Are you asking yourself, "Why does my cat meow so much?" Cats communicate through a variety of vocalizations — meowing, purring, chirping, and hissing, among others. They display their unique personalities through these vocalizations, a characteristic most people find endearing. But if these vocalizations become excessive or occur at inopportune times, problems could arise.
What is excessive vocalization?
Excessive vocalization does not have a strict definition. What is considered “excessive” depends on the tolerance level of the individual listener, which may be influenced by many factors, including prior experience with cats, the type of vocalization, the time of day, and the perceived reason for the vocalization. For example, a cat meowing loudly for breakfast may be more tolerable than the same cat repeatedly meowing for no apparent reason in the middle of the night.
When is excessive vocalization normal?
All vocalization is normal; it’s the way cats communicate with each other and with us. Normal increases in vocalization occur during mating season when female cats are in heat and male cats compete for access to them. (One good reason to spay or neuter your cats is to eliminate this cacophony.) Increases in vocalization are also common when there are changes in the household, such as a move to a new place or a change from being an outdoor to an indoor pet. In these cases, the increases in vocalization may be transient. Certain cat breeds, notably the Siamese, vocalize more than others.
What causes excessive vocalization?
The most common causes of excessive vocalization are medical issues and attention-seeking, a learned behavior. Many cats learn to meow to signal their wish to go outside or be fed. This technique is especially effective early in the morning or at night when you are tired. To stop the offending noise, you may give in to your cat’s demands. However, in that moment, you’ve just trained your cat that the way to get what she wants is through vocalizing. Once this happens, she will continue to vocalize and may even increase the behavior.
Excessive vocalization may also indicate the presence of a medical or more serious behavior problem. Cats may meow excessively when they are in pain, or when they have neurological problems or sensory deficits such as hearing or vision loss or cognitive dysfunction. Anxiety, aggression, frustration and other behavioral problems can also cause cats to vocalize repeatedly.
How do you treat excessive vocalization?
Treatment for excessive vocalization depends on the underlying problem. If you have a cat who is vocalizing excessively, take her to a veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist first so a primary medical or behavioral diagnosis can be made.
If your vet determines that the cause isn’t medical, consider why your cat is asking for more attention. Many cats turn to vocalization because they are bored and aren’t receiving enough stimulation. Increasing your cat’s mental and physical enrichment may eliminate the problem. For more information, read “Cat Enrichment” and “Enrichment Ideas for Cats.”
If your cat is vocalizing in the middle of the night, try playing with her close to your bedtime and then feeding her a protein-rich meal, which satisfies cats’ hunting cycle instinct (hunt, catch, kill, eat, groom, sleep). This routine may make her less likely to wake you up in the middle of the night. You could also leave a food puzzle out overnight to keep her brain busy and tummy full.
If you are providing proper enrichment and your cat is still demanding attention by vocalizing (and medical issues have been ruled out), you must consistently ignore your cat’s vocalization, refusing to respond to any request for attention until the cat is quiet. Typically, cats will initially vocalize more and for longer periods of time before they finally give up. During this time, you must continue to ignore the cat. If you give in, your cat will learn that louder and longer vocalization is the only way to reliably get your attention.
In addition to ignoring the attention-seeking behavior, reward your cat for performing a more appropriate behavior. This behavior could be sitting quietly in front of you, touching you to ask for something or simply being quiet. For more information about behavior modification, read “Cat Behavior Modification: Desensitization and Counter-conditioning.”