Cats vocalise in a variety of ways, using specific sounds for specific purposes. Often these vocalisations are accompanied by characteristic postures that supply their owners and other cats in the vicinity with further information about the cat’s intentions or meaning. Hissing, yowling and snarling fall into the category of cat to cat communication. Yowling is often linked to the cat’s sexual behaviour, but may occur during fighting, especially between toms.
Hissing and snarling are rarely used between cat and human, and then in exceptional circumstances. These nervous kittens, however, are making their feelings felt to everyone around.
Q. I have been training my kitten not to jump on the table, but so far have been unsuccessful. Just placing her on the floor while saying ‘No’ does not seem to work. What should I try next?
Cats make a hissing noise to warn or threaten. Some owners find that making a hissing sound to the cat when it does something they do not want it to, works well. However, you will have to be patient and be consistent with your training.
The position of the tongue has some bearing on the sounds cats make, but it is not as significant as it is in humans.
Caterwauling and yowling are both words for wailing or crying. Cats vocalise by increasing or decreasing tension in the throat and mouth muscles and by changing the speed in which air flows over the vocal chords.
Hissing and snarling are sounds of aggression, used to threaten or to warn of further action. Hisses are produced with an open mouth: the cat draws back the upper lip and moves its tongue quickly back and forth, expelling air from its lungs in a rush. At the same time, the cat usually flattens the ears back against the skull. Hissing is often used by a cat on the defensive. The snarl is usually a progression from the growl, which in itself is a more aggressive vocalisation than the hiss and is given by cats taking offensive action. The snarl is made by raising the upper lip and curlin: both lips back. Like the hiss it is an open-mouth vocalisation. At the same time, it expresses itself with body language: typically the ears are held erect and the tail swishes back and forth.
The yowl is particularly characteristic of the queen when she is on heat and during the act of mating. It is then the ‘call’ given by the female to indicate that she is ready to mate. During mating it is evidence that intromission (entry of the penis and ejaculation) has occurred.
Animal behaviourists have debated for years about the number of sounds a cat can make. Although they can group the vocalisations into a specific number of categories, it is almost impossible to enumerate all the sounds. This is because one type of vocalisation can take many different forms. The miaow is an excellent example of this.
Cats can vocalise at pitches that we humans aren’t able to hear. These sounds are strictly only for the ears of other cats.