Can Cats Understand Human Meows? Well, It Depends

It’s not odd to meow at cats. When there exists attachment, love, obviously we need to communicate with them.

We have our own ways to communicate, some of us hiss, some use non-verbal ways and some meow at them to let their feelings and instructions out.

So, when we meow at them, there arises a question, “Can cats understand human meows?”

Why does my cat only meow at me? It’s about the purpose

May be cats don’t really understand what exactly is the semantic meaning of your personalized “Meow” at them, but they do appreciate your meowing at them.

why does my cat only meow at me

So, the assertion is: No matter if they understand your meow or not, your purpose might very well be served. This is all we are going to discuss around the question “Can cats understand human meows?”

“Meowing at cat brings nothing!!” Oh really? Well, we are going to kill this myth today.

Cat Learns to Dance
Cat Learns to Dance

As far as the accurate meaning from the assertion “cats understand my meow” is concerned, cats associate different emotions with your meows and take different messages from them.

Even some of the Japanese researchers at the University of Tokyo (published in the July issue of Animal Cognition) done research on this and proved that they do shows attention.

Anyway cat’s inability to translate your meows is further consolidated by the fact that she is not capable to differentiate between two or more of your slightly different meows.

Maybe she needs her time to get trained enough so that she is able to associate your meows’ pitch, tone and strength with different messages she could anticipate.

The analogy of a toddler

Readers! Cats’ understanding your meows is analogous to a toddler’s understanding your baby talk. Let’s see how.

Let’s examine a toddler.

They can’t really understand the meaning of the baby talk we do daily with them.

Understanding the cat meow meaning

Nevertheless, they appreciate your giving them attention. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to get their attention in return as well. 

Baby talk helps you communicate every emotion you feel out there.

You feel angry, you might bark over them. You feel loving, you can still be expressive. Everything in your style.

You might also hiss at him, it’s your choice after all.

You know the best what your child appreciates the most.

Now suppose there is a certain slang you speak whenever you are angry at him.

Your bulging eyes, electric response, all these things blend up together to form a good convincing message for him, they avoid behaving alike again.

By the time, he is acclimatized to that slang, he can be guided with mere help of that slang. No bulging eyes, No gestures required.   

Remember, still, your baby does not know what on earth that particular slang actually means, but what he knows is:  it has a message and he obeys that message. He simply categorizes your messages unknowingly.

Same is the case with your cat, by the time she develops a relationship with your meows, she knows what a certain meow means. The difference here is:

Understanding the cat meow meaning: The real difference

Your child might get to learn your language by the time, and one day he will be able to distinguish two sentences because of the grammar.

Cats do not have that ability; cats will never get to know how to translate different chunks of your meow.

To explain it further, you can say, cats can never understand why her fellow cat behaves differently to the same meow.

Secondly, your child gets to identify your phrases by the time, yes by tone and pitch in the early phase, but also by alphabets involved latterly.

Your cat will distinguish your meows merely on the basis of tone and pitch. We will dive into what Pitch and Tone means what for cats. You know, their meows are unique only by tone and pitch; they don’t have any alphabets.

Even Marilyn Krieger, a certified feline behaviourist says “How words are spoken is really important”

The simplicity of the process

How your cat spends her day in the home is not too complicated, to sum up, she might eat on time and might not, make mischievous and not, scratch important objects and not, meows extra and not.

Not so diverse a set of tasks. She can easily learn to discriminate what to do and what not to when a certain meowing sound gets to her eras. Though it takes some time to reach this point.

If we have a look at cats’ history it further clarifies our claim about “Can cats understand human meows?”

A bit from the evolutionary history of cats

Ever noticed they only meow (passionately) at us, humans, not at one another?

 What could be the reason?

The reason is, their meow was evolved just around the point “how to interact with humans,” and not about the point of a better interaction among themselves.

evolutionary history of cats

Its scientific roots are the same as those behind children’s crying’s evolution. The focus is, how to get more and more attention.

My cat talks back to me

Remember! She meows to ask for something, not as a response to your meow at her.

She is never that much attached that she starts violating her evolutionary trait.

My cat talks back to me

She wouldn’t behave miraculously just because you meow at her all day long and she should respond in the same way.

Maybe she needs water, some itch in her feet, anything could be it. Go get her problem fixed.

How do cats communicate with humans?: Importance of differentiating their meows

Maybe we could have invented some way to meow such that they were able to distinguish our meows. But we couldn’t, why?

Because this path starts from first understanding their meows, and we don’t understand their language. We can’t really translate that.

A biological and psychological study of cats has drawn some insights and we have crafted some rules.

These rules are totally un-personalized and can be attributed to the biological tendencies of cats. 

Finally, something that we can generalize for our ease.

How do cats communicate with humans

You might have noticed oftentimes that, when you enter the house, your cat, in a very gentle manner, meows at you. It’s a kind of welcome gesture by her. This meow is always the same, isn’t it?

When she meows excessively on such occasions, she is over-excited. You might have come back after a long time and she is super excited to see you back.

A continuous meowing (though, at a normal pitch) is a definite sign that she is craving for something, maybe it’s her dinner time, playtime etc.  

You should go and see if she needs water, something else she is accustomed to. To cut long story short, you have to take notice of this meowing.

If pitch exceeds a certain limit and is not normal, maybe she is in some pain and needs your care at the moment. Maybe she is groaning.

If the pitch exceeds too much as if there is a call to an emergency, then it actually is, she might be asking for urgent attention. Maybe she is stuck in a door, maybe something else.  

How to communicate with a cat? Finding the way

So, how to talk with your cat? How do you express your love to her?

A man may feel incapacitated to replicate cats’ voice all the time. Meowing at her might bring some positive results but you can’t do that all day long.

You don’t want to look silly, not as well it is an intelligent way.

You are bored, you wanna fight with her, you wanna coddle her, feel her.


You don’t know how to make her angry just as much as enough for a little cute fight.

Blow air towards her!! That’s the sound she makes when she fights with her fellow kitties.

Make sure you already have a strong friendly bond with her, else wise she might hurt you.

At the end of the day, she is not a human who could employ sanity, she is a feline animal.

She would cling her claws on your face, chest etc. without realizing it’s aftermath. You have to manage everything,

Hissing is a better way, but only when you need to parry them at once.

They might be scratching carpet, furniture and all you need to do is save your precious item, for the time being, you can hiss at them along with some appropriate facial expressions. 


Amelia Kteylor

Amelia Kteylor, DVM, attended the University of Georgia. She is a cat expert with 20 years of experiences in field. She has a passion as a writer and editor for pet publishing industry too. Amelia contributes to numerous pet magazines in the areas of pet health and groom. Further, she volunteered in cat rescue centers in her leisure time.

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