Why Do Cats Meow?

Cats scratch, purr, and sleep, but haven’t you always wondered, “why do cats meow"?

Most cats meow. Some are constantly talking to you, and others only get vocal when they want food or you accidentally step on their tail. But why do cats meow? Is it similar to dogs barking for our attention or because they see something outside? Or is it a secret cat language that humans still need to figure out? If your cat meows at you a lot, make sure you aren’t doing one of these things that your cat hates.

What does it mean when a cat meows?

“A meow is not just a simple cat sound, it’s actually a method of communication,” says Mikel Delgado, cat behavior expert with Rover. Your cat may be trying to communicate with you to say that they are hungry, want attention, are bored, or they might just be saying hello. Cats will also realize that their demands are met when they meow so they may start doing it to bribe you into giving them something. So, the answer to the question, “Why do cats meow?” really has an endless list of answers. The more you get to know your cat, the quicker you’ll understand what they want from you. Another strange thing cats do? Eat grass. Here’s why they do it.

Do cats meow to talk to humans?

“Cats actually don’t meow much to communicate with each other, but meow primarily to communicate with their humans,” says Delgado. However, mother cats communicate to their kittens to help them if they get lost and kittens will meow at their mothers when they are hungry. But, once they mature into adults, they no longer communicate with each other through meows.

“When cats are communicating with each other, they make a sound similar to a meow but more drawn out like a yowl,” says Delgado.

What do the different types of meows mean?

“Meows come in many styles and are your cat’s all-purpose vocalization,” Delgado tells Reader’s Digest. “They might meow when they’re happy, upset, agitated, or any other emotion.” A short meow might mean “hello” or “pay attention to me!” If your cat lets out a more drawn out meow, it might be a complaint, like their stomach hurts or they want dinner. And a series of short meows might be a conversation starter such as, “Hey! Seriously! Pay attention to me!”

Even more than vocalization, Delgado says that a great way to interpret what your cat is trying to tell you is through their body language. Here’s how to decode your cat’s behavior.

Some cats are more vocal than others and if yours is more on the quiet side, they’ll ask for your attention in other ways. The more you observe your cat’s behavior the more you’ll start to understand their cat noises or cat language. Now that you can answer, “why do cats meow?” learn about the signs that your cat trusts you.

Morgan Cutolo
Morgan is an Associate Editor at Reader’s Digest. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2016 where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. She writes for rd.com, helps lead the editorial relationship with our partners, manages our year-round interns, and keeps the hundreds of pieces of content our team produces every month organized. In her free time, she likes exploring the seacoast of Maine where she lives and works remotely full time and snuggling up on the couch with her corgi, Eggo, to watch HGTV or The Office.