Already have an account?
Get back to the
Animals

Cat Trilling: Vets Reveal the Secret Message Behind Those Cute Kitty Chirps

Plus, thrill to the trill in so-sweet cat videos that'll make you smile!

Cats do all sorts of confusing things, but that’s one of the many reasons we love them so much … they keep us on our toes! Of the many unique sounds they make — meowing, hissing, purring — there’s one that stands out, and it’s called trilling. This sweet, chirpy noise is adorable but often leaves us wondering just what kitty is trying to communicate. So we asked vets for the reasons and meanings behind trilling, plus what it means if your cat doesn’t trill. Keep scrolling for the hidden messages in all that chirping.

What is cat trilling?

If you have a cat, you’ve probably heard them trill, even if you didn’t know this sound had a name. “Trilling is a specific type of vocalization exhibited by cats, distinguished by its melodious and rolling nature,” says Dr. Mondrian Contreras, DVM and Pumpkin Veterinary Advisor. The sweet, pleasant noise almost sounds like singing. “It is a unique vocalization that’s somewhat of a cross between a meow and a purr, often described as a rolling, chirpy sound,” adds Dr. Mollie Newton, DVM and founder of PetMe Twice.

The reasons cats trill

Happy cat trilling
Toshiro Shimada/Getty

“Cats trill for various reasons, predominantly as a form of communication,” says Dr. Contreras. Trilling is generally thought of as a positive sound, as well. “The origins of trilling can be traced back to kittenhood, when mother cats communicated with their kittens using this sound. As cats grow, they might continue using trills to interact with their human companions or other animals.” Here’s what it can mean:

1. They’re giving you a happy hello

If a cat trills at you, take it as a complement. “It’s considered a friendly sound,” says Dr. Mikel (Maria) Delgado, cat behavior expert with Rover. “It may indicate that a cat recognizes whoever they direct the trill toward.” Trilling is the kitty equivalent of saying, “hello there!” to a dear friend or family member.

2. They are extra excited

Notice your cat trills at you when she hears you open a new bag of treats or can of food? That’s because trilling can also indicate excitement, says Dr. Contreras. So when your cat trills, they may be saying “oh, yay!” in the cutest and most polite way possible. (Click through for some jokes about cats that will make you want to trill, too!)

Related: Bengal Cat Personality: Vet Explains What Makes This Gorgeous Breed So Unique

3. They want some pets

Trilling may also be your cat attempting to gently and lovingly get your attention. “It’s a sound that kittens might make when with their mom,” says Dr. Delgado. A trill is less harsh than a loud meow, and a little louder than a purr, so it’s like using a sweet, kind voice. It makes sense, then that cats often trill when they want some affection or they’re ready to play, adds Dr. Contreras.

Different trills and their meanings

cat trilling and stretching
marieclaudelemay/Getty

Most trills sound relatively the same, but they can have slight differences that may indicate a difference in meaning. “Cats can certainly vary the tone and pitch of their trills, potentially conveying different emotions or intentions,” says Dr. Newton. “Some experts believe that a higher-pitched trill may indicate excitement, while a softer trill might be a sign of contentment.”

While the length and volume of your cat’s trill may help you determine what they’re trying to express, there are other clues, too. “Context is key to understanding what your cat needs,” says Dr. Contreras. He recommends observing your cat’s body language as she trills. “Any body language, such as tail movement, ear positioning and overall demeanor can help you better understand what your cat is communication or feeling.”

What it means if your cat doesn’t trill

Since it’s such a seemingly common behavior, and one that’s considered positive, is it a problem or an indicator of an underlying issue if your cat doesn’t trill? Probably not, say the experts. “Each cat is unique in how they vocalize, so I wouldn’t be too concerned if your cat doesn’t trill,” says Dr. Delgado. “They might just be a little shy and less expressive than other cats.” Just like humans, cats have different personalities, and not all of them trill.

Just because she doesn’t trill doesn’t mean she isn’t communicating with you, though. Cats can communicate in a variety of ways, like meows, purrs and through body language, so if your kitty doesn’t seem to trill, she may just prefer communicating in other ways. Bottom line: If she doesn’t trill, that’s okay. “The absence of trilling doesn’t inherently indicate a problem,” confirms Dr. Contreras.

When cat trilling is a concern

Trilling is generally seen as a positive thing, so it isn’t a cause for concern on its own. However, if your cat undergoes a change in her trilling behavior, especially if other things have changed as well, it’s important to take note since that could indicate something more significant.

“If you observe a sudden increase in vocalizations or a change in the nature of the trill, especially if paired with other symptoms like lethargy, change in appetite or behavioral shifts, it may be a sign of discomfort,” advises Dr. Contreras. It’s never a bad idea to run things by your vet, just in case. “Contact your vet to see if this is a cause for concern, or if your cat has simply found a new way to vocalize their needs!” (Click through for more ways to read your cat’s body language.)

Cute videos of cats trilling to make your smile

We can’t get enough of this cute, chirpy noise. Check out these adorable videos of cats trilling and see if you can tell what they’re trying to communicate.

1. Ginger cat trilling

This cat actually sounds like he’s singing as he trills. If there were a kitty version of American Idol, he’d be the purr-fect contestant.

2. A variety of trills

Just like snowflakes, no two trills are exactly alike — this video is evidence.

3. Playful trills

As many cat owners know, cats see just about anything as a toy, and that includes their own beds. This kitty is trilling with playful enthusiasm!

4. Good morning trills

We wish we were this sweet and sounded this happy when we’re unexpectedly woken up from a nap! This kitty’s sleepy “good morning” trills are too precious.

5. Greeting trills

This kitty is so polite about saying “hello” when he receives pets from his human. What a gentlekitty.


Can’t get enough of cats? Click through for more stories:

How to Trim Cat Nails: Vets Reveal the Secrets to Make It Stress-Free for Everyone

Why Do Cats Loaf? Vet Experts Reveal the Sweet Reason Behind This Cute Behavior

Why Does My Cat Lay On Me? Vets Reveal the 4 Reasons That’ll Make You Feel Extra-Loved

Does Your Cat Hold a Grudge? Vets Reveal Just What’s Behind That Grumpy Puss

Use left and right arrow keys to navigate between menu items. Use right arrow key to move into submenus. Use escape to exit the menu. Use up and down arrow keys to explore. Use left arrow key to move back to the parent list.