Why do feral cats not meow?

Feral cat with sad odd-eyes
Feral cat with sad and beautiful odd-eyes. Picture in public domain.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Initial note: some feral cats do meow but please read on…

It is believed that cats have learned to meow as a form of communication with their human caretaker in making a demand for food normally.

As feral cats don’t have human caretakers they have not learned to meow and in any case in unmanaged colonies there’ll be nobody to meow to.

That said people also ask: “Why do feral cats meow?”. On the same theme, this must be because feral cats who meow have contact with humans, probably feral cat colony caretakers who are carrying out TNR programs. These cats will sometimes became friendly with their human caregivers who feed them. The feral cats become less feral and sometimes semi-domesticated. They learn to meow to their human caregivers.

Not much more to say. The answer turns on the idea that the cat’s meow is directed at people. Although, there are occasions when feral cats do meow to each other. One such occasion is when a friendly feral cat approaches another with their tail up to signal friendliness. The other does not respond and the tail up cat might then meow to attract its attention. This would be one of the few occasions when feral cats meow.

So, the idea that feral cats never meow is inaccurate. It is just that it appears that the meow is a learned vocalisation from domestic cat to person. Perhaps this vocalisation has entered the feral cat population via domestic cats who came to that population when they were abandoned.

Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.

9 thoughts on “Why do feral cats not meow?”

  1. I’ve had a tortoise-shell cat for about 8 years who rarely meows. She was brought to me while a kitten, maybe 9 weeks old. I don’t know if she’d been around people much or if she was talked to, but I’m still trying to get her to meow. When she does it’s once only, then silence.

    Michael, what about when cats fight? They do a lot of howling then, so perhaps that’s their feeling about it… they naturally reserve vocalizing for those times so any other time is inappropriate or uncalled for? But yes when it comes to friendly meowing, they learn to do that only with us. I often wonder if they feel frustrated that they can’t physically form words like we can. I try to minimize my vocabulary with them just in case, and I often just meow to them as well.

  2. I have a mama and her 5 kids, ( 4 now, one fatally injured past spring), they ALL meow, all friendly, took mama 3 years, but now very friendly with us. Mama and her remaining daughter purr very audible, her 4 sons not so much, but can feel it when petting them. Cats i have known purr when content and being petted, just a reaction i guess. Taking care of ferals very rewarding, i love them all, they are well cared for and we have shelters for them as well, all fixed, too!!!!!!

    • Thanks for commenting Paul. It sounds great and well done. The point I am making is that feral cats probably don’t meow between themselves in the wild distanced from people because the meow is essentially a vocalisation between cat and person. That is the thinking anyway.

      • Well I do not know what cats you have experience with but I can tell you that your observations do not match mine. For one thing, while in heat or if a male is on the prowl then there will be a very loud version of the meow. Observing a colony of 18 ferals I discovered that 1 was a natural meower around me. She always announces herself with her own personal low level meow. While it is true that none of them vocalize as much as most house cats I have known, they do communicate audibly. They have a lower level lower pitch sound that is similar to a combined quiet meow and a loud purr. They talk to each other with that and from a few feet away it can not be heard. They also almost all make a clicking/chirping sound when birds are present. As I have become part of the colony over the past 3 years I have been gifted with them being themselves while I am present. Today for the first time I heard one that I never thought made sound MEOW when greeting one of the previous generation cats. She has a soft and delicate meow and she came up and presented that 2x to the older cat then they rubbed faces and started eating together. I do sort of think that loud meowing can inform a predator so is avoided when not in safe circumstances but other than that I can say for a fact that they meow to each other and some meow softly when approaching the group and a few have decided I am a member of that group and will occasionally give me one or two meows to say hello. Even the one that communicates with 3 different pitches and duration of the blllrrrp sound has meowed when next to me maybe 3 times over the past few years. It is a special sound that is reserved for certain things only. Sort of an announcement and “happy to see you” is my interpretation and it is tempered by the desire not to call attention during the normal state of a cat which is both prey and predator. I can also say that a couple vocalized a soft meow or two to me when I had to leave for 4 days and had someone else delivering the food. On my return they came up to me as a group and all were winding through each other and rubbing then some that had never come close to me included me in the rubbing walk and made a little meow. The following day they were back to normal but they were definitely expressing some sort of pleasure that I had been found after going missing.

        • BTW – THAT ONE THAT IS A NATURAL was born in the wild and I have observed her since the mother started first weaning her by taking her in to the field and teaching how to catch bugs then later at around 8 weeks they all began following their mothers to the human provided food and that little girl would present herself about 6′ outside the feeding circle and walk back and forth a few times letting out a little meow then join the group. I always made myself a casual observer by not talking and just leaning on a wall so they would become easier to trap when the time came for the TNR people to come out and take care of that process.

  3. My feral colony didn’t meow at all the first few years I was caring for them. Now all meow at me when it concerns food.

    A funny story. When Brandy was with us after his TNR he’d not only meow but push the food plate around when he wanted more food placed in the humane trap. He ate 5 cans of food while we had him!

    I think ferals instinctively know that to meow could alert predators of their location.

    • I tend to agree with you that cats avoid calling attention to themselves in a way that could attract a predator from the distance or alert a prey creature of their presence. They learn quickly that certain things cause undesireable results. Hissing and a tap to the head is their form of negative commenting. When we thought all the TNR was completed 2 years ago, one was missed. She is very “wild” in behavior compared to the others. When she was trapped and four of her 5 kittens as well, one was missed until it was so old it had to be TNR instead of taken away for adoption like the others.
      That one little wild girl came up to the feeding area and started making sounds as she approached food and every cat in the colony except her mother would place a paw or slap with a paw to the top of the head and deliver a HISSSSS. I believe they were training her to keep quiet. She no longer makes those sounds and does eat with the others now.


Leave a Comment

follow it link and logo