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When most people think of cats and kittens, they think of meowing. It’s even one of the first things children are taught about cats. You know, dogs go woof, cows go moo and kittens go meow.
But what if your kitten doesn’t meow at all? Why would a kitten not meow?
Meowing is a partially learned behavior that kittens use to communicate with humans and not necessarily with other cats. As a result, it’s possible your kitten hasn’t learned to meow yet. Some kittens may prefer another form of vocalization, could be naturally quiet or could be stressed which may impact how often they meow.
Those aren’t the only reasons but they are some of the most common ones and unless your kitten is showing signs of stress or fear, there’s generally nothing to worry about.
But let’s take a closer look at each reason, when you should worry and whether or not you can teach your kitten to meow.
Reason 1: Your Kitten Hasn’t Learned How To Meow…At Least Not At Humans!
If you’ve ever seen kittens with their mother then you might be pretty skeptical about this explanation.
After all, kittens are quick to meow at their mom and aren’t shy about demanding milk- so much so that it’s not uncommon to see a kitten get a little discipline from their mom for too much meowing.
But there’s a big difference between a kitten meowing at their mom and meowing at you.
Instead, kittens have to learn this behavior and most will quickly figure out that meowing at you can also communicate what they want just as it can with their mother. Some studies even suggest that cats and kittens are able to form their own meowing language with their owners which is very different from the much less specific and almost random meowing that’s been seen in feral cats.
The folks at LiveScience put it simply when they explain that “your cat meows at you because early on, she learned that doing so got your attention.”
So while kittens know how to meow, they don’t know how to do it for you!
Most kittens learn to meow at humans by around 3 or 4 months of age and there are many that will learn this behavior much sooner, especially if their mom is around to show that meowing at humans is normal. Still, even if your kitten hasn’t picked up the habit of meowing at humans, it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong.
Reason 2: Your Kitten Could Prefer A Different Type Of Vocalization
While meowing is the vocalization that gets the most attention, there’s a huge range of feline vocalizations ranging from chirping and trilling to little variations of meows that sound more like squeaks than anything else.
It’s possible that instead of the traditional meow sound, your kitten prefers making a chirp, trill, or some variation that doesn’t sound like the normal meow. In some cases, a kitten could even be meowing with such a high-pitched frequency that human ears can’t hear it and instead it appears to be a “silent meow”.
While many feline vocalizations have specific meanings behind them (like chattering) it’s also common for others to be used in the same way that a meow would be- that is, just a way of communicating with humans. Some cats just prefer to chirp as a way of greeting or interacting with humans while others stick to the usual meow.
Reason 3: They Could Just Be Naturally Quiet
Just as there are some kittens that prefer to chirp or trill instead of meow, there are others that may simply be quieter than others. In many cases, this is simply a result of their personality but there are also many cat breeds that are naturally quiet including the common American Shorthair and the not-so-common British Shorthair. Other breeds like the Siamese will happily meow back at you and have an entire conversation.
It doesn’t mean these cats don’t meow at all or don’t meow at humans, but they may be less likely to vocalize with any kind of sound. If you’ve even been around an especially vocal breed like Siamese then these talkative cats will seem especially quiet!
Reason 4: They Could Be Stressed Or Anxious
While the above reasons are the most likely, kittens that don’t meow at all could be nervous or scared. While there’s a wide range of fear responses in cats and kittens, it’s normal for many animals to stay silent during periods of stress or fear- including kittens.
This is especially true of undersocialized or feral kittens which are much less likely to vocalize and instead are more likely to remain frozen.
However, if your kitten is running around the house, enjoying being pet (even if they’re hesitant), and generally spending time out and in the open, it’s unlikely that your cat is anxious, significantly, stressed, or feral. In that case, kittens are probably not meowing for any of the reasons above.
But if you’re seeing signs of stress, fear or anxiety those feelings could explain why a kitten doesn’t meow and if you’re not sure what to look for check out this video from Jackson Galaxy which does a great job explaining the sometimes subtle signs of feline stress:
Reason 5: There Could Be A Medical Problem
It’s not going to apply to most people and most kittens, but it’s possible that a medical problem is behind your quiet kitten.
Upper respiratory infections (URI), which are like a feline cold, can cause congestion, conjunctivitis, and lethargy all of which will make a cat or kitten a lot less likely to want to meow. Upper respiratory infections are generally very easy to identify and kittens suffering from a URI will often have runny noses, watery eyes, and frequently sneeze.
But other conditions can be a lot more subtle and things like congenital deformities or trauma to the vocal cords are possible but much more unlikely than anything else we’ve already mentioned.
Still, if your kitten doesn’t meow and you see additional problems like a runny nose, a change in their physical condition, or lethargy it’s always a good idea to consult your veterinarian.
Reason 6: Your Kitten Could Have Learned To Not Meow
Also rare, but possible, is that your kitten was taught to not meow by a previous owner or experience. Again, it’s going to be pretty unlikely but if a kitten was punished every time they meow, they’ll decide to give up the behavior altogether.
So instead of learning that meowing is a great way to get what they want from humans, kittens may learn that it’s a great way to receive negative attention whether that’s hissing from a human, getting sprayed with water, or anything in between.
However, most kittens are resilient enough that this is unlikely to have impacted them but it is still a possibility.
Should You Be Worried?
Not meowing on its own isn’t a sign of concern, even for kittens. Unless your kitten is showing signs of distress in addition to not meowing, there’s generally nothing to worry about.
So if your kitten is acting totally normal besides not meowing, it’s most likely just their unique personality. You can embrace your kitten’s quiet personality or you could try to teach your kitten the ins and outs of meowing…but it won’t be easy.
Can You Teach Your Kitten To Meow?
Yes, you can teach a kitten to meow using positive reinforcement but it’s going to take some patience! It’s also worth pointing out that once your kitten starts meowing they may decide it’s their new favorite activity so you may end up with more meowing than you bargained for!
Positive reinforcement, which is simply rewarding the behaviors you want your kitten to show, can be pretty simple. You can use a clicker to train your kitten to make the process easier, which is an activity I strongly recommend all cat parents try, but you can also keep things very simple and just offer some food or petting as a reward.
Any time your kitten meows, give them plenty of positive attention in the form of petting or some treats. Over enough time, your kitten will connect the positive attention or treats to meowing and be more likely to meow in the future.
But there’s a BIG problem here…how do you get your kitten to meow in the first place?
There’s no sure-fire solution, but meowing at your kitten can sometimes encourage them to meow back and it will be a sound that they’re familiar with. Of course, this will partially depend on your meowing skills.
You can also try showing your kitten videos of other cats or kittens meowing and there are hundreds of these videos across the internet. Just make sure you’re showing your kitten happy cats and unfortunately, there are many more videos of stressed-out cats yowling than there are of happy cats living life. The Dodo is a good source for videos of happy cats and you’ll be able to find something that interests your kitten while enjoying yourself too!
It will take some time, but once you get the first meow, make sure to provide plenty of praise and positive reinforcement.
While it might seem strange to have a kitten that doesn’t meow, it’s not as uncommon as you might think. There are many kittens that don’t take on popular cat behavior whether that’s kneading, meowing, or anything else in between.
But unless your cat’s quiet nature is rooted in fear, stress, or illness there’s generally nothing to worry about.
What do you think? What reason best explains your quiet kitten?