Researchers have noted some 19 different vocal patterns in cats, although individual cats may add their own personal sounds that they only use with their owners. Most of the sounds cats make fall into three groups; the purr or little chirrup they make when they greet us, the sounds they make when they are fearful or emotionally charged (e.g. hissing, growling, spitting) and the miaow. Cats can manipulate the miaow sound to make it very different depending on the circumstances.
Individual cats vary in how much they ‘talk’. Some breeds are notably noisier than others, for example, the Siamese is known for being talkative. Part of this variation though is linked to how much we talk to them. If, when they miaow to us, we reply or ask them what they want, and their communication is answered with something rewarding, such as attention or food, then they’re very likely to do the same thing again. They learn quickly how to manipulate us with a miaow.
The most appealing communication of all is the ‘silent miaow’, where the cat goes through the mouth-opening motions of miaowing but no sound comes out – it has been suggested that they do indeed make a sound but the frequency is too high for us to hear.