Meow Back at Your Cat – Do They Really Like It or Are You Just Annoying Them?


Many cat owners have experienced it – your cat meows at you, so you meow back. Some cats seem fascinated and intrigued by this human interaction, while others appear indifferent or confused. But do cats actually enjoy this meow-versation? The simple answer is – it depends on the cat! While reasons behind feline vocalizations remain mysterious, research suggests domestic cats use meows to communicate with humans, not other cats. So you may be able to strengthen your relationship and bond with kitty through meow exchanges. However, take care not to overdo it, as excessive meowing could annoy or stress out your furry friend. In this article, we’ll explore why cats meow at their owners, examine their reactions to human meows, and provide tips for appropriate meow responses.

Cats Use Meows to Communicate

Cats primarily use meowing to communicate with humans, not with other cats. According to anthrozoologist John Bradshaw, cats developed meowing specifically as a way to communicate with humans.1 While cats do sometimes meow at each other, meows comprise only about 10-15% of cat-to-cat communication.2

Cats use different meow sounds and pitches to communicate different meanings to their human companions. Some common cat meow meanings include:

  • Short, repetitive meows – used by a hungry cat asking for food
  • Long, drawn-out meows – often a greeting or an expression of discontent
  • High-pitched meows – usually a sign of distress, pain, or need for attention
  • Chirping meows – a friendly greeting or expression of excitement

By listening closely to your cat’s meows in context, you can start to discern specific meanings and better understand what your cat is communicating.

Human Meows Sound Different

Human meows often sound different from cat meows for a few key reasons. Cats have a unique vocal anatomy that allows them to make high-pitched meowing sounds that humans can’t fully replicate (1). When humans try to mimic cat meows, the sounds tend to be lower pitched and have less tonal variation compared to real cat meows.

Studies have analyzed acoustics of cat meows versus human imitations. One analysis found the peak frequency of cat meows ranged from 400-600 Hz, while human meows peaked around 200-300 Hz (2). Cat meows also had more complexity, with modulation across multiple frequencies.

Some examples of differences:

  • Cat meows often start soft then get louder, while human meows have a more consistent volume.
  • Cat meows slide between different pitches, but human meows stay at one pitch.
  • Cats incorporate trills and chirps into meows, which are hard for humans to imitate.

So in summary, cat meows utilize high frequencies, tonal shifts, and intricate sounds that humans can’t exactly replicate vocally. When humans meow, cats likely recognize it’s an attempt at communication, but know it’s not coming from another cat.

Cats May Not Recognize Human Meows

Research suggests that cats may not actually recognize human attempts at meowing. According to one study from Catster, while cats are excellent communicators among themselves using meows and other vocalizations, human meows sound very different to cats.

There are a few reasons cats likely do not recognize human meows as attempts at communication:

  • The human vocal tract is very different from a cat’s, so the sounds we make when trying to meow can sound strange or non-catlike to cats.
  • Cats mainly use specific meow sounds to communicate with each other, not generalized meowing. So they may not recognize meows from humans as communication.
  • Each cat has a unique meow that they use to communicate. So even mimicking a housemate cat’s meow may not register to them as familiar.
  • The pitch, tone, and frequency of human meows falls outside cats’ vocal range, so it does not sound authentic to them.

In summary, while humans can attempt to mimic cat vocalizations, research indicates cats likely do not actually recognize these sounds as familiar communication. Their meows serve a specific purpose for cat-to-cat interaction using their own unique vocal range.

Some Cats Enjoy Human Meows

While not all cats may recognize human meows, some cats do seem to enjoy and respond positively to their owners meowing at them. According to one cat owner, “My cat loves it when I meow at her. She’ll come running into the room and meow back excitedly” (source). Another cat parent reports that their cat gets very engaged and animated when the owner imitates cat noises (source).

There are a few reasons why some cats may enjoy and interact with human meows:

  • The cat recognizes the human is attempting to communicate in the cat’s language, which the cat finds intriguing.
  • The meows get the cat’s attention, encouraging social interaction and playtime.
  • The cat interprets the meowing as a sign of affection from their human.
  • Some cats are very social and enjoy any interaction with their human, including meowing back and forth.

So while not all cats may understand or care about human meows, certain extroverted, social cats seem to find the experience rewarding and entertaining.

Meowing Can Strengthen Bond

Meowing back and forth with your cat can help strengthen the emotional bond between you. When a cat meows, it is trying to communicate something to you. By responding with a meow of your own, you are showing your cat that you are listening and interested in what they have to say.

According to animal behaviorists, meowing is a social communication method that cats use to interact with their human companions. Cats form attachments and social relationships just like people do. Meowing helps facilitate that bond. As Dr. Kathryn Primm, a veterinarian, states: “Cats do meow when they are first born and use it as a form of communication with their mother, and the fact that they choose to meow or ‘chat’ with you means they have bonded with you.” [1]

By engaging in a back and forth meowing conversation with your cat, you are showing them that you are invested in the relationship. This reciprocal communication strengthens your connection. It’s similar to having a conversation with a friend – exchanging words reinforces the social bond.

Additionally, research has shown that when humans imitate cat vocalizations like meowing, it can increase oxytocin levels and positive social behaviors in both the human and the cat. Oxytocin is known as the “love hormone” that facilitates bonding. So meowing together literally makes you both feel more affectionate! [2]

In summary, vocalizing back and forth with meows gives your cat important social interaction while also strengthening your mutual bond through communication and increased oxytocin. It allows you to create a deeper connection with your feline friend.

Risks of Over-Meowing

While some cats may enjoy human meows in moderation, overdoing it can have risks. Meowing too frequently at a cat when they haven’t meowed first can be perceived as annoying or confusing to the cat. Cats use meows purposefully to communicate specific needs, so a human meowing without a clear reason could frustrate them.

Excessive meowing from humans can also end up encouraging cats to meow more often themselves. Since cats are highly trainable, they may learn that meowing gets attention from their human. So frequent human meowing can inadvertently reinforce cats to meow more for attention or treats. This can become an undesirable behavior if the cat starts waking their owner up in the middle of the night with loud meows.

The key is to limit human meows to contextually appropriate situations. Only meowing back occasionally when your cat meows first is less likely to annoy them or encourage problematic meowing habits.

When to Avoid Meowing

While some cats enjoy a good back-and-forth meow conversation with their humans, there are certain times when it is best to refrain from meowing at your cat.

One of the key times to avoid meowing is when your cat is sleeping or trying to rest. Cats sleep over 15 hours a day on average, and need undisturbed rest for their health and wellbeing. Meowing at a sleeping or resting cat can startle them awake when their body needs rejuvenation. Let sleeping cats lie.

It’s also wise not to meow at an anxious, scared, or irritated cat. Meowing at cats who are already distressed may amplify their unease. For example, meowing at a frightened cat who is hiding under the bed or dealing with unfamiliar guests may further stress them out. Similarly, meowing at an irritated cat who is swishing their tail, growling, or has flattened ears is not recommended, as it could provoke them further.

Additionally, repeatedly meowing at a cat who is not interested or not meowing back can become bothersome for the cat. Make sure your cat seems receptive and engaged before sustaining a long meow exchange. Pay attention to their body language and behavior cues to discern if they’re in the meowing mood.

In general, refrain from meowing excessively at your cat or using it as a main way to get their attention. Overdoing it could annoy some cats. Let your cat initiate most meow conversations, and learn their signals for when they’re not interested.

How to Meow at Your Cat

Here are some tips for meowing effectively at your cat:

  • Start with a soft, friendly meow. Don’t make it too loud or forceful, as this may startle your cat.
  • Try to mimic your cat’s natural vocalizations. Notice the pitch, length, and tone your cat uses when meowing.
  • Keep your meows short, usually 1-3 seconds long. Cats don’t typically meow long sentences.
  • Meow in response when your cat vocalizes. This shows them you are listening.
  • Use a questioning tone when meowing back, as if you’re having a conversation.
  • Don’t overdo it. Meow a few times, then pause to allow your cat to respond.
  • Look at your cat and pay attention to their body language as you meow.

Meowing can be a great way to bond with your cat. Here are some tips for making it a positive experience:

  • Don’t force your cat to meow if they seem uninterested or anxious. Let them walk away if they want.
  • Give your cat praise and affection when they respond to your meows.
  • Limit meow sessions to 5-10 minutes so your cat doesn’t get overwhelmed.
  • Make sure your cat is fed, watered, and has access to their litter box before extended meow sessions.
  • Stop meowing if your cat displays signs of irritation like swishing tail, flattened ears, or bared teeth.
  • Never punish or scold your cat for not meowing back.


To summarize, the answer to whether cats like it when humans meow back at them is not straightforward. While some cats may find human meows confusing or irritating, others seem to enjoy the interaction and bond with their owners through meowing exchanges. Moderation is key, as excessive meowing can overwhelm some cats. Consider your cat’s unique personality and preferences when deciding to meow back. Start with just a few responsive meows and gauge their reaction to determine if they like communicating this way. Though cats and humans speak different languages, with patience and care, meowing can potentially deepen your relationship. Just be sure not to overdo it, and watch for signs of annoyance or fear. With the proper approach, meowing together could become an enriching part of your bond. The takeaway is to experiment mindfully with meowing and see if your feline friend enjoys conversing in their native tongue.

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