Has your cat ever stared you down and let out a meow? Or serenaded you with their midnight melodies? If you’ve ever wondered why, we’ve got you covered. In this post, we’re going to cover some of the reasons why cats meow, including why they meow at night, and why your cat might be meowing more than normal.

So why do cats meow in the first place?

Cats communicate in a whole bunch of ways – meowing, crying, hissing, and purring being some of them. Meowing, just like human language, has a ton of meaning and purposes for cats. In fact, cats meow primarily to communicate with you, their parent. It could be:

  • A means to get your attention
  • A way to show you they’re hungry or want to go outside
  • Their way of showing you affection
  • How they interact with other animals
  • A way of indicating something’s wrong – especially when they’re feeling anxious or in pain

Interestingly, cats don’t typically meow at other cats. Meowing is a form of communication they’ve adapted to specifically communicate with us humans – and, on occasion, kittens.

Much like dogs, cats are smart creatures. They can learn the connections between behavior and outcome pretty quickly. So if your cat learns that you pay them more attention when they meow, they might meow persistently. It’s up to you to find a balance between addressing their needs and not responding to every meow.

Why do cats meow at kittens?

When they’re born, kittens are completely dependent on Mama cat for survival. She’s the reason they have food, warmth, and protection. So mother cats meow to communicate with kittens too, usually to call them when it’s time to eat or when they need to be cleaned.1 They might also meow at their kittens to comfort them when they’re upset or scared.

A mother cat and her litter of kittens at mealtime.

Meowing strengthens the bond between Mama cat and her kittens. It allows them to communicate their needs and take care of their young.

Why is my kitten meowing?

Kittens meow from the moment they’re born. It’s how they communicate with their mother and siblings. As they learn from Mama cat, they might meow to indicate that they’re hungry or need to be cleaned or are feeling uncomfortable.

As kittens grow older, they grow more independent – but old habits die hard. So they continue to meow to communicate with you, their primary caregiver.

Do cats meow at other cats?

In general, no – cats communicate with their fellow felines using their body language, scent marking, and other non-verbal cues.2 You might find your cats having a lengthy conversation with trills, chirps – and sometimes, even growls or hisses. But meowing, yowling, and even crying are ways your cat has evolved to communicate with humans as a whole.

Why do cats meow at night?

If you’ve been woken up more than once with your cat’s midnight melodies and wondered – why do cats meow at night? you’re definitely not alone. Here are a couple of reasons why your cat might be doing so in the first place.

Nocturnal instincts

Cats tend to be naturally crepuscular animals. So you’ll more likely hear them running around in the evenings. Or waking you up with a paw to the face in the mornings (so during dusk and dawn.) This has to do with their evolutionary instincts as solo hunters. For example, big cats like tigers tend to hunt mostly at night or early mornings. It gives them the advantage, since their prey also tends to be active around these times.

An outdoor cat patrolling their territory at night.

So if your house-bound hunter is meowing a bit more at night, it’s possible they’re expressing their innate instincts – especially if they sense movement around them. Also, if your cat tends to nap throughout the day (much like lions), they might be more likely to meow at night from the pent-up energy.

Attention seeking

Your cat might primarily meow to get your attention – to play together, get fed, because they’re bored, lonely, or to just enjoy your company. As independent as they tend to be, cats are also pretty social too! So meowing might be their way of seeking some companionship and interaction.4

A disturbance in the force

Cats tend to be sensitive to changes in their environment. So they might meow at night to unfamiliar noises, like another cat in their neighborhood (or territory) or animals scurrying around.

A cat looking out of a rainy window

Your outdoor cat also has a territory to hunt, patrol, and defend. So they might vocalize more so at night to show territorial dominance or check in with the Neighborhood Feline Federation (i.e. your neighbor’s cats.)

Mischief managed: How to adapt to your cat’s meowing

If you’re wondering why your cat is meowing so much, here are a couple of ways to navigate them:

Pay attention to how your cat sounds when expressing a specific need

Just like human babies, cats have different meows or chirps when they’re hungry, communicating with other cats, bored, anxious, want to be let in (or out) or just want some company. So take a little extra time to pick up on their different sounds and get used to them first.

Create a consistent routine

Cats respond positively to a well-structured routine. A predictable daily schedule can help calm them. Cats might meow excessively when anxious – but you can help them feel more comfortable if you feed them, play with them, and hang out with them at regular times.

A woman cuddling with her cat besides a bed

For example, if you create a calm and peaceful environment for your cat, especially at night, it can help reduce these disturbances. Or you could play with them to get some exercise before sleep time and tire them out.

Provide an enriched environment

Much like dogs, cats need to stay both physically and mentally active to stay happy and healthy. So make sure your cat has enough toys, scratching surfaces, cat-friendly houseplants, and plenty of time with you to stay engaged.

Remember – not every meow is an emergency!

Your cat might even be meowing out of boredom. So if you’ve learned the subtle differences between when they’re hungry or just bored, you’ll also learn when to respond and when not to. If you end up responding to every meow, your cat might get used to you giving in to their demands no matter what time of day it is. So if they have a habit of meowing at night, we’d recommend you create a consistent nighttime routine that helps them understand when it’s time to be active and when it’s time to relax and sleep.

How exploring the outdoors can help your cat redirect their energy

Many cat parents tend to keep their cats indoors – but they’re natural hunters and explorers. As a result, they benefit tremendously from outside time. Even exploring your backyard helps keep their hunting instincts happy. Keeping your cat indoors for too long can make them feel anxious – which might cue the excessive meowing.

Exploring the outdoors comes with a ton of perks for your cat – the sun, the air, the activity, the sensory stimulation. But being outside can also come with its dangers. So if you’re worried your cat might wander too far, consider getting them a dedicated cat GPS tracker and safety collar. With the Tractive GPS, for example, you can get LIVE tracking updates on where they are every 2-3 seconds. You can even set up a virtual fence that alerts you immediately the minute your cat steps out of a “safe zone” that you’ve created.

Tractive CAT Mini GPS tracker with a safety collar

Know everywhere your cat goes

See where they are in real-time, no matter how far they go. Get alerts if they roam too far home. Find out where they’ve been and discover their favorite spots. Let others track with you.

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Types of cat meows you might come across

Cats are incredibly expressive creatures and their meows can have a whole bunch of meanings.5 So here are a couple of typical meows you might hear – and what they might mean:

The ‘Hello!’ meow

Your cat might meow at you to say hello – usually a short, sweet vocalization that indicates they’re happy to see you. It’s how they acknowledge your presence when you return home or enter a room.

The ‘I’m here’ meow

Sometimes cats meow to let you know it’s around or in your vicinity – it might be linked to how they indicate a sense of ownership or territoriality over their environment.

The ‘I’m hungry!’ meow

You might be most familiar with your cat’s persistent meowing around mealtimes – and they do tend to be quite vocal around breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Cats meows might sound more demanding and insistent when they’re hungry.

A cat sits by a table, letting out a meow to indicate its presence.

The ‘Ugh!’ meow

Some cats let out a loud, insistent meow when frustrated or unhappy with a situation. You might also hear them hissing to indicate their discomfort. It might signal that they’re upset and might need a little space – and plenty of cuddles from you after.

Health concerns: When meowing becomes excessive

We’ve covered a few situations where your cat might meow as a result of anxiety – changing schedules or staying indoors too much. Excessive meowing could be a sign that something’s wrong with their health and wellbeing. So keep an eye out for changes in your cat’s meows – their tone, volume, or how often they do it.

If you notice a sudden and significant change in your cat’s meowing or other aspects of their behavior, it’s a good idea to get in touch with your local vet to rule out any health issues. Your cat’s excessive meowing could signal cognitive decline, health conditions like thyroid problems or a urinary tract infection (UTI), or even pain from chronic conditions like arthritis.6 

Your vet might run a few tests to make sure that your cat is doing well physically. Plus, they can help guide you in the right direction if the cause of your cat’s meowing might be due to psychological reasons.

How regular activity & sleep tracking helps you stay on top of your cat’s health

When your cat’s sick, they’re more likely to mask the signsso you might miss out on them because your feline friend seems happy and healthy. And by the time they’re meowing or crying to get your attention, their condition might’ve worsened.

But if you’re regularly tracking their behaviors (like sleep and activity), it’s easier to take action if you notice a sudden, sharp change. Like, for example, if your cat is meowing excessively – but also seeming more irritable or lethargic than before.

So here’s how you can prevent your cat’s health problems from getting worse – with regular activity and sleep tracking. Tractive’s Wellness Monitoring helps pet parents around the world to keep tabs on their cat’s active and resting behavior. So they can identify a spike or a dip early on – and immediately take action, if necessary.

Tractive: Helping you track your cat’s behavioral changes & take action

One of our Netherlands-based pet parents recently shared a story where her cat’s Wellness profile warned her about an impending health problem – and helped her avoid an emergency:

With the Tractive GPS, I found out one night that she’d only made one little trip to the park, slept all night – and didn’t really do much during the day. On the second night, she didn’t leave the garden at all. Which struck me as odd, since she’s an outdoor cat and on the move quite often.

So I decided to check her up to see if she was sick – or had something else going on. When I picked her up, the pus oozed over my hand from the abscess bursting!

An outdoor cat exploring a garden with Tractive's Activity monitoring features in the foreground

Without Tractive, I wouldn’t have noticed it at all – I would still see her walk around to drink and feed and think everything is okay. I might only have noticed when I didn’t see her stroll over for a whole day. At which point, she’d probably have been dangerously sick.

We went to the vet a few hours later – she had a serious fever, a big abscess, and was pretty sick already. So we got it in time. A whole week of antibiotics – and now she’s herself again.

Tractive is also very handy for when you need to give your pets their medication. All I have to do is check where she is and call her over to give her the antibiotics.

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Navigating your cat’s communication – one meow at a time

Your cat’s meows are a beautiful and complex form of communication that’s evolved as a result of their gradually warming up to humans. It might be due to their wanting attention, showing the neighborhood cats who’s boss, because they’re hungry, or are in pain of some kind. By taking the time to understand their needs and monitoring their sleep and activity to stay on top of their health, you’re on your way to building a great relationship with your feline friends.

Meowing is a fundamental part of how your cat communicates. At the same time, you also need to ensure you’re not responding to every little meow – your cat will pick up on it pretty quickly!

Ready to keep an ear out the next time your cat’s midnight meowing begins? Here’s a quick recap of why cats meow and a few ways to manage them by Dr. Clare Bradley, Deputy Head Nurse at Vet’s Klinic: