This is a very simple question but I think it is an interesting question and it is one that we cannot accurately answer. I also don’t think it is worth looking for answers in books or on the Internet. It is better to rely on our own observations and experiences. I am focusing on what cats say to us.
There is one outstanding thing that a cat does say, more than any other and that is a request. The meow is a form of a request, most often, in my opinion. Perhaps the most typical request would be: “I’d like some food please”. The adult domestic cat only does this with humans.
I think we can be pretty confident that the cat says that if you translated the meow into the English language. But what else does a cat say?
The second most common use of the meow, or a similar sound to the meow, would be, in English, “Hi there, I’m here, I’ve come to greet you…” Or something like that. It is the greeting when, for example, a cat goes outside and comes in and sees you after having been apart for several hours. Or perhaps your cat vocalises his greeting when you come back from work and he is waiting behind the door or if not behind the door somewhere nearby and as soon as the door opens he comes over and meows his greeting.
What else does a cat say? A cat will sometimes make a very muted complaint. So, for example, if your cat is on your lap and you wish to move but he’s comfortable; you pick him up and place him on the ground and he may gently complain about being disturbed. In this instance he would be saying, “I don’t like that, can I stay there?”
A cat might yelp if he receives a blow given inadvertently or for whatever reason. You might stand on his toes accidentally. In this instance the yelp is exactly the same sort of sound that a human makes. It is just vocalising pain.
Sometimes a cat may call out to you. For example you may be in another room to where your cat is and the door between the rooms is closed. Or you may be inside the home and your cat may be outside and he wants to get in but is unable to do so. Under these circumstances your cat may cry out to attract your attention to either open the door or let him in. In English, he’d probably be saying something like, “Hi there, I’m here, could you please let me in?”
Sometimes, some cats deliver a completely silent meow. The British Shorthair is known to do this and, in fact, my cat does this but he’s a random bred tabby cat. What is a silent meow mean? Well, judging by the circumstances under which my cat delivers a silent now, to me, it would mean something like, “Hi”. Or, “Yes, I’m here, what do we do next?”
Domestic cats also make a strange sound that people like to interpret in amusing ways. The sound varies and has human characteristics. In my opinion, this is vocalising anxiety, no more.
Elderly cats can cry out at night. This is not directed at anyone particularly and is vocalising a sense of confusion.
A cat may growl at his human caretaker. This may happen if the cat thinks the human is taking something off him such as food. The English translation would be, “F off….”. Also cats sometimes hiss at their owner. This means, “Beware, I mean business, don’t mess with me….” or words to that effect.
These are some examples of what a cat says. We understand what a cat says by the tone of his voice and by the circumstances under which he vocalises. We learn that. It is common sense. There are other subtle sounds a cat might make and of course there is body language which is very important in respect of communication. But for the time being I’d like to simply focus on trying to answer in a very simple way the question, “What does a cat say?”
Now, I would like you to tell me what you think your cat says…