People with cats know their incredible range of vocalizations. From meowing to yowling to growling, they have a way of making their presence known. Each of these little creatures has their own unique and delightful voice.

If you own a cat, you’ll understand the meow they make to remind you it’s time for food, or how they say they’ve cornered a mouse. When your cat warns a neighborhood feline to leave their property, they’ll express themselves in no uncertain terms!

So, how do you know if your cat is crying or just meowing? Here’s how to tell the difference, and when it may suggest something serious you need to respond to.

The Truth about Cat Tears

Cat crying

Cats experience many different emotions, showing these in their actions and by vocalizing. A happy feline will engage with humans and other animals in the home, purring contentedly. If a cat is sad, they may withdraw from others and when frightened or angry, they’ll demonstrate it in their body language or with a swat.

Some people claim to have seen their cat crying real tears when upset or in pain. However, there’s no research to back this up – quite the contrary. If your fur baby appears to be shedding tears, there are several logical explanations.

It could simply be that there’s something irritating your cat’s eyes. There may be foreign matter caught in their eye, or they could have scratched their eye.

Another reason is that your pet has clogged tear ducts. Cats with an infection, allergies or conjunctivitis (pink eye) may also seem to be crying. More worrisome, tears in a feline’s eyes can be related to contagious diseases.

Why Cats Meow

Why Cats Meow

There are a number of reasons for cats meowing. Your cat may be a breed that’s considered more talkative, like Siamese. That said, cats are all individuals when it comes to expressing themselves. Here are the most common reasons they’ll meow.

Greeting People

Your fur baby may be simply saying “hello” to you. You might expect this when you come home, but some felines have a habit of greeting people when they come into the room too.

Wants Food or Water

Many cats will remind you they need cat food when it’s dinner time or tell you their cat bowl is empty. Other felines meow whenever they see someone going to the kitchen for a snack.

It doesn’t necessarily mean they want a taste of human food, or even that they’re hungry. A crying cat could just be saying they want a cat treat too.

Are Trapped or can’t Reach Something

It could be that the location of the litter box has changed and your cat can’t reach the litter box easily. Your feline may cry to tell you they’re trapped in the closet, or somewhere else.

Feeling Lonely

Is your cat home alone a lot? A crying cat might be lonely. On average, cats sleep 15 hours a day and some sleep up to 20 hours. However, they do need a certain amount of stimulation and company.

Seeking Attention

This can go hand in hand with feeling lonely. Your feline may be inviting you to play with them or want to snuggle. Cats each need a certain amount of quality time with their owners. Grooming, playing, and talking to them are all important.

Feeling Unwell

If a cat is meowing, they might be unwell. Kidney disease and other illnesses can cause excessive vocalizations. A crying cat could be in pain due to a disease, or the illness might cause more hunger or thirst.

Asking to go Outside

Do you have a feline that’s allowed to roam outside? Then, unless they have a cat door that they can use to come and go at their leisure, they’ll meow to be let out and in again.

Being Stressed

A cat experiencing stress will engage in more vocalization. Changes like moving to a new house, grieving over losing someone they loved or adjusting to a new baby, or pet, in the home may lead to cat crying. Cats don’t like change, so their stress could also be coming from a simpler change in their environment.


Cats are the same as humans when it comes to aging in that some have cognitive dysfunction. If Pete or Precious is getting up in years and has some cognitive dysfunction, they can become confused, particularly at night, and may meow continuously.

Looking for a Mate

If a cat hasn’t been neutered or spayed, expect that they’ll display a lot of vocalizing to attract a mate. A female feline will yowl when in heat, and a male cat will respond in kind.

Is Your Cat Crying or Meowing? How to Tell the Difference

Is Your Cat Crying or Meowing

Consider who your furry friend is talking to. Kittens meow to their mothers when they’re hungry. But once a cat reaches maturity, they meow to the humans in their life instead of other cats.

This makes sense – kittens need their mothers to have their physical needs met while adult cats rely on their pet parents, or pet sitter.

If a cat is upset with another feline, their vocalizations may sound more like crying or yowling. Telling the difference between crying and meowing also means finding out more information. You’ll need to judge whether your cat is in distress for some reason, or if they just want a little more attention.

When Cat Crying is Serious

Essentially, the difference between cat crying that’s serious and not relates to what’s typical behavior for your feline. If your cat is vocalizing a lot more than normal or if the sound of their cry has changed, a visit to the veterinarian might be in order. They may have cat health issues, and you’ll want to get to the bottom of things quickly to make sure any treatment is started.

Having said that, contacting the veterinarian is a good idea too if your feline friend always cries for food. That’s because this could indicate a few particular underlying health problems. For instance, as a cat ages they’re more prone to having kidney disease or an overactive thyroid. Both conditions can result in a crying cat.

Helping Your Cat be Less Vocal

Helping Your Cat be Less Vocal

Some cats are just chatty by nature. And, sometimes their love of communicating relates to the particular breed they are.

If your fur baby is just greeting you or telling you all about their adventure in the garden when they come inside, then there’s no worry. It’s actually kind of cute!

On the other hand, if there’s a behavioral problem or a health issue at play then you should take a step to find out what the problem is.

Many issues can be cleared up with a little detective work and adjusting the ways you respond, or ensuring that health concerns are treated appropriately.

Here are a few ways to try to help a crying cat be less vocal:

Feed on Schedule

Feeding your cat on demand will only encourage them to cry for food, even if it’s not dinner time. Keep to a schedule and fill their food bowl at the designated times.

Dividing their food into two portions per day is a good practice. You can also buy an automated feeder that will dispense food at pre-set times. Plus, make sure that their water bowl is always full.

Hire a Pet Sitter

If your cat is spending the majority of the day on their own and is crying from loneliness, there are a few things you can do about it. See if you have any flexibility in your work day where you can make it home for a lunch break and give your furry friend some attention.

The other idea is to hire a pet sitter to spend a little time with your cat. When your feline has some human interaction during the day, they’ll feel less lonely.

Buy a Bird Feeder

Helping your cat overcome their loneliness may be as simple as setting up a bird feeding station outside. Make sure that your fur baby has a comfy cat tree where they can rest to watch the birds.

Listening to the trills of birds and watching their movement can entertain them for hours while they’re home on their own.

Adopt Another Animal

Your cat might suffer less from loneliness if they have another animal to keep them company while you’re gone.

Although animals may not be the same species, they’re still able to bond and play together. Put lots of thought into this first to make sure that both animals are a good match for each other.

Purchase New Toys

Here’s another possible solution to help a crying cat that’s lonely. Try engaging your furry friend in a little mental stimulation with a few new cat toys and a cat tunnel.

If they’ve already got lots of toys, put some away and then rotate them each day before you leave the house. You can also set up a few food puzzles to keep your feline occupied.

Give Attention When Your Cat is Quiet

A crying cat can sometimes benefit from behavior modification. Ignore your feline when they want your time and pay attention to them only when they’re quiet.

You don’t have to have a long interval in between – immediately when they stop their excessive vocalizing, give them your attention. They’ll soon get the picture that crying doesn’t work.

Put in a Cat Door

Installing a cat door will relieve you of the responsibility of letting your fur baby in and out during the day. Granted, some cats who enjoy the outdoors leave first thing in the morning and return at dinner.

However, if Molly or Midnight behaves like a little yo-yo constantly wanting in and out, it will save a lot of crying at the door!

Book a Vet Appointment

As mentioned, if you think your crying cat may have a health problem make sure you get them in to see the veterinarian. It could turn out to be nothing to worry about, but you’ll have peace of mind knowing that you’ve covered this off.

Use a Night Light

If your furry friend has some age-related mental confusion, plugging in a nightlight may help them find their way around better at night and be less disoriented.

Neuter or Spay Your Cat

Here’s another reason to see the veterinarian. When a female cat is in heat, it lasts between four and 10 days. Furthermore, they’ll keep coming into heat throughout the breeding season (February through September) every 18 to 24 days.

That’s a lot of sleepless nights while you listen to them yowl! Male cats who aren’t neutered will respond to any females in heat that they detect in the community.

Our Final Thoughts on Cat Crying

smiling pet owner with his happy cat

All in all, a crying cat can cause their owner a lot of concern. People are often driven to do anything they can to sooth their animal.

It can certainly be very distressing not to know why your pet is crying so much. But once you have some more information, it may point to something less concerning than a health problem.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is my cat crying or meowing?

Find out what’s behind the behavior. Your cat may be in distress for some reason or might just want a little more attention.

When should I go to the vet?

If you think the cause of your cat’s crying may be related to their health make sure you get them in to see the veterinarian.

How can I help my cat be less vocal?

Many issues can be cleared up with a little detective work and making some adjustments in how you respond, or ensuring that health problems are treated appropriately.