It means one of six things: stuck, food, water, litter box, outside or play. In order of importance, call it SFWLOP (pronounced, “suh·fwuh·lop”). Most of the time, it’s just FWL (or, “fuel”).
In the wild, they don’t normally meow. They meow because they see that’s how we as humans communicate; they’re trying to mimic the way we speak.
STUCK OR IN PAIN
Every now and then, one of our cats will fall asleep in a room. Then the door closes. When the cat wakes up, he starts meowing to let me know to open the door. Stuck also means uncomfortable or in pain.
FOOD, WATER OR LITTER BOX
This group is the 80/20 of cat meowing, at least for my cats. You might argue that water matters more than food, and you’d be right. In my experience with cats, their meowing seems to give slightly more urgency to food.
OUTSIDE OR PLAY
It should only take a few seconds to check the first four items. You see the cats. You see their food, water, and litter box, usually co-located. The priority of these two items (outside or play) seem to depend more so on the particular cat. Some cats prefer more time with their humans. Some prefer more time away.
Since I was a kid, I’ve had 12 cats in my life. Some stayed a while. Some didn’t. None of my cats ever passed away in my presence. Three of them, of those who chose to spend years with me and my family, upon nearing old cat age (around 8 years for indoor-outdoor cats), began spending more and more time outdoors.
It’s part of their dying behavior, to go away, somewhere comfortable, somewhere hidden.
Cat number one (named Kitty) tragically got hit by a car; my first cat.
Cat number nine (Titan) developed cancer, leading to an amputation of his front-left leg. When the cancer returned, my children’s mother had him euthanized. I didn’t find out until later in the year.
Cats four (Ephraim), five (Satchel), and eight (Joseph), slowly disappeared. Ephraim and Satchel lived with my children’s grandparents in Pennsylvania. I wasn’t there.
For Ephraim, we were at Fort Polk, Louisiana. I was there. I loved that cat. Because of my allergies, I didn’t allow him on the bed – not even at the foot of the bed. For months, he’d jump on the bed, I’d notice, then push him off the bed with whatever foot was closest.
Don’t worry. We didn’t have a bed frame, so he was only a a foot-and-a-half above the soft, carpet.
I’d say, after about six months, I thought about my previous cats and how sad I’d be to lose Ephraim. He was about 5 or 6-yrs old at that time, maybe 2012. We adopted him while stationed at 29 Palms, California around 2007. He was already a year old and was with his mother at the shelter.
We didn’t adopt the mother with him because the shelter suggested that she was too old to be home-broken.
So I began allowing Ephraim at the food of the bed. He rarely meowed. He didn’t need to. We rarely closed any of the room doors. His food, water, and litter pan were checked daily. He used the dog door to go outside. He loved to play with the dogs and chase birds in the yard.
I’m glad I chose to allow him back onto the foot of the bed. A couple years later, around 2012 or 2013, he began exhibiting dying behavior. Hair loss. The veterinarian didn’t explain it. He seemed healthy. Just getting old. Then one day, he never came home.
Like losing a friend. Like losing family. I miss all of them.