Facts about the animal kingdom

Why Does My Cat Meow When I Pet It?

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: October 20, 2022
Why Does My Cat Meow When I Pet It?

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A cat's meow is an odd affectation. We say affectation as it is something which adult cats do not generally do to each other, yet domestic cats regularly do to us. The main theory is that meowing in adult cats is related to when they were kittens. Kittens will meow to get attention, just as babies or children will cry out for milk or a new toy. While this may explain many of the times we might hear a cat meow, it does not explain why cats meow when you pet them. When you are petting them, they already have your attention.

AnimalWised looks into some of the reasons cats meow by asking why does my cat meow when I pet it? We do so that we can better communicate with our feline friends, to discern their likes and dislikes and ensure their wellbeing as best as possible.

You may also be interested in: Why Does My Cat Meow When They See Me?
  1. The meaning of meowing in cats
  2. Petting our cat
  3. Cats meowing when you pet them

The meaning of meowing in cats

Meowing is a form of communication, likely employed because we humans are often unaware of the subtle signals cats use with each other. Cats use their body language to speak to each other and often only vocalize when there is danger, a potential mate or an aggressor. It isn't only when we pet our cats they will emit sounds. There are many reasons why a cat will meow and here are just some of the possible interpretations:

  • Greeting: this is the typical meow we might hear when we return home from work or when your cat returns from whatever adventures they have been getting into while spending the day outside. It usually has a cheerful tone.

  • Petition: this is usually a consistent meow with a very clear tone. Cats will want many different things from us, often related to their stomach, especially they see us eating. The more a cat wants something, the more intense the sound and the more persistent the meowing.

  • Surprise: this will be a brief meow similar to a whelp or even a scream. This can be from anything which may surprise them. It could be seeing another animal, having their tail stepped on, seeing food they want or whatever might interrupt their daily routine.

  • Sexual: if you have a cat which has not been sterilized, they are much more likely to vocalize in general. However, when they are in heat, this is even more the case. If you have heard stray cats calling out to each other during mating season, you will know these meows can be persistent and distracting. This behavior, generally, will end after being spayed or neutered.

  • Conversation: some cats like to interact with humans more than others. They may even try to stablish a ‘dialogue’ with us in the form of repeated or chattering meows. As we do not speak the same language, their meows may be a form of trying to create a response to the noises we make when we speak to them.

  • Attention: when our cats get bored, they often call out in a bid for our attention. They often emit a soft mew to entice us over for petting or generally providing them attention. This can happen more so when they don't have sufficient environmental enrichment to avoid boredom.

  • Location: as cats see us as a protector and care provider, they often need us for security. If they feel lost or need us and can't find us, they may meow to notify us of their presence. This is usually a loud cry to ensure our attention is met.

  • Help: sometimes cats need us more than just to know where we are. If they are in danger, injured or are in a state of stress they may meow for our help. The more serious the need for help, the more intense the meowing.

  • Disgust: while cats won't have a moral disgust like we humans, they will often emit low growls or meows if there is something which displeases them. This could be in response to food they don't like, being locked in a place they feel trapped or even people they just don't take a liking to.

It is important to remember that each cat is an individual and will be more or less vocal for various reasons. Find out more with our article on why my cat meows so much.

Why Does My Cat Meow When I Pet It? - The meaning of meowing in cats

Petting our cat

While we have the above reasons why cats meow in general, there may be some more specific types of meows when we pet them. Some cats are reluctant to be petted. They may eschew it for playing or have had some experiences in the past which lead them to fear being touched by humans. If your cat does meow because they want to be petted, then here is some advice on the best petting practices:

  • Head: cats accept and often ask to be caressed on the head. This can be a scratch on the top of their head, a tickle under the chin or stroking around the ears. Some will even butt you with their head in need of petting.

  • Back: along the cat's spine is a place on which they often like to be petted. It is the outer part of their body and often not as vulnerable as other places. This means that they may enjoy being stroked in this place, even by people they are not as familiar with (although it will depend on the socialization level of the cat). Many may even move their legs in a way which is reminiscent of being petted similarly as a kitten.

  • Paws: cats do not usually like their feet to be touched, especially their paw pads as these areas are very sensitive. It may be similar to how you may not be able to handle your feet being tickled.

  • Belly: this is a red alert zone for most cats. Their belly is a vulnerable place which needs to be protected, so they will only let you pet their bellies if they fully trust you. They will also likely try to grab your hands and defend themselves if they feel attacked.

Some cats do not like to be petted at all. This is usually more to do with their personality, something shaped by experience and other factors. In these cases, we usually have to build up trust with the cat before they will allow interaction.

Learn more about how cats respond to being touched with our article on why cats drool when petted.

Why Does My Cat Meow When I Pet It? - Petting our cat

Cats meowing when you pet them

The most important aspect of petting our cats is that we should get to know them. Although there are general types of cat personality, every cat is an individual and will interact with us in different ways. In this way, we will be better able to understand what our individual cat is trying to say to us when they meow while being petted. You can even consider it feedback.

However, there are some general reasons why cats meow when being petted:

  • Enjoyment: the first reason why a cat meows while you are petting them is simply because they enjoy it. Cats find it pleasurable when they are petted, just as we might enjoy getting a back rub or massage. While some social mores might prohibit us from making too many pleasurable sounds during these activities, cats are less repressed and will be happy to emit sound when they are enjoying something. Some cats are more affectionate than others and may be more vocal in their enjoyment.

  • Encouragement: cats will also meow when you pet them because they want to encourage you to continue. If you have been at work all day, they may not know when the next petting session is coming and will meow to keep it up as much as possible. It is important to note that a meow means they want you to keep going. A growl, shrill cry or hiss will likely mean the opposite.

  • Trust: a cat will meow when being petted to show they trust us. Being so close to a cat means they are opening themselves up to being vulnerable. They consider us family and allow us to perform this action.

  • Wellbeing: finally, cats will meow when you pet them as a sign of contentment and wellbeing. This is in contrast to a cat being in pain or discomfort. If you ask why does my pet cry when I pet it, it means you are either touching somewhere sensitive or they have had an injury. This could even be an internal injury. On the contrary, meowing shows that everything is fine.

A cat's meow is not an exact science and we will need to pay attention to them to get to know what they are saying. This is because every cat will have their own way of speaking and may even make some odd sounds. Different breeds are also more prone to vocalization than others, so they may need more understanding. Eventually, with your own pet cat, you will start to know what they want to communicate to us with their specific meows.

Take a look at some more meanings of different cat meows in our video below:

If you want to read similar articles to Why Does My Cat Meow When I Pet It?, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

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Why Does My Cat Meow When I Pet It?