention to her vocalizations, you might learn things about her that you never knew before.

Cat language: Learn it, and Make Friends with Cats

Have you ever wondered how to speak cat? Knowing how to speak cat can help you become friends with strange cats, provided they aren’t feral cats (feral cats will fear you pretty much no matter what). Contrary to human-speak, cat-speak isn’t vocal. Yes, cats do use their voices to communicate with us, but that’s not normal in their world. Cats speak in much more subtle ways, and if you want to make friends with them, it’s a good idea to learn cat language.

There’s a reason cats like people who don’t like them. It’s because people who don’t like them leave them alone, which frees them to approach, rub, and generally be affectionate. Those people might briefly meet the cat’s gaze, and then look away. In cat language, that’s an invitation, not a deterrent, like it is in human language.

The various forms of cat language

Eye contact is huge in the cat world. Dianne Meriwether says, in The Huffington Post, that all feline aggression starts with eye contact. A polite cat is demure. An aggressive cat stares. Be polite. Next time you want to meet a strange cat, meet her gaze briefly, and then look away. See what happens.

If that works, and the cat decides to approach you, you can move onto the next level of cat language: Smell. Cats identify each other, and things, by scent, more so than they do by sight. Meriwether says that it’s best to offer the cat your hand, or even just a knuckle, to let her sniff and get your scent. Let the cat rub against you first, to mingle scents. This is the cat “claiming” you; she has decided that you’re worthy of becoming part of her territory.

Once she does this, then you can move onto petting her. Stick to the top of her head and her back. Don’t try to touch her belly, her paws, or her chin. Just give her long, full strokes from the top her head, down her back, and up her tail.

At this point, Meriwether says not to start another stroke, because the cat will expect that. The cat, if she really likes you, will pretty much demand that you pet her again. Wait a minute or two, and then pet her again. When she’s asking you to pet her, you’ve become acquaintances with her.

The two biggest pieces of cat language you should know

You’re not friends yet, though. There are two more pieces of cat language you must learn before you can consider yourself friends with any cat. Meriwether says that, when you see her a second time, gently nod your head at her. This is a greeting, and chances are, she’ll nod back.

The final, and perhaps the most powerful, piece of cat language you will ever learn, though, is the long, slow blink. This, in cat language, is a type of kiss. Cats use it to convey friendship and familiarity; it says that they have enough trust in you to actually close their eyes in your presence. Make sure you make it a very slow blink, though, so the cat knows it’s not just a normal blink. If she’s used to this kind of communication, she’ll blink back.

Now you’re friends.

Cats’ Tails: What do They Say, and What do They do?

Understanding how cats communicate is key to understanding cats. They primarily communicate through body language; their vocalizations are just a teeny, tiny part of what they try to tell us. One important aspect of communication is cats’ tails. It’s absolutely amazing what their tails can tell us about what they’re thinking and feeling.

When cats’ tails are up in the air

When a cat has his tail up in the air, without arching or bristling, it usually means he’s feeling friendly. Straight up in the air, according to Maureen K. Fleury, is a greeting, while a shivering tail in this position means excitement or anticipation. Up in the air, with the tip curved (like a question mark), is still friendly, but he might be feeling some reservations about something.

When cats’ tails are up in the air, but twitching slightly, it could mean that they’re feeling slightly irritated. If your cat’s tail twitching actively, it means that he’s getting quite annoyed. If his tail is up, but bushed out, he’s feeling aggressive or defensive, likely against another cat.

When cats’ tails are lowered

If your cat’s tail is gently curved upward, Fleury says it means that something has caught his attention. It could be something outside, inside, a sound, an object, or maybe something that you can’t see. When it’s got a gentle downward curve, but the tip is up, this means that he’s relaxed and content. You might see this after he’s woken up from a nap.

If it’s swishing rapidly from side to side, your cat is angry, and it’s probably wise to leave him alone and let him calm down. If his tail is arched and bristled, it means he’s is ready to attack, but down and bristled means he’s feeling fearful. Either of these means that you should leave your cat alone, and let him calm down in his own time.

What else do cats’ tails do?

You probably already know that your cat uses his tail to balance. According to Catster, it acts as a counterweight when he hops or jumps, or walks along narrow pathways. It also helps him to stay upright when he’s running, while chasing prey, playing, or trying to get away from an enemy.

Catster also says that tail injuries can cause lasting damage, because while the spinal cord doesn’t extend into the tail, the nerves that branch out from it don’t have the protection of the vertebrae that protect the spinal cord itself. Some of these nerves control, and provide sensation for, cats’ tails, and they can be damaged in an injury.

If a tail injury occurs and your vet recommends amputation, fear not. Cats can, and do, live full lives without their tails. They learn to compensate for the lack of a tail pretty easily.

In short, cats’ tails are incredible instruments, and cats use them masterfully for all sorts of things. Pay close attention to your cat’s tail, and learn more about what he’s trying to tell you.

One Irritating, But Important Way Cats Communicate

One fun and enjoyable behavior in which your cat might engage is sticking her butt in your face. For us humans, that’s just gross at best, and a sign of extreme disrespect at worst. Our cats love us, though, and are, at the very least, Oscar-caliber actors and actresses when it comes to respect. Why on earth do they do that? Is this one way cats communicate?

It’s funny, but here at home, we actually don’t deal with this very much. Gizmo is most likely to stick her butt in our faces, but it’s usually because she’s turning circles on us, and trying to get comfortable. When I was a kid, though, my grandmother told me a story about her cat, Lynx. Lynx would always jump on the bed at night, climb onto my grandmother’s stomach, and promptly present her butt. That drove my grandmother nuts.

Cats have scent glands all over, including on their rear ends. Scent is one way cats communicate.

According to Dr. Karen Becker, one way cats communicate is through scent, and exchanging scent. When cats rub on each other, they’re depositing their own scents, and accepting each other’s scents. The same happens when our cats rub on us, and we scratch their ears: We exchange scents. Cats see this as social, as a form of communication.

Dr. Becker also quoted a passage from Vetstreet, which says that this might be your cat’s way of asking for affection. Cats communicate very, very differently than we do, and what we might interpret as contempt, they understand as asking a question, or telling you they want something.

She might also want to reaffirm your social bond

Vetstreet says that there are other possible reasons she’s sticking her butt in your face. She might be trying to reaffirm your social bond, as two cats would when they rub along each other. When two cats do that, they usually end up facing away from each other, with their butts toward each other. Cats communicate with us the same way they communicate with each other, but since we use our hands to rub them instead of our bodies, it might just seem like she’s intentionally sticking her butt in your face.

In short, this is a compliment. You can gently pick her up and turn her around, so that she’s facing you or has her side to you, if this behavior bothers you. Since cats communicate in ways that humans don’t, you might hurt her feelings by pushing her away.

Cats Purr for More Reasons than Happiness

One method of communication cats have, that few other creatures have, is the purr. We’ve always assumed that cats purr only when they’re happy, but that’s not true. Cats purr when they’re nervous, too, and when they’re injured. Mama cats purr right after they’ve given birth. Besides all that, cats have different purrs; some purr loudly, some purr softly, and others purr silently. Why do cats purr, and what do their purrs mean?

Cats purr to help heal themselves

First of all, the frequencies at which cats purr are frequencies that promote healing; specifically, healing of broken bones and damaged muscle tissue, according to Scientific American. However, purring is also thought to be an evolutionary way of conserving energy; in other words, it’s a low-energy way of promoting healing.

This is why cats purr when they’re injured and in pain. There’s also speculation that cats’ purrs help them alleviate problems with bone density, dysplasia and other bone problems that plague domestic dogs. However, cats do purr when they’re happy, and other times too.

Cats purr as communication, too

Purrs are the first form of communication between a mother and her kittens, according to Cat Wisdom 101. Newborn kittens are blind, and mama’s purr tells her kittens, “Here I am.” Cat Wisdom 101 says that cats’ purrs are, in general, a way of saying, “Here I am,” when they’re feeling affectionate. They’re also a way of saying, “Here I am, but don’t hurt me,” when they’re nervous or frightened. It could also be self-soothing, in that the purring helps to calm them a little when they’re scared.

Did you know that the great cats, such as lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars can’t purr, even though they can roar? The lesser cats, like cougars, lynxes, bobcats, servals, caracals and ocelots can purr. Cheetahs can purr, too. Oddly enough, these cats can’t roar.

Each cat has its own, unique purr

We have four cats in our house, and four different types of purrs. Chase purrs almost silently, even when he’s at his happiest and most relaxed. Kali’s purr is a little louder, but oftentimes, we can still barely hear it. We have to scratch her certain ways to make her purr loudly.

Gizmo and Aria, on the other hand, both purr rather loudly, especially when they’re happy and relaxed. They both purr so loudly that they almost trill when they exhale. None of our four cats purrs nonstop for long periods of time; however, Kali and Aria can both purr for awhile when they want to. Gizmo and Chase, on the other hand, purr for short periods of time, off and on.

You can’t tell the difference between pleasure purrs and pain purrs, just from the sound alone. You also have to look at their behavior to know if they’re sick or injured, and purring from pain. Pay careful attention to your cat, especially how she reacts to your touch, if she seems to be purring for no real reason. If you suspect that she’s sick or injured, call your veterinarian.

Cats’ Meows: Is it Possible to Know What they Mean?

When it comes to cats, we might think their meows are their primary method of communication, and we’d be right, but cats only really meow at humans. They almost never meow at each other; they use an entirely different type of communication made up of body language and warning sounds, like growls and hisses. When they meow to us, they’re telling us things. Is there a way to figure out what the different meows mean?

Meows are unique to each cat

According to Dr. Gary Weitzman, the president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society, while it’s true that cats may have anywhere from a dozen to two dozen distinct meows, every cat has its own unique set of meows. Salon reports that he co-wrote a book called “How to Speak Cat,” because, well, we should know how to talk to our cats.

Dr. Weitzman told Salon that you can’t translate a single meow as being, or meaning something, universal, to all cats. However, your cat will have distinct meows for everything from, “Feed me,” to “Let me out,” to “I don’t like this!” And more. Another cat will have meows that sound a little different, that means those same things.

My cats, and their distinctive meows

I’ve noticed some differences with all four of my cats. Their hungry meows, for example, all sound slightly different from one another. Gizmo‘s voice has a very quiet, plaintive sound, while Kali and Chase both have higher pitched meows.

Incredibly enough, Aria doesn’t usually meow when she’s hungry. She does meow when she wants attention. We think she’s losing her voice a little, because she’s getting up there in age, so her “Pet me!” meow has gone from having a musical lilt to being more of a chirp than a meow. She also sometimes has a trill with it.

As you’ll hear in the video below, Kali likes to combine her hungry meow with trills, while Chase often sounds like he has a “double meow.” Chase is the loudest and most vocal cat at feeding time (and really, all the time), and all those loud, demanding meows you hear are coming from Chase, who is the cat that keeps standing up on his hind feet and pawing at the cabinets.

Put your cat’s meows into context to learn what she’s saying

One way you can learn what your cat’s meows mean is to put context with them. What are you doing, and what is she doing? Is she acting like she wants something? Are you fixing food? Is she in her carrier, in the car, or in another situation where she might be distressed? Is she at the door, or at a closet door? Is she pawing at something? What is her body language saying? All of this can help you learn what your cat’s meows mean.

Dr. Weitzman says that cats’ meows are also a way of bonding, and when you meow back, like a crazy cat person, you might actually be intensifying that bonding experience. It might feel like real dialogue, and he believes that in a way, it is. It’s not futile because it’s communication.

Pay close attention to your cat’s meows, and see how many you can identify. So far, I’ve discovered a minimum of five distinct meows for each one of my cats. How many can you hear, and can you figure out what your cat is telling you? Above all, have fun with it!

Eye Contact: How Cats Talk to Each Other, and to Us

Chase is more direct with his gaze than many cats are. He says an awful lot with just his eyes.

 

Cats instinctively avoid eye contact, because in the feline world, direct eye contact is a challenge. A cat backs down from a challenge by averting his gaze, and possibly, turning his back. However, cats also do make direct eye contact with us, and with each other under certain circumstances. Cats’ eyes can tell us many different things.

The size of his pupils are clues to his mood

One way you can read your cat’s mood through his eyes is the size of his pupils. Dr. Nicholas Dodman, at Petplace.com, says that when your cat’s pupils are small slits, it means he’s relaxed, and bordering on vegetative, or dozing. Large pupils in broad daylight, on the other hand, signal agitation. He’s getting ready to fight or run away (although you’ll see your cat’s eyes dilate a lot when he’s playing, too). Dilated pupils can also mean that your cat is in pain.

A slow blink while maintaining eye contact is a special type of communication

Possibly one of the most significant forms of eye contact with cats is the slow blink. You’ve seen your cat do it, though you may not have known what it was. Your cat looks you directly in the eye, and slowly squints hiw eyes shut, and then slowly opens them again and meets your gaze. Some behaviorists call this the “love blink.” Others call it a “kitty kiss.”

According to Pets Adviser, in the wild, the slow blink is a signal to other cats that everything is cool. It’s how cats signal that they’re not threats to each other, so there’s no need for fighting. When your cat does this with you, he’s signaling his happiness and contentment with you.

You can communicate with your cat using eye contact, too. Next time your cat slow blinks at you, try giving him a slow blink back. Close your eyes slowly, and scrunch up your face just a little. Then slowly open them again, and see how he reacts. You might just get a kitty kiss back!