Cats have all kinds of fun and adorable little traits. The ways they try to communicate with us can be hard for humans to understand sometimes, despite the best efforts of both parties. One trait that many cats have is trying to “talk” to you by meowing back when you talk to them. Not all cats will do this, but some seem to really enjoy a conversation with you.
Many cats will also meow back at you if you meow at them, too. I have some long back-and-forths with my American Shorthair where we stand in the kitchen and meow at each other while I get his food.
Why do cats meow back at you? Cats meow as a form of communication. They do it to attract attention or to try and interact with you. They also like to mimic humans. If you speak or meow at a cat, she might meow back as a response.
You’ve landed on this page because you have questions about your cat’s behaviour. Why does my cat meow back at me when I speak to her? Does my cat understand me when I speak to her? Does meowing mean that my cat is upset? Why do cats meow at people? Will meowing at my cat make her mad? How can I understand my cat’s meows better?
Read on, because we have the answers you’re looking for. In this article, you’ll find out all about why cat’s meow and what meowing back at you could mean.
Why Do Cats Meow Back at You?
There are a lot of reasons why your cat might be meowing back at you. To understand this behaviour, you need to know a little about cats and why they meow at all.
Did you know that the familiar meow of a cat isn’t a natural trait? When cats communicate with each other, a lot of their vocalisations aren’t actually audible to us. They make small, high squeaks, sometimes too high for human ears to pick up properly. It’s only domestic cats who have spent time around humans as kittens (or sometimes who have been raised by an adult cat that has been around people) who meow.
Cats who didn’t have human contact when they were kittens usually don’t meow at all. They may make kittenish squeaks or have few audible vocalisations.
Why do cats meow, then? The simple answer is that this vocalisation is made to be audible to humans. It is the nearest a cat can get to human speech. There’s a rather slanderous claim going around that it’s an attempt to mimic a human infant, in order to engage a human’s protective instincts, but this isn’t really very credible.
While cats do imitate humans to a degree and can be quite smart, that kind of scheming isn’t really within their abilities.
When your cat meows, therefore, it’s because she’s trying to communicate something to you. Usually, this is because she wants or needs something. A cat might meow to get in or out of a room, for food, or simply to get your attention so that you’ll interact with her.
Some cats are more talkative than others. My British Shorthair isn’t much for vocalisations, preferring to headbutt my legs when he wants something. My American Shorthair, on the other hand, is highly talkative and likes to engage in “conversation”.
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A cat who meows back at you when you talk (or meow) to her may just do it because she enjoys the interaction. While they do not pack animals, cats are social; they see you as a large and unusually configured colony-mate and like to spend time in your company.
As well as enjoying the experience of conversation, cats may also meow in response to speech because they’re trying to copy you. Cats do mimic their human owners.
Your cat might also be trying to communicate something else. The persistent meowing isn’t so much an attempt at conversation as an attempt to get the cat’s needs across. Your cat keeps meowing because she wants you to get up and play with her, or feed her, or see about some pressing feline concern (such as opening a door or fetching her favourite toy from some inaccessible spot).
If you respond by talking to her, she might pause to see what you do next, then meow again.
Does My Cat Understand Me When I Meow at Her?
There are a lot of jokes about humans trying to “talk” to cats by meowing and producing a stream of gibberish. This is funny, but it’s not really how human-feline communication works. Cats don’t really have a language in the same way that some other animals do.
With that said, they use different tones and types of vocalisation to communicate. Purring conveys contentment and happiness, a quizzical meow can be a prompt for interaction, loud cries can mean that your cat is unhappy about something, hissing and growling to mean aggression or fear.
Some people worry that by meowing, they might upset the cat. This is unlikely. If you hiss or growl, you might frighten her, since these vocalisations are used by cats who feel angry or threatened. Sometimes humans attempting to purr can upset their cats, as a human “purr” can sound uncomfortably close to a growl. If you’re matching your cat’s tone, you’re probably not going to upset her; that said, you’re also not going to convey anything useful.
Cats sometimes enjoy exchanging meows with their humans, though. Interaction with a human is often pleasant for cats. You’re letting her know that you’re aware of her and care about what she’s doing.
What Do My Cat’s Meows Mean?
Cats have a varied range of vocalisations, which differ between individuals and breeds. To better understand your specific cat, you’d need to familiarise yourself with her individual vocalisations.
With that said, there are some generalisations that can usefully be made. If your cat chirrups at you, especially if she does it repeatedly, she’s usually expressing her pleasure at seeing you. You’re likely to hear this one when you emerge from the bedroom after waking up, or when you come in from having been outside.
A cat that gives you a quick, short meow is probably asking for something. She might want food or a treat. Often, though, she’s just asking to be petted or played with.
A series of vocalisations — short meows at a cat’s normal volume — usually convey excitement. My British Shorthair does this when he’s about to be fed; he doesn’t talk much at other times, but he really gets excited about meals.
A long, draw-out meow that sounds loud and agitated means that your cat wants something specific, and wants it badly. You’ll often hear this if your cat has got stuck somewhere.
A low, almost growling meow means that your cat is getting impatient for something. Maybe you’re a bit late in dishing up her dinner, or it’s past her usual playtime. Better get moving!
Sometimes your cat meows in a way that lets you know something’s wrong. Here are some vocalisations you should listen out for.
A short, very loud, high-pitched meow means that your cat has been hurt. Perhaps someone’s stepped on her tail, or another cat has swatted her. It’s a good idea to check in and make sure she’s okay. Catfights can be quite nasty if they escalate.
Loud, ear-splitting meows that continue for a long time mean that your cat is in pain. She could be injured or sick. A cat that makes these kinds of pained meows after eating may have a stomach issue, might be intolerant to some ingredient in her food, or may simply be over-eating; try serving smaller portions or switching to a different brand. Cats who meow like this after urinating or defecating may have some kind of urinary or digestive problem that needs attention. In any case, if your cat is crying in this way, you need to check her over. If you don’t see anything immediately wrong, you should have the vet take a look and make sure nothing’s amiss.