Trying to communicate with your cat can be a frustrating process. Unlike dogs who seem happy to talk to you at all hours, cats seem happy to simply stare silently as you ramble on about your day.
Still they all meow. All cat owners have heard it, maybe even in the middle of the night! When you listen at first, it might not sound as if there’s any particular rhyme or reason for the increase in talkative behavior, but rest assured, each time your cat meows it’s because they want something from you.
In this article, we’re going to examine the instinct behind meowing before looking at some of the most common reasons your cat keeps shouting at you.
The Psychology Of Meowing
One of the most interesting aspects of cats is their relationship to humans. While dogs have been domesticated for tens of thousands of years and forged a close bond with humans in the process, cats are a relatively recent addition to our families. This means that cats are still developing a “standard” domesticated behavior, and one of the best examples is the meow itself.
Kittens will meow at their moms when something is wrong with them (or if they just want a quick bite to eat) but as they get older and become more independent, cats in the wild actually stop meowing to one another.
When you bring your new feline friend home though, they lose that independence and essentially become entirely reliant on you for their daily needs, especially if they’re an indoor only cat. If they’re already kittens when you adopt them, this can also “lock” them into a perpetual state of kittenhood, with you as their mother or father!
What all of this means is that when a cat meows, they’re not just saying hi. You need to carefully be paying attention to where they’re standing and what they’re looking at, while also thinking about anything you might have forgotten to do to elicit these complaints. When a cat meows it’s because they need something, so get off the computer and go see what’s up.
Meowing For Attention
For healthy, happy cats, this is generally the most common meow heard by parents all around the world. After a long day of being left home alone, when you finally get home from work it’s often the case that your cat will greet you right at the front door, meowing away.
They might just want to be picked up for a quick snuggle before you start preparing dinner, or they could be filled with energy and itching for some playtime. As always, take some cues from his body language. Is she standing at the other end of the hallway, slowly flicking her tail? Then her meows probably mean she’s bored, so start tossing the ball around to get her running!
Regardless of exactly what kind of attention they crave though, it’s always a good idea to spend 15-20 minutes a few times a day to try and play with your cat. If you tend to play at specific times of day on a regular basis, then her meowing can simply become a routine, even if they have no real intention of running around. In these cases, simply trying to play will be enough to please your cat, and have them happy that they crossed “attention meowing” off their to-do list.
Meowing for Basic Needs
The most primal of meows arises when their basic needs aren’t being met. For example, if you’re someone who leaves some kibble out for your cat throughout the day while you’re gone at work, you might come home to find your four-legged friend particularly peckish if she scarfed it all down as soon as you left.
Likewise, cats are extremely particular with their water. Whether you fill up their dish with fresh water every day or have a fountain running 24/7, meowing by the feeding station could indicate that it’s time to freshen up your offerings.
This goes double for cleaning the litter-box as well. Just like humans, cats are fairly “regular,” but if you tried giving them a new can of food that didn’t sit well, then the litter could be dirtier than you might expect. Don’t assume that it’s clean just because it was recently emptied.
If you’re new to the world of cats, it might be hard to distinguish the individual vocalizations, but needs-based meows can be differentiated from attention-based ones with their body language. If they’re hungry or thirsty, cats will often lead you into their feeding area as they call out to you which is the clearest sign you can have until you start to pick out the subtle differences in pitch and tone.
They’re Stressed or Scared
A meowing cat isn’t always a happy cat. Just like kneading or even purring, meows can be a sign that there’s something your cat just isn’t happy with. These vocalizations tend to be louder, more frequent, and at a higher pitch to boot which makes them extremely easy to identify just by listening to them and are most commonly heard when your cat is in a carrier on his or her way to the vet.
While you can’t do much to alleviate their stress in these specific circumstances, if you hear these types of meows around the house then you need to immediately start looking for the cause of their unhappiness. It could be something as simple as getting themselves trapped under the dresser or inside the bathroom without you knowing about it, but it still warrants a quick scan to make sure it’s nothing serious.
A quick note on this point is that once the cause of their fear is gone, the meowing will typically immediately stop. If you think you found the problem but your cat keeps meowing, then keep trying. However, if you’ve exhausted all your possible suspicions, then it might be time for a quick trip to the vet because…
There Might Be Something Medically Wrong
There are a number of issues that could be the cause of frequent, unpleasant meowing, ranging from a physical external injury that you can see to more internal medical afflictions. Cats are susceptible to many of the same diseases or ailments that can affect humans (such as hypertension, for example) and the symptoms almost always lead to an increased frequency of meowing.
More commonly, the key issues that you need to be looking out for are issues with their thyroid or kidneys, both of which could cause them to always feel thirsty of hungry, encouraging them to call out to you. In either case, treatments for these conditions might require medication, so it’s critical that you take your cat to the vet the second you suspect something might be wrong.
One issue complicating this point is that as cats get older, their cognitive abilities start to decrease, which could result in meowing due to confusion or disorientation. However, older cats are also more likely to develop the diseases we just looked at, so if you have an elderly cat that has suddenly become more vocal, it might not be innocent confusion, but instead a symptom of something more dangerous. Be safe, and take them to get checked out to make sure that any potential problems are spotted early, and dealt with.
They Need Your Help Getting Around
Cats are social creatures, and while they can be aloof and mysterious, they absolutely love to be near their favorite humans. If you live in a small apartment, having bedrooms, bathrooms, and closets closed off can feel quite claustrophobic, even to an 8-pound cat! In these cases, meowing at closed doors or walls can be them simply calling you over to open the door and let them investigate the interior.
Cats love to explore, and while there many products and chemicals in bathrooms that you might not want them stuffing their noses into, it can be a good idea to let them in once in awhile under your supervision to give them some excitement.
While this is something that more frequently occurs with indoor cats, outdoor cats can still display this a similar behavior if they’re starting to feel the itch to go outside. If the weather is bad, or you’re trying to transition them into being exclusive indoor cats, outdoor cats can become quite impatient, and you will see them meow at anything that might lead outside can be a common sight.
They’re not Spayed or Neutered
This isn’t generally a concern with cats adopted from rescue shelters with proper documentation, but there are still countless pet owners who suddenly find themselves with a cat after being adopted by the friendly neighborhood feline.
If these cats lived outdoors their entire lives they won’t be fixed, which can lead to frequent meowing as they look for a mate. This occurs throughout the spring and summer, and typically lasts about a week each month. It’s always strongly recommended to get your pets fixed, but until that day comes there isn’t much that you can do to alleviate the meowing, other than to bear with it until it stops.
Ultimately, meowing is an instinct that comes from kittenhood to speak to their parents that cats have quickly learned to apply to us humans. Whether they’re doing it for attention, food, stress, medical emergencies, because they want to move around, or they’re in heat, each and every meow means they need something. Whenever you hear your cat starting up a conversation with you, put yourself in their shoes and try to figure out what exactly it is they want. They don’t ask for much, so even if it’s something as simple as a belly rub, indulging them will make their day.