Top 6 Reasons Why Cats Meow

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Cats are a reserved bunch, communicating with us if and when they feel like it. So it behooves you to pay attention when they're talking! Read on to learn the fascinating reasons behind your cat's meow, and how different sounding meows can mean different things - even things that warrant a trip to the veterinarian's office.

How was your day? Great, now feed me!

Dog owners think that they have the corner on being enthusiastically greeted when they return home from a long day in the salt mines. But cat owners also get greeted by their kitties! Cats learn to communicate as kittens in this fashion, and it's probably a way for the kitten to make sure that it can be found by its mom, once it starts venturing further and further away and exploring its surroundings. It starts out as sort of a "hey, I'm over here!" kind of signal, and as cats mature and form associations with their humans, the human reinforces the behavior, so the cat meows when it sees its human.

Its interesting that even deaf cats seem to know how to meow, and many of them do it to quite loudly. Again, it's thought that the human reinforcement that occurs when the cat vocalizes (in the form of a "meow") encourages the behavior, and thus the cat continues it.

Hey — Over Here!

Once you and your cat get past the initial pleasantries of greeting each other, your cat uses its voice box to get your attention, as need be. Cats beckon us when they want to play, or when they just want to cuddle or share space. They'll also use their voices to let you know that the door to the room with the litter box is closed, or that they'd like the window open for a bit of fresh air. And probably the most urgent of feline vocalizations comes at that terrifying moment when the kibble bowl reaches the half-full point - remember, the bowl is almost always half-empty, when you're a cat.

It's worth pointing out that scientific studies (that's right - SCIENCE!) show that when you spend time caressing an animal, your blood pressure and heart rate goes down. So if your cat is looking to attract your attention, give it to them - it's stress-reducing!

Love is in the air

In the United States, the overwhelming majority of owned cats are spayed or neutered. So many of us cat owners don't get to experience the joy of being kept awake at night by the mating calls of intact cats, but if you've heard this bizarre type of meow, you'll likely not soon forget it.

The mating call of a cat that's ready for love starts off as a "meooooowwwwwwwww," then rapidly progresses to a "yoooooowwwwwwlllllllll." Some people have even mistaken this type of meow for the sound of a baby crying - this author included, given the simultaneous fog-inducing states of veterinary school and motherhood. As if overpopulation, sexually-transmitted diseases, and the dangers associated with "catting around" in the midnight hours weren't enough, ending the mating meow should be a great reason for anyone to get their cat spayed or neutered.

Loss of vision

This one is interesting. Earlier in the article, we talked about how cats learn as kittens to vocalize as a tool to indicate to their mothers where they are. Once they live with humans, meowing again signals location, and when we reward them by going to their location and acknowledging them, we reinforce the behavior, and it continues.

Sudden blindness or decreased vision is often a cause for increased vocalization. A cat that can't see well may meow more, in an attempt to find its people, which in a sense is a way of verifying location and navigating in the dark. Cats most commonly lose their vision due to extreme hypertension (high blood pressure), which comes on secondary to heart disease or kidney failure. Any increase in vocalization warrants a visit to the veterinarian, and a thorough eye examination should be performed to look for ocular abnormalities.

The feline equivalent of "Ouch!"

When you think about it, cats have a limited number of vocal tricks in their bag. The family dog can whine, yip, bark (typically in a number of different ways), and howl. And if you're my Chihuahua and one of the family cats gets too close to you, you can actually scream like a little girl, but that's another story.

Cats can pretty much only meow as a way to communicate with us, so it's best if you pay attention to the tone and situation when your cat vocalizes. Pain often causes a cat to meow loudly, and one of the most common types of pain that seems to trigger loud meowing is urinary pain. There are a number of urinary conditions that cats are prone to, including sterile cystitis (severe bladder and urethral inflammation), urinary tract infections, and urinary stones. If you hear your cat meowing loudly and find it in or near the litter box, monitor this behavior closely to see if the vocalization is occurring simultaneously with the attempt to urinate. And if there's a correlation, get your kitty right into the veterinarian.

Beware the angry cat

Even the most docile and chill of cats can become agitated, given the appropriate stimulus. A new cat or dog in the household, the presence of erratic children, and a trip to the veterinarian's office are all common stress triggers for cats. In this case, the normal meow takes on an urgent and plaintive tone, indicating extreme displeasure with the situation and all those involved in it. In these cases, your best best is to give your cat some space, because what it's really telling you is that it needs to be left alone. And a cat that's seeing red can lash out with claws and teeth to its most beloved of humans, so it's best not to try to soothe a cat in this situation, lest you draw back a bloody stump.

Written by PetCoach Editorial September 12, 2018
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