We’ve all heard kittens meow to their mothers when they’re hungry, scared, or cold as a way to let mom know to come take care of them. But did you know that adult cats only meow to their human companions? Among themselves, cats will hiss, growl, and yowl to communicate that this is their territory, their human, their food, or their toy – and other cats need to back away.
But what causes older cats to suddenly begin yowling or screaming in the middle of the night? They sound distressed and may pace back and forth – just vocalizing, and vocalizing LOUDLY.
There are both medical and behavioral reasons your senior cat starts to howl at night, so getting your pet a complete veterinary workup will start you on your way to finding the cause, and possible solution, to the problem.
Hyperthyroidism, a medical condition affecting mostly senior cats, occurs when the thyroid gland produces too much of the hormones responsible for the cat’s metabolism. Cats with this disorder lose weight even while overeating, become hyperactive and extremely vocal. Hyperthyroidism can be controlled with daily dosages of methimazole, a veterinary drug that blocks the overproduction of the thyroid hormones, surgery or radioactive iodine treatment.
Cognitive dysfunction, a form of Alzheimer’s more common in senior dogs, also affects some older cats. These senior kitties show signs of confusion and dementia and often appear disoriented as to their location in the house and the time of day. Vocalization can be a symptom of the degenerating brain.
Brain tumors in cats – the most common form being the slow-growing meningioma – can cause neurologic and behavior changes, including increased yowling and howling.
Chronic pain from dental disease, arthritis, urinary tract disorders, and neurologic issues can cause a senior cat to vocalize in an attempt to communicate consistent discomfort.
While these medical reasons for your cat’s loud yowling cannot be cured, they can be managed medically to make the animal more comfortable and give it a better quality of life.
The behavioral reasons behind the loud howling are often hard to diagnose and even more difficult to correct.
A cat experiencing stress tends to become more vocal. A new baby or animal in the home, the illness or loss of a loved one, and a move to a new house or apartment can turn a senior cat into a yowler. You’ll need to help your pet adjust to whatever change is distressing her and give her a bit more attention and some quiet time to help calm her anxieties.
Your cat may be hungry. Particularly if your senior pet has been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, excessive hunger plays a major role in causing her to scream. Additionally, many cats become more vocal as it gets close to feeding time. Train her out of this behavior by not feeding her when she howls, and only put down food after she becomes quiet.
A solitary cat may be lonely during the day and in need some of your attention. You can enrich her life by purchasing her a kitty condo and leaving out different toys for her to play with. Try putting a bird feeder outside a window where she can sit and watch. Check online for DVDs designed to keep your cat’s mind occupied and leave one running all day in the TV. When you’re home, give her attention only when she’s quiet, but don’t ignore her completely. Brush her, groom her, and play regularly. A tired cat is a quieter cat.
If your cat has not been spayed or neutered, the urge to breed will cause the vocalizing. Females howl when they come into heat. Males yowl when they smell a female in heat. Getting your pet sterilized will solve this problem.
Don’t scold your cat for this very natural feline behavior. Loud yowling tells you that something is wrong with your cat and she needs your care. Determining the cause of the howling can help you find the ways to get your cat to scream less.