Hepper is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Can Cats Understand Human Meows? Feline Communication Explained

Luxifa Le

By Luxifa Le

happy cat getting pet

Sometimes when we hear our cats meowing at us, our first instinct is to meow back, which may leave you wondering if your cat can understand you when you do that. The short answer is “no.” Your meowing is likely entirely unintelligible for your cat.

However, with training, you can teach your cat to associate your meows with specific actions and stimuli. Still, your cat won’t naturally understand your meowing any more than you would appreciate someone mimicking the sounds of your native language.

What Do Cats’ Meows Mean?

Meowing is a universal vocalization for cats that satisfies their necessary vocal communication needs. It’s important to note that cats are not particularly vocal animals to start. Most of their communication is done through body language, and they’re generally pretty quiet animals.

The meaning of meow is determined by body language and tonality. Different tones mean different things, but we can identify some generally accepted tonal patterns in cat meows. For instance, meows with positive connotations usually end on a high note.

abbyssinian cat meowing
Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

Greeting Meow

The greeting meow is a short, sweet sound, like a human “Hi!” This meow is going to be truncated and end on a high note. It may sound like an “aww” and “eww” sound rather than a full-fledged “meow.”

Call Meow

Cats use the call meow to summon other cats. This meow is individual to the cat and can summon them like a name. If you can identify and mimic this sound, you can use it to call your cat!

What Happens When I Meow at My Cat?

woman with her cat
Image Credit: Kichigin, Shutterstock

When you meow at your cat, it’s safe to say that you have no clue what you’re trying to tell them. They may identify the sound as being similar to their vocalizations. Still, much like when a person mimics the sounds of other languages, you’re not making any sound that’s identifiable as cat communication.

Different cats will react differently when you meow at them. Some may feel mocked and frustrated trying to understand you, while others may meow back angrily, trying to have a conversation with you.

One of the primary reasons that cats can’t understand your meows is because you can’t reliably reproduce a single meow sound unless you’ve practiced quite a bit. Since each meow sounds different, your cat can’t identify a meaning to them since they’re all new “words,” so to speak.

Getting Your Cat to Understand Your Meows

You’ll have to teach your cat to understand your meows as if they are a new language because they are! Just because you’re mimicking the sounds your cat makes doesn’t mean you’re doing it right!

To train your cat to associate your meows with meaning, start meowing when doing certain things so that your cat associates what you’re doing with the sound of your meow. To achieve this, you’ll have to reproduce the same meow multiple times reliably; otherwise, your cat won’t be able to associate the sound with anything.

For instance, if you always make the same meow before feeding your cat, your cat will learn to associate that meow with food and may come running when you make that meow because it’s like shouting “Dinner is ready!” but in cat language!

Final Thoughts

Cats, unfortunately, do not understand us when we meow. It makes sense when you think about it critically, but it doesn’t make it any less disappointing. Luckily, you can train your cat to understand some manner of meowing even if you can’t necessarily “learn the language.” So, if you dream of meowing back and forth with your cat, there is still hope for your dream to come to fruition!

Related Reads:

Featured Image Credit: Stokkete, Shutterstock

Related Articles

Further Reading

Vet Articles

Latest Vet Answers

The latest veterinarians' answers to questions from our database