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What Does Your Cat’s Chirping and Trilling Really Mean?

Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on July 4, 2018
Posted in Cats

Although they are relatively simple animals—spending a majority of their time sleeping and the rest of it laying around or grooming—cats can make a lot of noise. A Wide variety of sounds might emit from your cat’s little mouth, and, if it it’s the first time you’ve heard it, it might frighten you!

One common noise your cat might make is a chirp or trill. Trills usually sound like a rolled “R” mixed with a meow and are typically done with the cat’s mouth closed as it pushes air through its vocal chords.

In general, trills and chirps are happy sounds that are meant as greetings to other cats or to humans. If your cat doesn’t make trilling noises, though, don’t fret—it doesn’t mean they aren’t happy! Some cats are much more communicative than others, meaning your cat might not make any sounds at all, and that’s okay.

Why the chirping?

Trills and chirps are usually taught to kittens by their mothers, who use it to get the attention of their babies so they’ll follow or pay attention to her. The trill is used almost exclusively as a communication device, which is why it is not shocking that your cat will usually use a trill to get your attention, as the owner.

Your cat may use a trill to greet you when you return home from work or may trill to the other cats in your home to communicate with them. It also may make noise as a way to get your attention—perhaps it wants to be pet or fed, but it also might signify that your cat is sick or injured.

If your cat randomly starts trilling and you’ve never heard it do that before, don’t be alarmed. Try following your cat to see if it wants to show you something. If it’s nothing, you may just need to learn to ignore the noise.

Some breeds, like Siamese and Burmese cats, are more likely to trill to each other or other people than other breeds of cats.

Other noises from your cat

As you’ve probably already witnessed, chirping and trilling are far from the only noises your cat can use to communicate. In fact, your cat has a whole arsenal of meows, growls and howls to express when it is happy, sad, hungry, frightened, angry and more.

In general, higher sounds coming from your cat are typically happy or positive sounds, while lower sounds may be more aggressive or negative. You’ll need to listen to your cat for a little while to truly understand what it is trying to convey with a particular sound:

  • Meows: Meows are the most common noise your cat may make, but that doesn’t mean all meows mean the same thing. Meows might have positive or negative messages behind them—it all depends on what your cat wants to say. Excessive meowing might indicate that your cat is sick and needs to visit the vet.
  • Purrs: Purrs are typically positive sounds and sound like a gentle rumbling. You may even be able to feel the purring while petting your cat. Sometimes though, purrs can be a form of “self-healing” to help your cat calm itself after being distressed or frightened.
  • Hissing and growling: Hissing and growling noises are usually never a good sign because they are usually aggressive or frightened sounds. These might be defensive, to warn other animals or people to back off, or scared because it got spooked by something.
  • Howling: Howling sounds usually indicate that your cat is in distress. You’ll know this sound when you hear it, and it’s usually not a good thing. It typically means your cat is injured or ill, or is mentally stressed or anxious. A similar noise might be heard from a female cat that is in heat.

When trying to understand the noises your cat makes, it’s also important to read its facial expression and body language. Cats are extremely expressive animals, and it usually doesn’t take long to get to understand your cat and what its noises and body language are trying to tell you.

Flattened or sideways ears and an arched back with hair standing on end are usually signs of anger or fear from your cat. Flat hair, an erect tail and forward ears are usually signs of happiness and contentment.

Communicate with your cat!

At the end of the day, your cat understands your tone of voice and might even know certain words or commands you give it. Some cats may use the vast amount of sounds it can make to communicate back to you and talking to your cat is encouraged to grow your bond. The more time you spend paying attention to your cat and its noises, the better you will understand it and its needs.

Read also: Solar Powered Furballs: Why Your Cat is Always Sleeping in Sunbeams

Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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