In French, it’s miaou. Spanish? Miao. For English speakers, it’s “meow.” Yep, you’re definitely hearing your cat vocalizing and usually they are trying to tell you something. But what exactly is your feline saying?
In short, a meow (no matter the language) is basically a demand—feed me; scratch me; entertain me! And yes, this sound is directed at you. Since mother cats start ignoring their kittens’ meows as soon as the little tykes are weaned, adult cats don’t communicate with each other vocally. Unless one feline growls or hisses at another, they typically speak through scent, movement and eye contact. So that’s how we know that your kitty’s meow is all for you, human mama!
And usually, kitties start out with short, direct, high-pitched noises to let you in on their secrets: “I’m bored and hungry.” As Nicholas Nicastro discovered in a Cornell University study, cat sounds are less a language than they are emotional expressions. You might hear the same meow for food as you do for play. This means cats have trained us to respond when called, no matter the noise. Hmm. Well played, cats.
If your cat’s meow gets lower in pitch, longer in duration or more urgent, it means she’s losing patience and won’t you puh-lease hurry up? However, if your cat starts combining strange behavior with any of these long, low yowls, it might be time to visit the vet (especially for older felines). Like a ship lost in the night, your cat is sending out distressed meows as an SOS, alerting you to deeper issues like feline Alzheimer’s or thyroid issues.
Not sure if it’s a meow? It could also be a chirp or trill, another vocalization felines use to express happiness, which is always reassuring.