What Are Kittens Trying to Say When They Meow?

Pet Care


May 7, 2020

When your cat has a litter of kittens, there’s a good chance that you will also take on a parental role of making sure that the kittens grow up in the healthiest environment possible, alongside the mother cat. This means that you are also going to want to look into how kittens differ from adult cats. This includes how they talk, how they should look, and how they will develop as they grow older.

One thing that you might not expect is just how much newborn and very young kittens meow. If you are not used to caring for kittens, this can even be worrying at first. Are the kittens meowing because something is wrong, or are they just making noise? While it is impossible to know exactly what your kittens are trying to say, you can make it easier on yourself by understanding some of the main reasons why kittens meow as much as they do.

One of the simplest explanations is that kittens, much like human infants, do not yet know how to communicate with either humans or other cats. Because of this, they do the one thing that they do know how to do: yell. For cats, meowing is the equivalent of yelling. This means that if a litter of kittens is meowing as loudly as their little voices will let them, then you can equate that kind of noise to the cry of a baby who hasn’t yet learned to indicate what it needs or wants. Understanding your kitten’s meows will make life a little bit easier on both you and the mother cat.

How Do Kittens Communicate?

To understand why kittens meow, and what they could possibly be trying to say, you first have to understand how kittens communicate and how it differs from adult cats.

Kittens, especially very young ones, have not yet learned how to communicate the way that adult cats do. Adult cats communicate primarily through nonverbal cues, and only use meowing as a way to get attention from their humans. Kittens haven’t figured this out quite yet, so you might be left wondering how exactly a young kitten is going to try and communicate.

For the most part, kittens also communicate through nonverbal signs, although these are a bit different than in adult cats. Kittens use their body language as a main component in getting their message across. For example, kittens use their tails to communicate, as there’s a good chance that they’re still a bit unsteady on their paws.

A tail held high in the air usually indicates a happy and content kitten, much like it does in an adult cat. A tail twitching between straight and tall usually means that your kitten is even happier, although in unneutered males, it can be an indication that he will spray. When your kitten’s tail swishes from side to side slowly and steadily, it’s usually an indicator that your kitten feels the need to be cautious, even bordering on hostile. When a kitten tucks its tail or holds it low against the ground, it often means that it is anxious about something.

As you will learn when it comes to owning kittens, kittens meow. They meow a lot. Often, it can be hard to discern what all the kittens meowing actually means, which is why it is also important for you to understand why cats meow in the first place.

Why Do Cats Meow?

Most feral cats and cats that have grown up without any human interaction do not meow nearly as frequently as their housecat cousins do. This is because the common meows that people hear are a specific method of communication that cats have developed to speak to their people. As cats grow alongside their people, they realize that their humans cannot pick up on their nonverbal cues. Because of this, cats resort to their version of yelling what they want at their people: meowing. A cat’s meow is the equivalent of yelling, and it can mean a few different things.

Cats meow when they want attention and they feel as if their nonverbal cues have not sufficiently gotten your attention. They could be meowing because they want food or water. They could be meowing because they want to play with you, or they are begging for a treat from you. They could be meowing because they want to be pet, carried, or held. Some cats, especially single cats, will meow because they are feeling lonely and want someone with them. A cat’s meow is simply a holler to get your attention toward a perceived issue in their lives.

Similar to the last point, cats have a tendency to meow when they are bored. This is far more noticeable in talkative breeds. When cats are bored and meowing, they might not try to lead you to the source of their problem, as they might if they are meowing about food or water. Instead, they might stare at you and expect you to understand what is going on. If your cat is just staring at you and meowing, you should consider throwing something for the cat to chase and see if that is the issue.

Female unspayed cats will meow when they are in heat. This is their mating call, and it is usually more drawn out and different from their usual meows. There is no real way to stop this meowing other than to spay the cat.

What Are Kittens Trying to Say?

Now that you understand a bit more about why adult cats meow, it might be a bit easier to understand why kittens meow. Keep in mind that kittens haven’t quite learned as much that people don’t pick up on a cat’s nonverbal cues that often, so their reasons for meowing might be different than an adult cat’s. It depends a lot on just how young the kitten is.

When kittens are first born, both their eyes and ears are shut. This renders them virtually blind and deaf, although they can feel the vibrations of their mother’s purrs, which can bring them comfort. Being blind and deaf and newborn is likely terrifying to the little kittens, and because of this, they will cry out for their mother’s attention. When kittens are this young, their meows are almost always cries for the mother cat to notice them. It is the feline equivalent of a newborn crying for its mother.

Also much like human infants, kittens become very attached to their mother’s meows. It can be thought of as a sound of comfort. Because of this, kittens and their mother cats will often meow back and forth to each other. This also helps the kitten to shape its own vocal habits, with kittens of more talkative mothers becoming more talkative themselves and kittens of quieter mothers becoming less talkative.

As kittens grow and are able to see and hear, they also meow to communicate with their littermates. This is not seen in adult cats, as adult cats know how to communicate nonverbally. Kittens, on the other hand, are still learning from their own mothers. Before they fully develop these skills, they will meow to their littermates. These meows can mean anything from “Play with me!” to “Stop playing with me!” and just about anything in between.

As you spend more time with your kittens and they become more accustomed to your presence, they will also learn that their meows elicit the same reaction as they do with their own mothers. If a kitten is crying at its food dish and it notices that you feed it immediately after, then it will learn that meowing brings food, and most importantly, attention from its owner. Older kittens will meow to also communicate with you, as their person, especially if they are an inherently talkative breed.

When Meowing Is a Sign of Something Wrong

Cats, as a species that is both prey and predator, do not often meow to indicate that there is something wrong. The closest that they get is yowling in pain if you touch an injured part of the cat. This means that you might not think of meowing as a sign that something is wrong.

However, there are a few indications. For example, if you notice that your cat is begging for food far more often than it usually does, or is going through its water faster than normal, this could be a sign of excessive hunger and thirst, respectively. This is the kind of thing that you should call and contact your vet about, especially if the problem is the opposite, and your cat is not eating or drinking as much as it usually should.

If your cat is meowing for seemingly no reason, then it could be a sign of an overactive thyroid or potentially kidney disease. Typically there would be other signs to look for though. If, at any point, your cat begins acting out of the ordinary, then you should always consult your vet.