Anybody who has ever lived with a vocal cat surely has asked themselves this question. What is my cat thinking as she meows at your sleeping face in the morning or weaves her way through your legs? The majority of the in-the-wild feline sounds—hissing, spitting, growling, or that high-pitched screaming cats do when fighting or mating—are self-explanatory: anger, fear, or wanting to impress. But what does that regular “meow” mean?
Behaviorists have said that cats meow because they want something and because it works. And the fact that meowing works is indeed a fact.
Some experts say that the sound “meow” in part comes from the fact we, as humans, associate it with a needy crying infant. But it’s also evident that kittens meow when they want something, so it’s not so far-fetched to assume cats didn’t learn to associate meows with requests.
However, meows at varying frequencies, pitches, tones, volumes, and lengths can mean very different things. Maybe one meow is begging you to open the back door, while your cat meows differently just before being fed, and the two are very different than the meow just before scratching behind her ear at bedtime.
No two different cat’s voices are ever exactly the same. However, beyond the vagaries of the voice box, the majority of the variation comes from the cat’s personality, and there’s no predicting how any given human-cat personality pairing might affect meowing. In fact, when some cats learn that meowing brings them satisfaction, the act itself of meowing can become satisfactory.
So, what do you do when the meowing becomes continuous or even becomes an obsessive, repetitive behavior? First, it’s always a good idea to take kitty to the veterinarian’s office to make sure that there isn’t anything wrong. If the veterinarian doesn’t find any physical problems, a visit to a certified animal behaviorist or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist could help you find an answer to the problem.
However, the majority of vocal cats aren’t pathologically troubled, so you can rest assured. Actually, quite the opposite, most are simply and pleasurably voicing their demands.