Trilling is a high-pitched chirping sound that cats make to greet people or other felines. It’s a welcoming noise that signals when a cat is happy to see someone. Cats also use it as a way to communicate and express themselves.
Trilling is a positive sound that’s taught by mother cats to encourage their kittens to follow them. It’s described as a high-pitched noise that can be likened to the soft coo of a pigeon or any other bird. A trill is often made by a cat to beckon its owner, say hello to humans and other cats, or demand attention. Trilling is rarely a sign that something is wrong. However, as a cat grows older and becomes needier, the frequency they make the sounds might increase.
While a trill is a pleasing sound, there is so much meaning behind the noise. Cats are expressive animals, and trilling is just one of the ways they communicate. But why do cats do it, and what do cat trills mean?
What Is Cat Trilling?
Cats make a range of sounds, including meows, purrs, chirps, and hisses. But trilling is the only sound that’s produced with a closed mouth. Instead of expelling the air, a cat pushes it out through the vocal cords. If a human were to make the same sound, they would need to press air through their flattened lips and blow a raspberry while humming a tune.
The resulting sound is high-pitched and bird-like. It also sounds like a series of Spanish Rs rolling off the tongue. As described in the US National Library of Medicine, a trill is produced with a soft voice like the purr.
The sound only lasts a couple of seconds, but a cat might repeat the trill in a short space of time, particularly if it’s feeling happy. It will also increase the frequency if it wants attention.
Cats learn to trill during the suckling and weaning period, during which mother cats will make a trilling sound to encourage her kittens to follow her. In turn, the kittens will learn the noise and mimic it to greet their mother or seek her attention.
They will take this into adulthood with their human owners and it will become part of their wider communication methods.
Why Does My Cat Trill?
It largely depends on the cat’s temperament and personality. Though, it’s normally a positive sign and indicates that a cat feels a sense of comfort, ease, and trust around its owner. These are some of the most common reasons a cat will produce a trilling sound:
Cat Is Greeting You
The most common reason a cat will trill is because it’s saying hello. A cat will make the sound as a greeting to people or other cats and is used to express happiness and affection. Because a meow is only used by cats to communicate with humans, trilling is common in cat to cat interactions.
Along with trilling, a cat might rub its head along its owner’s legs or raise its back to encourage its owner to stroke it. As your cat begins to associate trilling with attention-seeking, it may start to become more vocal and use the trilling sound more often.
Cat Wants to Be Followed
To a kitten, a trill means that it needs to follow its mother, who will make the sound to beckon her kittens. As a result, your pet is likely doing the same to you.
Whether your pet wants to be fed or simply requires your attention, a trill is used by some felines as a polite request for recognition. If this is the case, you might find your cat walks away while maintaining eye contact to encourage you to follow.
Cat Is Trying to Get Your Attention
Affectionate cats love attention and will trill to get yours. Trilling is a non-threatening, soft, gentle sound. Cats are intelligent animals and understand that to get what they want, emitting a pleasing sound that appeals to our caring, nurturing nature is the most effective way.
This is also why many researchers and scientists compare a cat’s meow to a baby’s cry. A study on Diva Portal supports this, as it describes how cats product different meows for different purposes.
Cat Is Communicating with You
Cats are keen communicators and use an array of vocalizations to communicate with humans and other cats. Like the Siamese or Main Coon, some breeds are chattier than others and will vocalize more regularly than quieter breeds.
There are times when you can have a conversation with your pet, too. If you mimic your cat and trill back to them, you can create a stronger bond. You might even begin to understand what their specific sounds mean and can create a unique language with them.
Cat Is Surprised
If you stroke a sleepy or unsuspecting cat and it replies with a trill, you’ve given your pet a little surprise. A trill is a cat’s way of jumping, but in a friendly way. Your cat is also replying to your affection with a greeting.
This shows that your cat is at ease around you and doesn’t mind being woken by you. Some cats become aggressive if woken up, but a trill indicates that your cat is content.
Do All Cats Trill?
Cats with livelier personalities are more likely to trill, but not all cats do. It all comes down to character. Cats who are naturally shy or aggressive may never trill. Nervous cats who aren’t keen on being around people might not display trilling tendencies either. To put it in simple terms: it’s not unnatural for a cat not to trill.
Cats that were abandoned at birth or grew up with an absent mother are less likely to trill. Without a mother cat to teach the sound, it’s unlikely that a cat will have learned to produce a trill.
This is even more likely in single-cat households. Though, a cat that lives in a home with other felines might pick up trilling from the other animals if they’re prone to making the noise too. Motherly cats will display this trait more than cats who are unhappy about new felines entering the household.
Is Trilling a Sign That Something’s Wrong?
In most cases, trilling indicates that your cat is happy and comfortable in your company. Other sounds, like low-pitched meowing or hissing, are indicators that something is wrong. Trilling is reserved for joyous occasions; as a greeting or affection-seeking exercise, for example.
However, cats sometimes become more attached to their owners as they grow older and begin to need extra care, especially if their sensory perception starts to deteriorate. They might want to spend more time with you and crave attention as their bodies and behaviors begin to change. This is entirely normal, but it’s always wise to keep an eye on any changes in sound or excessive, frequent vocalization.
Underlying issues might be at play, including pain, injury, or illness. While excessive trilling is rarely a sign of something wrong, it’s vital to establish the reason for your cat’s increased trilling in case medical attention is required.
Trilling vs. Purring
Both trilling and purring fall under the same category. Both are vocalizations that are made with the mouth closed and are primarily used as a greeting. Cats also make both sounds to gain recognition, approval, and affection from their owners.
Unlike a purr, however, a trill is a softer, more high-pitched sound. It always has a friendly meaning, while purring can sometimes be a sign of illness, sadness, injury, or hunger. A journey in Scientific Journal explains that purring can be deciphered from the more stressful moments in a cat’s life. Purring is usually a difficult sound to understand as it hides a plethora of emotions. It’s also difficult to tell whether a purr is a happy or sad sound.
Purring is lower-pitched and generated by the movement of the glottis – the opening between the vocal cords that helps to produce sound.
Cat Trilling in Heat
An unspayed, reproductive cat goes into estrus – more commonly known as heat – at multiple times throughout the year. The estrus cycle lasts around a week to 10 days. During this time, a cat will ovulate. A cat in heat will exhibit many observable behaviors and will become obsessive in looking for affection from its owners.
The trill is sometimes used by cats as a mating call by female cats in heat. To attract a male partner, they let out a series of trills or trill-meows. Unfortunately, these sweet trills quickly turn into unpleasant yowls as cats become more desperate to attract attention. In turn, an unneutered male cat will respond to these signals by mating with the reproductive female.
Male cats, on the other hand, don’t go into heat. Unneutered male cats will instead become aroused at the scent of a female cat in estrus. They will then become focused on finding a suitable queen and will call for females using a soft trill and a series of meows to attract one.
Because cats are crepuscular animals who are most active at dawn and dusk, you’re most likely to hear an unneutered male cat trilling at night. This is the time that male cats are more likely to meet a female in heat.
Cat Trilling at a Kitten
If you notice a mother cat trilling at her kittens, it is because she is beckoning them to come to her. Kittens will know to respond to this sound and will eventually learn to produce it themselves. They will then take it through to adulthood, where they will use the sound as part of their broader communication methods with humans and other cats.
A mother cat will also trill at her kittens because their sense of hearing is not fully developed. Cats communicate in high-pitched, inaudible sounds, and trilling is a noise that kittens can hear and respond to.
Alternatively, if you bring a new kitten into your household that is unrelated to an older cat, your cat will trill if it is feeling friendly towards the new addition. Your cat might use a friendly trilling sound to say hello or beckon it over. Don’t be alarmed by this sound – it’s positive and a way for both cats to bond. Leave your cats to it but intervene if the sounds suddenly become low and tense. This means trouble is brewing.
Why Does My Cat Trill and Run Away?
This can be a confusing behavior, but the reasoning is quite simple: your cat wants you to follow where it’s going. You’ll have to figure out what your cat wants by adhering to its command – your cat will use body language and behavioral signals to show you why it’s beckoned you. In some cases, the animal requires food, or it might be looking for a tasty treat. A cat might be confused about something that it needs your help with.
Your cat might also want to play. Some cats love to play hide and seek or other fun games and might be in a cheeky mood. If your cat is trilling at you and running away, grab some toys and spend some time teasing your pet. Cats love feather-based toys or laser pens because they are most like their prey. During play, a cat might trill as it jumps to indicate its happiness.
Cat trilling is a sweet and gentle sound that displays the kindest, most affectionate side of its nature. Trilling is lovely to listen to and indicates our cat is happy and healthy. The sound is easy to confuse with chirping, which is more commonly used when birds are present, but it’s fairly distinctive. A cat’s trill is often accompanied by head rubbing and back arching, which signifies your cat wants attention and is ready to be loved by you.