Why Do Cats Trill? [6 Reasons & What You Should Know]

As a cat owner, you know your feline friend is capable of making many more sounds than the simple meow. But, cats can be a bit more challenging to understand than their canine counterparts, with chirps, trills, chatters, purrs, growls, yowls, and hisses all meaning different things in a variety of situations. 

Here we’ll discuss why cats trill.

Why does your cat make so many different noises?

Cats use their repertoire of sounds to communicate much more with people than with other cats. Most of their vocal communication with other cats is designed to avoid one another. Kittens who are handled often and socialized well often turn into more vocal adults. And, certain breeds like the Abyssinian and Siamese, are chatty by nature. To truly understand your cat, pair her body language and situational context with the vocalizations she emits. 

As a rough guide, here are a few sounds cats make and their common meanings:

  • A meow can be a greeting, command, objection, or announcement.
  • Chirps and trills are how a mother cat tells her kittens to follow her, and housemates may also converse this way.
  • Chattering is often heard when your cat is sitting at the window, watching birds or squirrels.
  • Purring is usually a sign of contentment, but can also be used to comfort your cat when she’s scared or sick.
  • Growling, hissing, and spitting indicate that your cat is angry, annoyed, frightened, or defensive. 
  • A yowl or howl can show your cat is scared, in pain, looking for a mate, or has captured her prey.

For this article, we will be focusing on an in-depth look at why your cat trills. Obviously, most cats are not mothers guiding their kittens, so why do many of our feline friends trill at us? We’ll look at a cat’s trill as a means to:

  • Seek attention
  • Converse
  • Persuade you to follow
  • Indicate happiness

We’ll also discover how trilling is different than meowing, and if all cats trill. Read on to unearth another mystery about fascinating felines. 

How is trilling different from meowing?

A trill in a cat sounds similar to us rolling our “R’s” when speaking, but much more adorable. It sounds something like this:

 And no, your cat doesn’t have to have a Spanish heritage to trill, although the tongue vibration is much the same as the rolled “R’s” in double-R words in the Spanish vocabulary. 

Occasionally confused with a purr, a trill sounds like a cross between a purr and a meow and has a rising inflection, giving it its positive meaning. While meowing is performed with an open mouth, trilling is accomplished by pushing air through the vocal cords with a closed mouth, making a wispy sound. 

Trilling is almost always a positive noise, whereas meowing can have a negative or positive connotation. And, meowing can often sound and be quite bossy, while a trill is lighter in tone.

For example, a meow sounds like this, “Human slave! My food dish is missing 12 pieces of kibble and I am wasting away!”

A trill is more along the lines of, “Hi, Mom! How was your day? I am so happy to see you!”

Why do cats trill?

While almost every action cats do is adorable—minus the mouse deposits on your front porch—trilling is not actually designed to be cute; it just so happens that you feel cherished and loved by your cat when she trills at you. As we’ve learned, cats make a variety of noises for a multitude of reasons, but the trill is geared toward a few specific purposes.  

Attention seeker

A feline trill is generally used as a greeting or as a way to get your attention. Often, you’ll hear your cat trill when you walk in the door after a long day at work, emitting these cute chirps as she winds around your legs. As trilling garners attention from you, whether through a head rub or a full-body massage, your cat will learn to trill any time she wants your attention. 

Conversationalist

Since cat trills are so happy and perky, it’s natural to want to mimic them. Go right ahead and converse with your kitty! She’ll probably appreciate you returning her hello when she greets you.

My cat is meowing, she wants something to eat

Follow the leader

As kittens, cats learn trills from their mother, who uses them as a greeting or to wrangle her unruly brood into following her. As adults, cats will use a trill to force you to focus your attention on them, either to say hello or to follow their leadership.

If your cat trills at you, takes a few steps away, and turns and looks back at you, she probably wants you to follow her somewhere—most likely to her food dish. 

Happy cat, happy life

Since their body language is so subtle, cats aren’t the best at expressing their emotions, particularly to us humans. Vocalizations can help bridge that communication gap, allowing you to decipher what your enigmatic feline is trying to tell you.

A trill is almost always a happy, positive, cheery sound, used to denote times of joy. Greetings, treat bags, and attention will garner a trill from a chatty kitty, but the silent types may not speak out about their mood. 

Do all cats trill?

Just like some people are more talkative and social than others, some cats delight in communicating through a variety of sounds. A few breeds are particularly prone to being more vocal, such as Siamese, Maine coon, and Abyssinian breeds.

Many behaviorists believe that trilling is a learned behavior and not one that is instinctual, like meowing or purring. So, if your cat was bottle-fed or raised by a mother who didn’t trill, it’s likely that your cat never had the opportunity to pick up on this cheery behavior. 

If your cat used to be a constant triller, but is now silent, something changed to make her unhappy. Several things could occur to change your cat’s vocalizations:

  • New pet
  • Rearranged furniture
  • Stray cat outside
  • Lack of litter box hygiene
  • Insufficient resources

Cats are highly sensitive to changes in their environment and can quickly react to subtle differences, such as a new couch or different litter. 

Some medical conditions can make your cat more vocal, although you’re not likely to notice more trilling. Instead, you may hear different, louder meows or odd noises to indicate hunger, thirst, or pain. Urinary tract infections, kidney disease, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism are common feline illnesses that can change a cat’s behavior.

Age-related cognitive dysfunction can also make your kitty more vocal. As her hearing, eyesight, and mind begin to decline, your cat can become nervous and anxious about these changes and voice her distress.

If you notice any differences in your cat’s behavior, contact your veterinarian. Your feline friend may be trying to tell you something is wrong.

How to get your cat to trill

If your cat doesn’t already trill, you may find it difficult to teach her a new sound. Introducing her to a chatty cat may encourage her to begin trilling, provided she enjoys making new friends.

But, if your cat already knows how to trill, you can entice her to create this delightful sound more often. Each time she trills, toss her a treat and lavish her with attention. She’ll soon catch on that trilling is a rewarding noise.

The next time your feline friend starts a conversation with you, feel free to trill and chirp right back. Light, happy noises that mimic our cats help show we love them as much as they love us.

Let us know in the comments below: what noises does your cat make?

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