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The Ottawa Citizen
Howling cat may be lonely or in pain
Veterinarian can help determine the cause
Q. We have a male neutered cat, 17 years old, who has recently acquired the annoying habit of meowing (more like howling) all night long. He is fine all day and during the evening when we are still up and about, but as soon as we go to bed he starts meowing and howling.
This is a recent habit that began about three months ago. We have tried everything, such as scolding him, comforting him, petting him, talking to him, but to no avail.
As soon as my husband and I return to bed the cat begins howling again. We have tried closing the bedroom door as well as leaving it open to allow him to join us, but he still wanders through the house howling.
We live in a small bungalow and this noise can be heard no matter where he is. He wanders up and down the stairs until about 3 a.m. When he finally decides to settle down and sleep, we are exhausted. Can you at least give us a reason why he has suddenly decided to "sing" throughout the night. It is driving us crazy.
A. All cats vocalize and at least 19 different types of "meows" have been identified, differing in pitch, rhythm, volume, tone, pronunciation and the situations in which they are used.
There are also more than 30 different sounds that a cat can make. The number of sounds depends on how much the cat communicates with other animals and humans. Cats that normally communicate with humans usually have a very extensive vocabulary because they have learned that humans understand sounds more readily than body language.
Cats quickly learn which sounds elicit the response they seek from their human companions. By contrast, cats that normally communicate with other cats more frequently tend to rely mainly on body language and scent.
While it is quite natural for cats to want to meow and vocalize, it can become a serious irritation when done to excess, as is the case with your cat. Cats will vocalize excessively for any number of reasons, including fear, pain, distress, anxiety, curiosity, anger, complaint, and even bewilderment. As cats get older, they may start vocalizing because they have gone deaf or have failing vision.
Cats may vocalize because of pain or discomfort. For example, older cats may suffer from such painful problems as periodontal disease or arthritis. For these reasons, you should have your veterinarian examine your cat to make sure that there are no medical problems. If pain is suspected, your veterinarian may prescribe a short course of an analgesic (i.e. pain killer) to determine if the cause of the vocalization is due to an underlying painful condition.
Older cats may also vocalize because of mental confusion or senile dementia. This can lead to anxiety and distress, and ultimately, to bouts of vocalization. If anxiety turns out to be the problem, your veterinarian may suggest an anxiolytic drug (i.e. a drug that reduces anxiety) to help your cat cope.
Finally, some cats may become more demanding as they get older simply because they want increased attention and affection. If this turns out to be the case, do not reward the vocalization by providing food treats, attention, or play. The key to correcting excessive vocalization behaviour is to avoid giving your cat any attention when he is vocal since this will only encourage him to become more vocal. Instead, give him attention and reward him (including love and affection) the minute he is quiet. Physical punishment should never be used in cats because it can lead to fear and anxiety and has been shown to be an ineffective training tool.
The Ottawa Citizen