What Are Cats Saying When They Meow At You?

The distinct meow of a cat is a sound that cat owners and enthusiasts know well. When your feline friend looks up at you and emits that characteristic cry, it often seems to carry meaning beyond a simple random vocalization. But what are cats actually trying to communicate when they meow? Understanding the context behind various meows can provide insight into your cat’s experience and state of mind.

In this article, we will explore the fascinating reasons why cats meow. Meowing serves many purposes for cats – from greeting their owners, to demanding food, to expressing anxiety. We will cover the science behind feline vocal communications and what your cat may be telling you when it meows.

Meowing as Communication

Cats use meowing specifically as a way to communicate with humans. According to Hartz, cats typically do not meow to other cats. Meowing is a cat’s way of getting a human’s attention and letting them know they need something. As explained by the ASPCA, a cat’s meow allows them to communicate various needs with their human caretakers.

A meow can have different meanings depending on the situation and context. Some common reasons cats meow at humans include asking for food, wanting attention and playtime, voicing displeasure or distress, and giving a friendly greeting.

Meowing for Attention

Cats often meow when they want attention from their owners. This includes meowing for things like food, playtime, cuddles and more. As social creatures, cats enjoy interacting with their humans and meowing is an effective way to get a person’s attention.

Meowing triggers a response in humans. According to the ASPCA, the “Meowing and Yowling,” cats who are left alone for long periods of time each day may meow more frequently for their owner’s attention. The unique sound of a cat’s meow can be difficult for humans to ignore.

In addition, cats may associate meowing with getting rewards like food or play. So they learn that meowing brings their human to deliver what they want. With positive reinforcement, meowing can become an attention-seeking behavior in cats looking for interaction with their owners.

Meowing when in Distress

Cats often meow when they are in some kind of distress, such as when they are hungry, hurt, or scared. Meowing is a way for cats to alert their human caretakers that something is wrong and they need help.

For example, a cat may meow persistently when it wants to be fed. The meows are the cat’s way of telling you it’s hungry and wants you to provide food. According to the ASPCA, “meowing is an interesting vocalization in that adult cats don’t actually meow at each other, just at people. Kittens meow to let their mother know they’re cold or hungry, but once they get a bit older, cats no longer meow to other cats.”1

Cats also often meow when they are injured or in pain. As noted by Smithfield Animals, “If your pet meows more often than normal, pain may be the reason. Cats in pain may also hiss or growl, particularly if you happen to touch a painful area.”2 Loud, frequent meowing can be a sign your cat needs medical attention.

In addition, cats may meow out of fear or anxiety, such as during visits to the vet or when introduced to new environments. The meows indicate the cat is stressed and seeking comfort from their owner.

In all of these situations, the cat’s meows serve as a request for help and a reminder that something is wrong. By vocalizing, cats alert their human companions that they have an unmet need, be it hunger, pain relief, or emotional reassurance.

Meowing to Greet You

Cats often meow as a way to greet their owners, especially when they return home after being away. A short, high-pitched meow is a cat’s standard way of saying “hello!” to people. These meows express excitement and happiness that their owner has returned. According to the ASPCA, “The cat’s meow is her way of communicating with people. Cats meow for many reasons—to say hello, to ask for things, and to tell us when something’s wrong.” Multiple meows in a row indicate an especially excited greeting, like “Yay, you’re home!”

Meowing for Socialization

Cats are highly social animals and meowing is one of their primary ways to bond with humans. According to the ASPCA, adult cats don’t actually meow at each other, just at people. Meowing allows cats to communicate and interact with their human caretakers [1].

Kittens meow to their mothers when they need something like warmth, food, or comfort. This behavior continues into adulthood as they meow to get their human’s attention and care. Meowing is how cats have conversations with humans and build relationships. Some cats enjoy chatting back and forth with their owners as a form of interaction and bonding [2].

Whether immediately or over time, a socialized cat may approach someone new, stay relaxed, or meow in a friendly manner. Meowing is a cat’s way of showing interest in getting to know you. It’s one of the ways cats form connections with humans [3].


[1] https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/cat-care/common-cat-behavior-issues/meowing-and-yowling

[2] https://pets.stackexchange.com/questions/26142/new-cat-meows-constantly

[3] https://www.alleycat.org/resources/cat-socialization-continuum-guide/

Meowing to Show Affection

One of the most common reasons cats meow at their owners is to express affection. Cats form strong bonds with their human companions and will often meow to communicate their love. According to a Reddit thread, cats can become extremely affectionate and meow repeatedly when they hear their owner’s voice after a period of separation. The meows are their way of saying “I love you” and showing how much they missed you.

Cats may meow to ask for petting or to be picked up and held. The meows are requests for physical affection. Kittens separated from their mothers also meow frequently for comfort and care. For domestic cats, their human family essentially replaces their feline family. So cats meow at their owners to elicit the same nurturing behavior their mothers would provide.

In multi-cat households, cats may meow at each other as a friendly greeting or to strengthen social connections. The meows can serve as an “I love you” or “I missed you” between feline friends. So next time your cat meows at you, she may just be saying she cares.

Meowing to Find Mates

One reason unneutered male cats will meow loudly and frequently is to attract potential mates. These loud, persistent meows are a mating call to alert female cats in the area that they are available and ready to breed.

Unneutered male cats tend to roam widely in search of females, and will meow loudly both while roaming and when they detect a female in heat nearby. The loud calls serve to indicate their presence and advertise themselves as a potential suitor.

So if your unneutered male cat is meowing loudly and constantly, it’s likely not just to get your attention – he is also trying to call out for female cats. Getting your cat neutered can help curb this behavior and excessive meowing due to mating urges.

Meowing Due to Anxiety

It’s common for cats to meow excessively if they are feeling anxious or stressed. This can happen due to changes in their environment, lack of stimulation, or even separation anxiety when left alone (ZippyVet). When cats are anxious, they may vocalize more as a way to express their stress and get your attention. Some signs your cat is meowing due to anxiety include increased meowing, destructive behavior, urinating outside the litterbox, changes in appetite, and hiding.

There are several ways you can try to ease anxiety in your cat to reduce excessive meowing:

  • Create a predictable routine each day so your cat feels secure.
  • Make sure your cat has plenty of enrichment with toys, cat trees, and scratching posts.
  • Use calming pheromones like Feliway to help relax your cat.
  • Consider calming supplements or anti-anxiety medication prescribed by your vet.
  • Give your cat more positive attention like treats, play time, and affection.

Pay attention to when your cat seems most anxious and do what you can to minimize stressors. With patience and care, you can help an anxious, vocal cat feel more comfortable and reduce excessive meowing.


Cats meow at humans for a variety of reasons. As we’ve discussed, meowing is a natural form of communication for cats. Some of the main reasons cats meow at their human companions are to get attention, ask for food or care, communicate distress or anxiety, greet you, seek socialization, show affection, find mates, and more. Meowing allows cats to make their needs and desires known since humans do not understand feline body language and cues as well. While excessive meowing can be annoying, it is simply your cat’s way of connecting with you. Understanding why your cat is meowing can help you address their needs and strengthen your bond.

In summary, meowing is natural cat communication and your cat meows at you because it wants or needs something from you. Paying attention to the context and tone of your cat’s meows will help decipher their meaning. With patience and care, you can understand what your cat is saying through its meows and respond appropriately.

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