Why is My Cat Crying? How to Decipher Cat Cries

Crying Cats

Cats, unlike dogs, make over a hundred different vocalizations. Some of them, like purring sound relaxed, while others such as high-pitched meows or cat crys can be very stressful.  

But how can we tell if our cat's cry is a serious concern or if they're just demanding attention? Is your cat shedding tears because they're emotional or is there something else going on? In this post, we will look at the differences between cat cries, caterwauling, yowling and the science behind cat tears. We'll share some ways you can help prevent, stop and identify the root of the cry.

Article outline:

  • Cat emotions
  • Cat tears
  • Cat crying as a vocalization
  • Reasons why cats cry 
    • Caterwauling and yowling
    • Purr embedded in a cry
  • What does a crying cat sound like
  • How to stop your cat from crying
  • Crying cat: The meme


Cats Have Emotions Too

There's still much research to be done regarding our feline friends, especially as far as communication, behaviour and cat-human interaction is concerned. But there is much that is already known.

To date, recent studies suggest that cats can recognize positive and negative emotions in humans by analyzing sounds and facial expressions. In addition, they can also express a wide range of feelings in response to others emotions, sometimes even comforting us in moments of sadness or distress. 

Despite this compassionate attitude, unlike humans, cats can't make a direct connection between tears and sadness. This is because they don't communicate in that way. 

A sad cat won't sob uncontrollably or shed tears. Instead, they'll express sadness and depression through increased lethargy, longer hours of sleep, and a lack of interest in their favourite things such as toys, activities, and food.


The Science Behind Cat Tears

Cats like other animals, do not produce tears for emotional reasons. Instead, felines shed tears as a direct physical response to dust, dried eyes, or other eye-related complications. Tearing up is usually used to lubricate the eyes and ease discomfort caused by a condition or external environmental aggression, such as dust.

There are several symptoms associated with tears in cats. Red eyes, dampness, hair loss around the eye area can indicate a a cat may be suffering with teary-eyes.

Tearing up can be temporary or become a persistent issue. Therefore, attention is required to ensure your cats teary-eyes don't persist. With temporary tears, your cat's eyes can simply be irritated. But with more persistent tears, the tear duct from which tears are drained might be blocked. Common reasons include cat flu, allergies, injuries to the eye, or foreign objects lodged. 

When tears persist, the situation is worth checking. The best option is always to consult your vet and conduct an examination to discover the exact reason behind your cat's constant tears. 


Why Do Cat's Cry if Not to Show Emotion

When cats have watery eyes it's having nothing to do with sadness and sorrow. Cats have developed a different way to show their unhappiness through a uniquely sounding high-pitched meow. This meow is known as the cat's cry. 

Meowing is a vocalization that is mostly aimed at humans. While there are certain situations when cats can meow to each other, this usually only happens when they’re kittens trying to communicate with their mothers. When a cat ages, meowing becomes a way to communicate with humans. 

Scientists believe that it emulates babies crying, so it's especially effective when higher pitched. The higher a meow gets, the higher the sense of urgency, making us want to solve the issue. But why do they do it?

There are several reasons why a cat will vocalize in this way and it's not always food related. It can be a call for warmth, attention, affection, or playtime. Different ages, breeds, and personalities also impact how much or how little cats cry out for their demands.

Newborn kittens, born without hearing and sight, will cry out for food and warmth in the first couple of months. As for adult cats, they will usually cry out for common reasons such as food, attention or for litter box maintenance.

Some other reasons that can cause a cat to audibly cry are:

  • Being in season: in which case you should neuter/spay your cat as soon as possible;
  • Fighting: if you have an outdoor cat, they might get into fights with other cats;
  • Illness: your cat might be suffering from something that you haven't picked up yet and causing discomfort or pain;
  • Anxiety: sudden changes in the routine, environment and family can have a huge impact on your cat;
  • FCD: dementia in older cats is a common factor that can increase vocalizations;
  • Blindness/deafness: cats often feel more disoriented and cry out for help when they have a disability.

According to ASPCA, later in life, older cats can develop feline cognitive dysfunction (FCD). The dysfunction can lead to disorientation, confusion and loss of motor and cognitive capabilities, resulting in increased vocalizations or cat cries.

Caterwauling and Yowling

A cat howl, known as a yowl, is similar to a meow but more pronounced and melodic. Depending on the situation and environment, the yowl can be aimed at humans or cats. There are also breeds, like the Siamese that are more likely to vocalize in this way.

Other than the yowling, caterwauling is an even more intense vocalization. A mix between whining and yowling is primarily directed at humans and is a clear indication that something is causing stress, pain, or anxiety.

Yowling and caterwauling aren't necessarily reasons to worry. It can be your cats' way of getting your attention and communicating with you. However, if it started out of the blue and is a not the way your cat normally communicates, you might want to schedule a vet visit to rule out anything serious.

Cry Embedded in a Purr

According to Professor Karen McComb of Animal Behaviour and Cognition at Sussex, cats produce a low-pitch purr combined with a high-pitch signal when crying out for food. This apparent combination of delight paired with an urgent cry makes it really hard to ignore a hungry cat.

Professor McComb also mentions that felines can produce purrs by vibrating the muscles located on the vocal cords. However, they have to deliberately voice out the high-pitch sound to show urgency and catch humans' attention. They do it purposefully because they know it works.


What Does a Crying Cat Sound Like

Cats can feel and depict sadness, pain or anxiety and even grief. To do it, they make low reverberating noises such as growls or soft and pitiful meows. The cry will be accompanied by a change in behaviour, showing apathy, lack of interest and hiding. 

Sad Cat


Calling for attention for matters such as food, cleaning the litter box, or pet time will be represented by other vocal cries. Longer in duration and higher in frequency than usual meows, you will sense urgency once you hear it.

Cat Cry


On the other hand, yowling (or caterwauling) means pain, danger, confusion, or intention to act on other cats (by breeding or fighting). If you have heard street cats fight before, you know what yowling sounds like.



In short, cats can express themselves in many different ways. Cat parents are often familiar with their cat's vocalizations and what they mean, but sometimes they can be hard to distinguish. If you sense a change or something unusual about your cat's behaviour and/or vocalizations, it's best to seek professional advise from your veterinarian.


How to Stop a Cat from Howling or Yowling

Stopping your cat from loud vocalizations like howling or yowling will depend on what's causing it. Understanding the reason for the cry is the first step to taking the right action. 

If your cat is crying due to a illness, the cry will probably get worse as time goes on. Checking for injuries, lumps, lesions, or abnormal signs on the body is a good step to take. Besides that, is there any change in facial expressions? Is the cat displaying unusual aggression? Are their movements irregular or have them in odd positions? Has your cat been licking, chewing, or losing fur? If you see any of these signs, make an urgent appointment with your vet. 

Note that female cats also tend to cry out when they are in season. If that is the case, the cry will be a regular occurrence until she is spayed.

If your cat is making a simple call for attention, ensure all their needs are being attended to; food and water, clean litterbox, affection (some cats need this more than others). If the crying meows continue it might help to try one of the following strategies: 

  • Tire them out with playtime;
  • Instigate play in the evening, tiring them before going to bed;
  • Invest in food puzzles and interactive toys to help him get mentally stimulated;
  • Try spraying pheromones to help him calm them;
  • Consult a cat behaviourist to get professional help with behavioural modification or medication.

Besides knowing what to do when your cat is crying, it is also essential to know what not to do. 

  • If you find any injury on your cat, do not scratch, remove or try to heal it;
  • Do not ignore your cat unless you are certain nothing is wrong and all their needs are met. Remember that a crying cat is one that is trying to communicate their needs.
  • Under no circumstance punish your cat for being vocal. This will only cause fear and more pain/anxiety. Cat's might understand in a general sense what we are communicating when we yell (that we are unhappy), but they cannot comprehend why.


Crying Cat - The Meme

crying cat meme

As we've seen in this post, cats don't cry tears of sadness. Nevertheless, a popular internet reference might lead many people to think otherwise.

The viral "Crying Cat" meme first appeared on a Meme Generator by an anonymous member in 2014. It's based on a photoshopped image of a cat with a very wet and glass-eyed look that makes it appear as if the cat has been sobbing for a long time.

Although funny, you'll never find a cat crying because they're emotional.



There is still a lot to uncover regarding cats' emotions, however we know that cats do have emotions and can on some emotional level connect with humans.

Contrary to what the "Crying Cat" memes lead us to believe, tears in cats are not a sign of unhappiness. The tears are a physical response to temporary or persistent eye-related conditions.

Cats use a high-pitched meow called the cat cry to show sadness or discomfort. Different cries express pain, mating, aggression or simply calls for attention. Knowing your cat's cry(s) is important. Learning how your cat communicates and their habits will be helpful in deciphering what they're trying to communicate to you, especially when their are changes.

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