From newborn kittens to adult cats, meowing can mean many different things. Life stage is an important consideration when it comes to determining the nature of a cat’s meow.
Kittens meow to their mothers when they want attention, need food or milk, or are cold. Meowing for kittens is normal. When cats get older, they can meow for various reasons—they may be seeking attention or trying to communicate with people. There can also be more serious reasons for the meowing, which may include illness, loneliness, or stress. It is important to spend time with and monitor your cat every day to ensure that they’re in good health. If you notice they are meowing excessively, this could indicate a need to see the vet.
Here’s what you need to know if your cat meows a lot or won't stop meowing.
Meowing vs yowling
Has your cat ever meowed so loudly that it sounds like the equivalent of a human scream? This meow would likely be more accurately called a yowl. Yowling is generally louder and more aggressive than meowing. Wondering why your cat is yowling? Cats yowl to communicate with other cats, while they meow to communicate with people. If your cat is yowling, they could be in heat or staking out their territory in the neighborhood. The takeaway is that a yowling cat usually isn’t talking to their human.
Top reasons why cats excessively meow
Cats can meow excessively for a variety of reasons, the more serious of which include illness, loneliness, stress, pregnancy, or old age. Or, your cat might simply be looking for attention or wondering why their food bowl is empty. Research shows that humans statistically are not great at deciphering the cause of a meow; so if you’re concerned about your cat language translation skills, you’re not alone. Here’s how you can tell the difference and understand why your cat won't stop meowing:
If your cat spends many hours alone during the day, they may feel lonely. This can be easily remedied by asking a friend or neighbor to spend some time with your pet. If you have a pet camera, you can rule this in or out as a cause of the meowing. Some cameras have a feature that allows you to speak to your cat while you’re away. A fun and entertaining way to alleviate loneliness is to consider putting a bird feeder outside a window or leaving different toys out for play. Another very common solution is adopting another pet! What cat doesn’t need their own pet cat or dog?
Cats meow to communicate with people. A hungry cat may meow every time someone walks into the kitchen, hoping to be fed. It’s basically their way of saying, “Hey, human! I’m hungry!”
Many cats get very vocal near their feeding time. To help reduce this kind of behavior, wait until they stop meowing before feeding them. If you don't give them any food when they meow, they will learn that this tactic doesn’t work to get your attention. Another easy way to solve this problem is to get an automatic cat feeder that dispenses food based on a customizable schedule. Routine feedings are ideal for cats and the automatic feeder takes the stress of maintaining that routine off of you.
Some cats don’t like being ignored or left alone, so they’ll meow to get your attention. Remember that it is important to spend quality time with your cat every day—don’t ignore them! Preferably, you should spend at least 5-10 minutes playing with your cat each day and give them plenty of cuddles.
Health or medical issues
If your cat meows excessively after you’ve ruled out hunger and attention-seeking behavior, you’ll want to take them to your veterinarian for a checkup. Any abnormal behavior is a sign that something might be wrong. Common issues cats can develop include urinary disease or anxiety, so a good first step is to check for any health issues. Many issues can cause stress or pain, leading to excessive meowing.
When cats want to breed they make a lot of noise. Females yowl when they are in heat, while males yowl when they smell a female in heat. They can get very noisy and disturb not only you, but others in the neighboring area. A good way to prevent this type of meowing is to get your pet spayed or neutered.
Why do cats meow at night?
A common cat misconception is that cats are nocturnal—they are not. Cats are crepuscular: this means they are most active at dawn and dusk. That being said, some cats do tend to meow a lot at night and this can be especially true for senior cats. Senior cats can suffer mental confusion or cognitive dysfunction. They can become disoriented and cry without any apparent reason, especially at night. Try a nightlight to prevent disorientation at night or contact your veterinarian to help ease any discomfort they’re feeling.
Additionally, check your home for possible environmental deterrents. If you have a pet or baby gate on the stairs, is the cat door closed and now your cat is trapped on the other side? Did you accidentally close your cat in the laundry room? Because cats tend to meow to communicate with humans, if you don’t believe that a medical condition is the cause, take the time to check on your cat and see if there is a simple, effective solution.
Why is my cat so vocal? Is it normal?
Excessive meowing depends on the breed, living environment, and the cat’s personality. Some cats just like to hear their voices, and others want to have a “conversation” with the people around them.
It’s important to know what is normal for your cat. If your cat is adopted, try asking the shelter or previous owner about their meowing habits. If your cat meows a lot, this will help you understand that your cat is healthy and the meowing is normal.
Most vocal cat breeds
Far and away the most notoriously vocal cat breed is the Siamese cat. This ancient breed has been a companion to temple priests, a revered patron of royal families, and a contributor to countless modern feline pedigrees. With such a storied history, it’s no wonder these cats feel the need to voice their opinions at any given moment!
This colorpoint cat breed is loving, entertaining, and sure to break the silence almost constantly. Be prepared to have many conversations (well, perhaps more listening on your part) when a Siamese kitty is around.
The Siamese is also a parent breed (or in some cases, grandparent breed) to many of the other most talkative cat breeds, including the following:
- Balinese: Widely considered to be the long-haired version of the Siamese (and “hypoallergenic”).
- Oriental Shorthair: Crossbred from the Siamese, but can display 300+ coat colors and patterns.
- Tonkinese: A hybrid of Siamese and Burmese cats (both having originated in Southeast Asia).
- Colorpoint Shorthair: A cross between the Siamese and a red American Shorthair.
- Javanese: A semi-longhair version of the Colorpoint Shorthair crossed with the Balinese.
- Peterbald: A hairless breed whose parents include the Oriental Shorthair and Donskoy.
What to do when your cat is excessively meowing
If you find your cat won't stop meowing, or are wondering why your cat is yowling, it’s a good idea to make sure it is not a sign of a health problem. Check on your cat when they meow to make sure they are okay.
You shouldn’t punish a cat for meowing. Punishments like hitting, shouting, or spraying with water almost never work, and will likely result in your cat retaliating in some other way (such as peeing outside of the litter box). Reward good behavior and ignore the meowing until your cat understands that meowing won’t give them what they want. Cats are highly intelligent and will learn behavior with positive reinforcement.
Why can’t my cat meow?
On the flip side, sometimes a cat’s meow is very quiet, raspy, or even lacking altogether. If your cat falls into this category, the reason may again relate to personality or breed. Your cat may have never learned to communicate with their mother as a kitten, or they simply prefer to stay quiet most of the time.
Chartreux cats—known for being great mousers in French monasteries as early as the 16th century—are thought to have been selectively bred to have silent voices. Other cat breeds that are generally known for their quiet presence include the British Shorthair, Persian, Exotic Shorthair, and Himalayan.
If your cat used to meow at normal (or excessive) levels and is suddenly silent, make an appointment with your vet to rule out any medical issues. Cats can develop laryngitis or growths such as polyps and tumors that inhibit their ability to meow.
Cats meow to get your attention
Why do cats meow? Because it is normal! Meowing is your cat’s way of speaking, and they like to communicate with you or ask for attention.
But if you’re still wondering why your cat is meowing so much, try to figure out the cause of the excessive meowing and how you can help. If there is a potential health problem, seek the advice of your veterinarian. If your cat is lonely or only seeking attention, have a friend check up on them or consider adopting another pet to keep them company. And be sure to give them a lot of attention while you are at home!
Give your cat environmental enrichment while you’re not around with cat furniture to play on. If your cat meows for food at odd times of the day, you can use an automatic pet feeder like Feeder-Robot to dispense meals automatically. You can also get a self-cleaning litter box like Litter-Robot so that they are comfortable in a clean litter box. Once you know what’s happening, it’ll be easier to correct their meowing behavior.
- What’s in a Meow? A Study on Human Classification and Interpretation of Domestic Cat Vocalizations
- Meowing and Yowling
- The Cat's Meow! Caterwauling in Cats
Cover photo by Jae Park on Unsplash