Curbing Your Cat’s Caterwauling


It may have seemed somewhat cute when your kitten, Tiger, first learned to meow to let you know he was hungry. But it didn’t take long for Tiger’s vocalizing to get old. Lately Tiger’s been meowing every morning to get you out of bed, crying when you leave for work, and yowling in the middle of the night while you try to sleep. Life with Tiger is anything but quiet.

What turns a cat into a caterwauler? It could be that the cat is in physical pain or feeling stressed about something at home, and meowing is his way of telling you something is wrong. Perhaps your cat is meowing to intimidate intruder cats outside the house. If you’ve got a sexually intact female cat, she might be vocalizing to try to attract a mate. Or, maybe your cat is meowing a lot because he thinks that’s the way to get what he wants: a snack, the door opened, or attention from you.

As lovely as a cat’s voice may be, no one wants to live with constant caterwauling. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to try to turn the situation around. Here are some suggestions:

  • Get your cat examined by a veterinarian. There are many health conditions that could cause your cat pain or discomfort. Taking your cat to the vet will get him the medical attention he needs, as well as address the meowing. If your cat is stressed about a household change or is suffering from separation anxiety, your vet might prescribe an anti-anxiety medication to help your cat function better.

  • Once medical causes are ruled out, try to eliminate or decrease other factors that may motivate your cat to meow. “If your cat meows because he’s frustrated when he sees the neighbor cat outside your bedroom window, a solution might be to buy some shades for that window or to keep the door to that room shut so your cat can’t go in there,” suggests Sandy Myers, a pet behavior consultant in Naperville, Illinois. “If your cat is crying to attract a mate and you do not plan for her to have kittens, you should take her to your veterinarian and have her spayed.”

  • Make sure you are not reinforcing meowing. “If you are lying in bed and trying to sleep while your cat is meowing and then you finally get up and get your cat a treat to shut him up, you are actually rewarding your cat for vocalizing and teaching him to meow his demands again in the future,” says Barbara Simpson, DVM, a certified veterinary behaviorist with the Veterinary Behavior Clinic at Southern Pines, North Carolina. When your cat meows in a demanding manner, the best response is to ignore it, she says. “It is important that you tough it out and not give in to your cat,” Simpson says, “because eventually, if he is not rewarded, the behavior will stop.” If you have to, wear ear plugs so you can endure the noise.

  • Try to anticipate what your cat is going to want and when — before he starts meowing his demands. “If you know your cat likes to play with the laser pointer after dinner, get it out and start playing with him as soon as you’re done eating — rather than take a nap on the couch and give your cat a reason to go over and try to pester you,” Simpson suggests.

  • Reward your cat for good behavior. “When your cat is being quiet, that’s when you should give him all the things he likes — his food, toys, outdoor privileges, attention, etc.,” Myers says. Sooner or later your cat will learn that quiet behavior — not marathon meowing — is the way to make things happen.

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