Purring, meowing, and hissing are pretty commonly recognized cat sounds, but what about the more nuanced noises? Chirping can sometimes be heard coming from a cat in certain situations, but what does it mean?
Generally, chirping is no cause for concern, but like all noises, learning what your feline's vocalizations mean can help you better understand your cat and their needs.
How do cats communicate?
Cats, like dogs, communicate in two categories: physical communication and vocal communication. According to the ASPCA, cats use their posture, faces, whiskers, tails and ears to express how they're feeling to others, be that toward other cats, animals, or people. A cat who is making her body larger by puffing up her tail or body hair is probably sending a message to back off, which can also be displayed using upright ears, stiff legs, and direct eye contact. Cats seen with their tails tucked around their bodies or their whiskers withdrawn are likely defensive and frightened. Any of these physical cues paired with noises like growling or hissing is a clear sign to keep it moving and avoid approaching.
Not all communication indicates a stressed or angry feline. Indoor cats can often be heard chattering or making a trilling sound when seated at a window or door, says The Humane Society. These sounds are often a response to small animals, or prey, moving outside and just out of reach, which can excite a cat. Sometimes, an intense play session with another cat or a favorite toy can elicit these same trilling noises, so if your cat is the pounce and bite type, keep an eye out for this audible cue. A similar sound, called chirping, is also commonly heard indoor and outdoor cats in very specific situations.
What does chirping mean in cats?
They may be tough to distinguish at first listen, but trilling and chirping are different sounds and signify different things. Trilling is done when a cat sees something of interest to them, like a squirrel in the backyard or a bird in a nearby tree. Chirping is done when a cat wants something to notice them. When used among other cats, the chirp sound can commonly be heard coming from mother cats to signal her kittens to follow her, which is done to keep outdoor and feral cat families together and safe.
Domesticated house cats may chirp at their human guardians to follow them as well, usually to the kitchen. Chirping cats inside the home are often witnessed leading their people to their food and water dishes when they're empty and in need of refilling. Cats who share a home can sometimes be heard chirping at each other as well, which is usually done in times of play or simply to communicate their presence to one another.
Concerning cat sounds
While chirping and chattering don't exactly signify the same moods as purring, but most often, they don't really indicate any real reason to worry. Cats can and do make additional noises, however, to signify less positive feelings, like fear or pain. Growling, hissing and even spitting sounds from a cat are usually very clear warnings to stay back, and are usually expressed when a feline feels cornered, threatened, or otherwise in physical danger. A yowling cat is probably sending a message that he's in physical pain, and should be examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Along with a symphony of additional sounds, cats chirp and trill, although the two have different meanings. Neither are generally cause for concern, however, a chirping feline around dinner time may signify that the food bowl is in need of topping off. Cats who chirp among one another are communicating to be followed, which can be used for safety or play.