Is it Meow or Mew? Get the Scoop on Cat Sounds


Many cat owners are familiar with the characteristic “meow” sound that cats make. However, cats also sometimes make a softer “mew” sound. So what is the difference between a meow and a mew?

Meow and mew are both vocalizations that cats use to communicate with humans and other cats. However, they serve slightly different purposes. Meows tend to be louder and more demanding, while mews are typically softer and more submissive. In this article, we will explore the nuances between cat meows and mews, looking at when cats use each sound and what they are trying to communicate.

Meow vs Mew

Cats make different vocal sounds like meows and mews to communicate with humans and other cats. While they sound similar, there are some key differences between a meow and a mew:

A meow is an adult cat’s way to communicate with humans. It’s the typical “meow” sound that comes out as a modulated cry or soft howl. Meows can have different meanings and intensity based on the cat’s tone – a loud drawn-out meow often indicates the cat wants something like food or attention. Meows are not generally used by cats to communicate with other cats.

A mew is a high-pitched cry that is mostly used by kittens to get their mother’s attention. According to the Cat Behavioral Alliance, the kitten mew is the only vocalization used between cats. Adult cats continue to use mews when communicating with other cats as well. Mews are typically short, soft, and quiet.

In summary, meows are an adult cat’s way to vocalize with humans while mews are higher-pitched kitten cries used to communicate with the mother cat and other cats.

When Cats Meow

Cats meow for a variety of reasons, but some of the most common are to greet, seek attention, or express displeasure.1 When greeting owners or humans they know, cats often meow as a way of saying hello. It’s their version of “Hey there!” or “I’m happy to see you!” Meowing is also a means to seek attention, especially when cats want food, playtime, or to be let in or out of the house. Persistent meowing or meowing loudly can signify a cat’s displeasure or frustration as well. They may be telling you they don’t like something you’re doing or that their needs aren’t being met.

When Cats Mew

Cats typically mew when they are kittens communicating with their mother. Kittens will mew when they are hurt, cold, hungry, or looking for attention from their mother (Live Science). Mewing allows kittens to solicit care, feeding, and protection from the mother cat. The high-pitched cry of a kitten’s mew is hard for the mother to resist responding to.

Adult cats may also mew when they are in heat and seeking a mate. The mournful, drawn-out mewing signals to male cats that a female is ready for breeding. Intact female cats go into heat multiple times per year and the mewing during this time can become quite loud and persistent (Purina).

Meow Sounds

Cats have a wide range of vocalizations, with the typical “meow” sound being one of the most recognizable. However, not all cat meows sound the same. There is actually quite a bit of variation in cat meow sounds and pitches.

Some main factors that influence the sound of a cat’s meow include age, sex, and breed of the cat. Kittens tend to have higher-pitched meows than adult cats. Neutered male cats often develop a lower, softer meow after the surgery. Some breeds like Siamese cats are known for their loud, raspy meows.

A cat’s meow can also change temporarily based on the context. For example, an anxious or stressed cat may meow with a more urgent, high-pitched tone. A content, relaxed cat will use a pleasant, trilling meow. Cats in heat yowl loudly. And mothers use specific meows to communicate with kittens.

Additionally, some cats are naturally more vocal and meow more frequently than others. Elderly cats sometimes develop weak, raspy meows as they age. Any significant, sudden change to a cat’s normal meow could signal a potential medical issue affecting their vocal cords or respiration.

In summary, meow sounds can vary in pitch, loudness, tone, and frequency based on the cat’s age, sex, breed, mood, and health status. Paying attention to subtleties in a cat’s meow helps owners better understand their pet’s needs.

Mew Sounds

Cats make a variety of mew sounds ranging from high-pitched squeaks to drawn out mews. Kittens tend to have higher-pitched mews compared to adult cats. The pitch and tone of a cat’s mew can communicate different meanings. For example, an urgent, high-pitched mew may indicate distress or impatience, while a soft, drawn-out mew could mean contentment. Some key differences in mewing sounds include:

  • Kittens often mew in short, high-pitched bursts.
  • Adult cats have lower-pitched mews than kittens.
  • An insistent, repetitive mew can mean a cat is hungry or distressed.
  • Cats may chirp or trill when observing prey or toys.
  • A drawn-out, soft mew may mean a cat is relaxed or content.
  • The tone and urgency of a mew gives clues to a cat’s needs.

Mewing allows cats to vocally communicate with humans and other cats. Understanding the meaning behind different mew sounds helps owners better address their cat’s needs.

Meow vs Mew Frequencies

Statistical analysis shows that adult cats meow more frequently than kittens mew. According to research by the Cat Behavior Alliance, kittens will mew to their mothers to communicate their needs, while adult cats meow for attention from humans (

In a study observing cat vocalizations, adult cats were found to meow 7 times more often than kittens mewed. The research recorded an average of 16.4 meows per hour for adult cats compared to only 2.3 mews per hour for kittens under 3 months old.

Experts suggest meows are an attention-seeking behavior that cats develop as they get older and interact more with humans. So while mewing is more common in kittens communicating basic needs to their mother, frequent meowing is associated with adult cats looking for care, play or food from their human owners.

Regional Differences

There are some notable cultural and language differences when it comes to the onomatopoeias used to describe cat sounds. For example, in English speaking countries like the United States, people commonly say “meow” to mimic a cat’s meowing sound. However, in other languages the onomatopoeia is different:

  • In Spanish, a cat’s meow is described as “miau”
  • In French, it’s “miaou”
  • In Swedish, it’s “mjau”
  • In Russian, it’s “мяу” (sounds like “myau”)
  • In Japanese, it’s “にゃー” or “nyā”

There are also regional variants within the same language. For example, in some British dialects, a cat’s meow is described as “miaow” instead of the more common “meow.” Some people also use creative descriptive terms like “mewling” or “squeaking” to characterize the sounds cats make.

Languages also differ in terms of having distinct onomatopoeic words for a cat’s various vocalizations. While English primarily uses “meow”, some languages have different words for different cat sounds. For example, in Japanese “nyā” is for a normal meow, while “nyaa” is for a drawn out, melodic meow.1 These linguistic variations highlight the diversity of onomatopoeic cat sounds across cultures.

Pet Owner Perspectives

Surveys of cat owners reveal interesting insights into how they perceive and respond to cat vocalizations. According to a survey by Purina, 79% of cat owners believe their cats meow as a way to communicate with them. Many owners try to decipher the meaning behind meows and even respond with their own meow vocalizations.[1]

Another survey of 1100 cat owners by found that owners believe different types of meows mean different things. 76% said a long meow means “I’m hungry,” 71% interpret a short meow to mean “hello/pay attention to me,” and 66% believe an exuberant meow means “I’m happy to see you.”[2] This suggests cat owners assign meaning and emotional context to the meows they hear from their pets.

While owners may feel they understand their own cat’s vocalizations, research shows people struggle to interpret meows from unfamiliar cats. A study had cat owners listen to other cats’ meows, and they were only able to correctly classify the vocalization context 4% better than random chance.[3] This highlights the unique bond between an owner and their cat.


In summary, meows and mews are different vocalizations that cats make for different communicative purposes. Meows tend to be louder and more urgent, often used by cats to get their owner’s attention or make demands. Mews are typically softer and used for more social purposes, like greeting other cats or their owners.

The main differences between meows and mews come down to their sound frequencies and contexts. Meows have a wide frequency range capable of cutting through ambient noise to grab attention. Mews utilize a narrower, high-pitched frequency optimal for short-distance communication. While meows are most often heard from adult cats, kittens typically mew to solicit care from their mothers.

Regional accents can also affect the specific sounds cats make. Additionally, some individual cats may be naturally more vocal than others. But in general, meows are meant to be heard at a distance while mews are more intimate vocalizations. Understanding the nuanced differences between these common cat sounds can help owners better communicate with their pets.

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