Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
Why can’t my cat meow? He is able to make a squeak sort of like a newborn kitten.
Siouxsie: Well, Josh, every cat has a different kind of voice. I myself have a lovely, full-bodied meow. Sometimes I make little trills and grumbles, too, but my voice is rather low-pitched (in tone, not volume) compared to other cats I know.
Thomas: My meow is more like a medium-pitched “MEEK-erk,” and my other vocal communications are pretty much a variation on that theme.
Dahlia: And my meow is a sweet, high-pitched “meep.” It’s quite delicate and feminine if I do say so myself. My trills and chirps tend to be soft and high-pitched too.
Siouxsie: Certain breeds of cats tend more toward certain qualities of voice. Siamese and other Oriental breed cats (and those of us mixed-breeds with a good dose of Oriental ancestry) are more likely to have a loud and low-pitched voice. Persians and cats descended from those types of breeds tend to have soft and chirpy voices.
Thomas: If you visit the Cat Fanciers Association website and look at the profiles for various breeds of cats, you’ll find that some have information about the voice of that breed if it’s different from the standard meow of a “typical” cat.
Dahlia: Your cat’s voice was also affected by his mother. If his mother had a quiet voice, he would have developed a quiet or squeaky voice too, because that’s what he learned at his mother’s side.
Siouxsie: Frankly, when we cats use vocal communication, it’s mainly for the benefit of humans and other less-evolved creatures. When we communicate with one another, we mostly use body language and other very subtle gestures.
Thomas: The only time we vocalize with other cats is when we’re emotionally stimulated — if we’re very angry and we’re about to have a fight, for example, or if we’re playing together and we’re really into our toy or our playmate accidentally hurts us. If we’re really excited about catching a mouse or we’ve got some particularly yummy food, we might growl and purr as we eat it.
Dahlia: So, Josh, cats normally have a wide range of voices. However, if your cat’s meow has changed recently, we’d suggest you contact your vet and have your kitty checked out. If his voice was more normal and now it isn’t, he may have swallowed something he shouldn’t have, or he may have some sort of irritation or growth on his vocal cords.
Siouxsie: Our great-grammie kitty, Iris, was always a quiet cat with a small meow, even after she’d had a few litters of kittens. Mama says she didn’t even cry a lot when she was in heat! She didn’t really start howling until she got quite old and lost her hearing.
Thomas: Sometimes cats can overuse their voices, either through a long round of cussing and trading insults with other cats (screaming and hissing) or through singing arias at the top of their lungs (more typical for Oriental type cats or unspayed females in heat). This can result in a temporarily hoarse or scratchy voice. Mama says this happens to humans when they do a lot of shouting, too.
Dahlia: So there you have a number of possible reasons why your cat squeaks rather than meows. We hope you find this helpful and that you enjoy many happy years with your squeaky kitty.