Skip to main content

Why do cats chatter? Decoding your pet’s noises

These noisy felines are famous for making all kinds of sounds

Calico cat with mouth open
GK Hart / Vikki Hart / Getty Images

Cats’ meows are cute and all, but nothing turns heads quite like their chattering. It’s a unique, distinctive sound that can be somewhat of a shock to new cat owners, so it’s only natural to have questions about this funny phenomenon. After all, not all cats chatter. Some felines will only chatter a few times throughout their lives, while others may chatter every day.

We’ll review questions such as, “Why do cats chatter?”, “Should I be concerned about chattering?”, and “Is my cat chattering or chirping?”. There can be a lot to decode within a cat’s noises, but we’re here to help. Before you know it, you’ll be fluent in feline, too!

Why do cats chatter?

Cat looks up at camera with mouth open
fantom_rd / Shutterstock

We may teach babies that cats say “meow,” but the truth is they make many different sounds. If you’ve ever heard a tomcat yowling at other cats at night, then you know what I mean! However, there is a group of sounds that cats make as part of their natural predatory instinct, including both chattering and chirping.

Over millennia of evolution, cats have developed several successful hunting instincts, including chattering. According to Dr. Aimee Simpson, medical director of VCA Cat Hospital of Philadelphia, one theory is that this noise mimics bird songs, putting cats’ prey at ease and making them easier to catch.

In fact, domestic cats aren’t the only ones that do this. Dr. Simpson told The Wildest about a 2009 research study conducted in the Amazon rainforest. Results showed that Margays (a species of small wild cat that somewhat resembles a leopard) lured pied tamarin monkeys straight into their jaws by mimicking the sounds of pied tamarin babies. That’s the harsh reality of Mother Nature for you.

You may also notice that your kitty chatters while watching out the window or before pouncing on their favorite toy. This is because emotions like frustration and anticipation may play a role in this vocalization, too. Mousers may also chirp while they hunt or play, but most of the time, they use chirping to “talk.” Chirping while playing or hunting can be an attempt for cats to communicate with one another or even just an excited reaction. This differs from chattering because it’s a sound cats choose to make instead of a sound driven completely by instinct.

Is my cat chattering or chirping?

A white and tabby cat with their mouth open
ariannassz / Unsplash

How can you tell which is which? You’ll want to listen carefully to the kind of sound your feline is making to determine what’s a chirp and what’s a chatter. Usually, cat chirps are singular, high-pitched, staccato sounds, like a bird chirp. On the other hand, chattering is longer and can sound like talking, whispering, or even a series of clicks.

Dr. Simpson describes chattering as “rhythmic stuttering of the jaw with the mouth opened in a tense position.” This reaction does not stimulate the vocal cords, causing the clicking or whispered sounds. Cats may do this out of reflex, or it may be triggered by a spike in adrenaline, but the theory is that the chattering motion of the mouth mimics the way a cat kills their prey — by biting down on their neck.

Should I be concerned about cat chattering?

An orange and white cat meows in front of gray background
Feyza Yıldırım / Pexels

Because chattering (and even chirping) is an instinctual hunting behavior, it’s perfectly natural. In fact, chattering is a healthy way for cats to react to excitable moments and encounters with prey! However, it’s perfectly understandable if you don’t love what comes after the chattering: the hunt. Kitties are infamous for leaving “gifts” around for their owners to find, but if your cat hunts more often than you’re comfortable with, you may need to supervise their time outside.

Sometimes, though, your kitty may chirp and chatter while looking out the window. Odds are, they see a squirrel, a bird, or even an insect they’d like to get their paws on. Although they may be frustrated about being so close yet so far away from their prey, the mental stimulation of looking out the window far outweighs any resulting noise. It’s a good thing for them to do.

However, there are some rare cases when a cat’s frustration with their lack of hunting can lead to redirected aggression. When this occurs, a kitty may become less friendly toward other people and/or pets, and they may hyper-focus on getting outside. In this case, something as simple as closing the curtain can make a life-changing difference.

The only time feline chattering should be a concern is if it begins happening much more often than normal and without any visual triggers around. This could be an indicator of dental concern and is worth taking a trip to the vet.

For the most part, however, cat chattering is nothing to worry about. They’re not likely gossiping about you like you’ve always secretly wondered, and it’s rarely the indicator of a major problem. So, the next time your head turns at that familiar “ekekek” sound, you’ll know exactly what it is.

Editors' Recommendations

Gabrielle LaFrank
Gabrielle LaFrank has written for sites such as Psych2Go, Elite Daily, and, currently, PawTracks. When she's not writing, you…
Cats chirping at birds is totally normal (and here’s why you should encourage it)
This adorable hunting behavior is nothing to be concerned about
A tabby cat with yellow eyes stalks low to the ground

Have you ever spied on your cat looking out the window, crouched and zoned in as if they're getting ready to hunt? This behavior is common among cats -- they're predators, after all -- but some felines even chirp at birds, squirrels, and other small animals. What exactly does this mean? You may hear these chirps and chatters while your furry friend is playing, lounging around, or even in hunting mode, and it's only natural to have questions.
This one is for cat owners who wonder, "Why do cats chirp at birds?" We'll review the reasons why kitties make this sound at birds and other small animals, as well as what -- if anything -- you should do about it. Odds are, these answers will make you smile.

Why do cats chirp at birds?

Read more
Why do cats fight? They’re not just being jerks
The real reasons your cats might be fighting
A close-up of gray striped cat hissing

When cats display behaviors that we humans consider socially unacceptable or quirky, the temptation is often to say, "Cats!" or "What jerks."

Sometimes, these statements are all in good fun and tongue-in-cheek. Think: Is my cat plotting against me when they stare? Does Kitty want me to get fired when they hop on my work-from-home virtual meeting? The truth is that cats don't display behaviors out of spite, though. Instead, behaviors are a form of communication — a clue into your pet's feelings and challenges.

Read more
How to find the right veterinarian for your pet
Getting your pet the best medical care will improve and prolong their life
Veterinarian examining cat while little boy watches

Taking your dog or cat to the vet might cause you some anxiety, especially if you're doing so for the first time. Trust us, it makes pet ownership so much more enjoyable when you have an animal doctor that both of you like. Choosing the right veterinarian for your beloved companions may not be easy, but it's certainly worth it — you'll have a better time caring for your animals, and they will stick around longer with excellent medical attention. Here's how to choose a vet.
When should I look for a vet?

We hate to add to your checklist, but you probably want to look at vets before you even bring home a dog or cat. It can take time and lots of phone calls to different places before you figure out the right fit — meaning a practice that suits your needs and budget and has availability.

Read more