Do Cats Meow When They're Alone?

By Ashley Tyler

Our cats meow at us from the second they wake up in the morning and demand their food bowl be re-filled, until it's time for a final scratch on the head before bed and literally almost every minute in between.

Fluffy gray cat sits and meows on a brown background
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Sometimes it's because they need something like fresh water or to be let outside, and sometimes it's just... because. And while you love chatting with your feline friend, it can often feel like the meowing never ends.

You may even end up asking yourself:

Does my cat meow when its alone too?

Cute little meowing kitten in the garden
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To understand that, we must first understand why cats meow in the first place.

Nicholas Nicastro, self-proclaimed cat person and graduate student conducting animal communication studies at Cornell University, said that although cats lack language they "have become very skilled at managing humans to get what they want — basically food, shelter and a little human affection." So the next time you think your cat is trying to tell you something, don't ignore him because he probably is. From the tone to the length of his meow, it all means something different.

closeup of two cats in a conflict over  white background
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If you have more than one cat, you've probably noticed they rarely (if ever) meow at each other. That's because besides a mother cat calling her kittens, the meowing is actually more for us. Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D., and certified applied animal behaviorist told The Humane Society that "cats use vocalizations much more to communicate with people than with other cats. Most of their communication [with other cats] is designed to avoid one another."

John Bradshaw, a University of Bristol anthrozoologist and author, observed a group of feral cats and kept track of how many times they meowed. What he found confirms Dr. Hetts' theory that meowing is a learned behavior that cats do primarily for us. He told New York Magazine that with feral cats "you get a meow about once every hundred hours. They're very silent."

So while your cat might not be walking around your place meowing to himself while you're not home, this leads us to the next question:

If the meowing is for me, then why does my cat do it at night when I'm sleeping?

Young woman with kitten
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There's a few reasons your cat is up partying late into the night. Also known as night howling, this seemingly inconsiderate behavior is actually engrained in their DNA, since cats are naturally nocturnal animals. This is often why kittens usually want to play all night even though their owners would rather be sleeping.

While the bags under your eyes may tell a different story, your cat may be doing you a favor by chasing a lizard or bug they spotted crawling up your wall. Dr. Patty Khuly, Miami based veterinarian, explains that "some cats get especially vocal when they're on the prowl" and often "feel the urge to hunt in the evening." All can be forgiven as long as they actually get the bug, right?

In older cats, this can be a sign of an underlying problem, especially if it starts out of the blue. Dr. Khuly continues, "advancing age sometimes brings sleep-wake cycle aberrations and dementia. These conditions are common in geriatric cats and may be related to anxiety or plain old disorientation." It may be hard to handle, but you want to make sure you never punish your cat for meowing too much. It will only make them fearful of you. So give your elderly pal a break and pick up a pair of ear plugs next time you're at the store.

Does your cat have any strange habits? Do you have any pet related questions you're dying to know the answer to? Talk to us in the comments!