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What to Do With a Feline Loudmouth

By Jennifer Viegas

What to Do With a Feline Loudmouth

When my beloved 19-year-old cat, Sweetie Pie, recently started to become more vocal, I began to worry. Not just because her screams wake me up at all hours of the night, but because hyperthyroid disease runs in her family. This sometimes-deadly condition causes over-activity of the thyroid gland. One of its most obvious symptoms can be excessive meowing.

News shared by veterinarian Noel Grandrath, DVM, at Montclair Veterinary Hospital in California, gave me a huge sigh of relief. She determined Sweetie Pie’s thyroid, based on blood work, was OK. But why was my cat becoming such a feline loudmouth? “Sometimes older cats will vocalize more often,” she explains, mentioning that “a touch of dementia” can affect elderly felines.

It turns out many reasons, in addition to hyperthyroid disease, can create seemingly non-stop meowers. Here are three common ones:

Feline senility This is good news, believe it or not, since it’s a sign that cats in general are living longer. “As with humans, the life expectancy of cats is increasing and with this longer life runs the greater chance of developing dementia,” says Dr. Danielle Gunn-Moore, a specialist in feline medicine at The University of Edinburgh’s Royal School of Veterinary Studies. She adds that studies suggest “28 percent of pet cats aged 11-14 years develop at least one old-age related behavior problem and this increases to more than 50 percent for cats over the age of 15.”

Noisy breeds The genetic makeup of your cat can affect how noisy or quiet it is. “Orientals are the quintessential loud mouths,” according to Nicholas Dodman, program director of Animal Behavior at Tufts’ Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. While he says many breeds, like Persians and Maine coons, tend to be less vocal, Siamese felines seem to have no meowing inhibitions. Balinese, Burmese, Javanese, Tonkinese and other breeds can also be audibly expressive.

Owner control While studying meowing at Cornell University, researcher Nicholas Nicastro found that cats could manipulate us with “demanding calls.” These are “the kind we hear at 7 AM when we walk into the kitchen and the cat wants to be fed,” he says. “The cat isn’t forming sentences and saying specifically, ‘take a can of food out of the cupboard, run the can opener and fill my bowl immediately,’ but we get the message from the quality of the vocalization and the context in which it is heard.”

How to Hush a Noisy Cat
If you and your veterinarian have ruled out medical or age-related causes for your cat’s excessive meowing, here are some gentle, yet effective, ways to quiet your kitty:

1. Take charge “Cats are domesticated animals that have learned what levers to push and what sounds to make to manage our emotions,” Nicastro says. “When we respond, we too are domesticated animals.” Don’t respond to every loud call if your cat is clearly pushing your buttons to get its way.

2. Don’t reward the midnight meower Cats have the uncanny ability of recalling every rewarding experience. If your cat screams at 2 AM and you get up and feed it, your pet may come to expect such good service every night. Cat behavior counselor Dilara Parry, who works with the San Francisco SPCA, advises that if cat cries are keeping you awake, “you can try earplugs, or pulling the cover up over your head, or you could close the door to your bedroom.” The point is to not become a nighttime slave to your feline. Over time, your cat will learn to not associate meowing with being waited on.

3. Reinforce regular feeding and play times Cats are creatures of habit and thrive under routines that meet their basic needs. Parry advises that you stay on “a set schedule as much as you are able.” That means regular veterinarian visits, feeding a high quality diet according to manufacturer guidelines and grooming and playing with your pet at defined times of the day.

Finally, keep your cool. Bad habits can take a long time to break and owner patience is needed during the interim period. In some cases, where breed or age-related meowing leads to excessive vocalizing, you may just have to learn to live with the noise. When Sweetie Pie now interrupts me with her meows, the ear-splitting sounds remind me how lucky I am to have enjoyed the company of such a loving, albeit noisy, healthy feline for close to two decades.

Jennifer Viegas is the managing editor of The Daily Cat. She is a journalist for Discovery News, the news service for the Discovery Channel, and has written more than 20 books on animals, health and other science-related topics.


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Posted on October 11, 2011

CC says: Will, I have a 9 year old cat that meows excessively... started the same way.  No improvement noted yet, I'm sorry to share! And I've always thought she was separated too early from her Mom.  Good luck!

Posted on June 19, 2011

stacy says: my cat spazzy is like a dog when she plays and when it comes time to eat it is only turkey,beef, or chicken. she won't touch tuna, or egg..

Posted on February 28, 2011

Broken_record says: SOmetimes harmless punishment like a having a spray bottle with a flavor or scent the cats dont like. Bad behavior gets a squirt on their face. Over time or almost immediately they learn to associate bad behavior with punishment and stop doing these annoying things. It works .. Try it..

Posted on November 14, 2009

Breanne says: My cat had 3 kittens, all males!,10 weeks ago. I see them all eat hard food throughout the day. Yest they still meow "demandingly screaming" at me to feed them their canned food 4 to 5 times per day. Is it okay at their age to stop feeding them canned food too? They have to go to other homes, but I still want to continue to care for and feed them properly. Thank you

Posted on January 6, 2010

James says: my domestic short-hair is 17 years old. He seems to randomly get lost or lonely and starts meowing or yowling. His sight may also be going. He's also burying himself in blankets to keep warm, & tries to eat any food he can get his paws on. He never used to do these things. Does all this mean he's reaching his end?

Posted on January 19, 2010

Priscilla says: I adopted a Midnight from a shelter. She keeps meowing during the night/ cleaning herself and running around for her tail. Some nights she'll sleep but most of the time she's run around and meow.

Posted on September 16, 2009

will says: a few days ago someone left a box filled with two kittens sitting outside my house. it was raining heavily so when they were found we brought them in and started taking care of them. I estimate them to be around 5 or 6 weeks old. One kitten seems to be adjusting well but the other meows almost nonstop. The only time it will quiet down is if its, eating, sleeping, or if its being held. i think most likely its suffering from seperation anxiety from its mother. just wanted to see if anybody else out there has experienced a similar situation or what kind of feedback i may get on the situation.

Posted on July 19, 2009

George says: Shanta is her name. She meows frequently runs and jumps around the house more than ever. Constantly cleaning herself. This is a new act.

Posted on July 20, 2009

Jeanine Helfer says: He does not like any cats that are gray. 2 children or mine brought 2 gray kittens to my home at diff. times at the kittens age of 3-4 weeks of age.The both gray. I had to bottle feed both so they live. Could not find mother cat of kittens, I looked hard. When the come of age I decide to keep one and take other to pound. We could not forget the sweet kitten, so we went back to adopt him. We have Milk Lid who has come agreessive, mean, and crazy. He chase one gray cat arond name Smokey and gray adopted now 6mth.cat Stormy, he tries to kill the poor cat. He hunts all day and kick his butt none stop. All my male cats are neuterd but stormy who will be Aug.1st 2009. Stormy sreams and cry every time he spots Milk Lid. We went to find Milk Lid a home with a family member who we did not know she had a gray female kitten and Milk Lid did the same to her gray kitten, so now he back in my home and every things is bad, back to same, and cant sleep or get any peace thoughout the day due to this. Out side of gray cats he is the most loving, sweet, cat who loves on you and wants love. I need home for him, with someone I can come time to time to see him. Hes great until a gray cat apears, dont hurt any of my other cats, not good with babies, or children under 5. Please help me, antone please.

Posted on May 22, 2009

tj says: we just moved and my 2 cats r indoors cats 4 weeks and they were fine but now my one is peeing every where but the box its driving me crazy to find something to clean with so she dosent keep doing it

Posted on May 6, 2009

Germaine says: Ms. Viegas, this note is about Bobcat, one of the cats I wrote about in comments on the 'love' article; the one I've had for about 17 years now, who adopted me when the neighborhood kids shot him? Well, he has got to be at least 20 years old now, but healthy and not in pain, I hope...and toothless, but hey...anyway, this articel was great as it mentioned the 'messes' made by older cats, and senility! I observe Bobcat, and he does seem to have a problem with, just things, y'know, and he is SUPER loud, constantly meowing! Yeah, he's a Tonkinese, so has the Siamese type meow, and he is always talking! I feed him to get him quiet,(canned food due to his not having many teeth left...), and then he evacuates his bowels on the floor, right next to the litter box...I get frustrated, but love him because he IS old, but he stayed with me by making his own choice to do so, and he still purrs...but do you have any advice on how I might get him to stop sh***ing on the floor? The meowing I can deal with, but it's awful to wake up to the smell....you know! Or togo out for a nice date, come home to a place that smells like a giant litter box...not impressing my dates when that happens! Or do you thinkI should just get used to cleaning up after him? He's been doing this for almost 5 years now...but remember, he is at least 20, in people years...

Posted on February 25, 2009

Marcabian says: Feed your cat a half-hour before you start eating. That will reduce the problem, and you won't feel bad about gently but firmly pushing her away if she persists in trying to get food anyway. Giving her a treat at the time you're eating and she's begging is just teaching her to beg.

Posted on March 4, 2009

Donna says: My cat and I have three love to claw on wood and the frame of my bathroom door is almost destroyed I have thought about declawing them because they do not go outside however, I wonder how painful it maybe or is ther another solution. They have a scratch post and they use it but they want more and the door frame seems to be it. Help what else can I do?

Posted on April 12, 2009

Holly says: Donna: The procedure we have performed on our cat does not take out the knuckle and harm the cat like it used to. We had "Jack" lasered. This process removes just most of the claw - none of the cat. He comes home as if nothing ever happened. No bandages. No special kitty box needs. No pain. Call your local vet....you'd be surprised how long people have been doing this now.

Posted on February 22, 2009

Sharon & Wally says: Apparently the former owner was feeding my 12 week old kitten "people food". She would give him a bite or two when she sat down to lunch, etc. I am trying desperately to alleviate this problem because everytime we sit down to eat he comes over to us and starts meowing. I tell him NO and give him a small treat but he still stands there waiting for food. Even a sound of opening a bag of potatoe chips sends him running to our side. Any tips to stop this behavior because I will not give him table food. Thank you.

Posted on February 11, 2009

Thomas Haggerty says: Hello, I ahve a cat that has cohabited with no problem the last 4.5 years. In the last two weeks he has very aggressively gone after the other to cats. This was not the usually playing. he cat is about 18 years old. The last year he seems to pee and Sh** where ever is is at the moment. My question is this. My wife thinks he is just old. I think that he is getting old and senile and I don't know how to fix this except separate the cats. Any ideas on how to do this, short of putting the old one down? thank you in advance for any suggestion.

Posted on February 8, 2009

nolan says: My kitteh meows when we dont feed her on time. When we try to hush her up, she continues.

Posted on January 26, 2009

mel says: On the feline senility: my aunt's cat recently passed away at the age of 21. Her last year or so, she would meow really loudly and at nothing in particular. The vet told my aunt that the cat was indeed senile and that the particular meowing sound she was making was actually a type of meow that wild cats make when they're letting their kittens know that the mother has food or she's trying to locate her little ones. I've also noticed that my Russian Blue is a big talker. After discussing it with other Blue owners, this seems to be a relatively common trait in the breed.

Posted on January 27, 2009

Joyce Rockhold says: High blood pressure also should not be overlooked as a cause for loud meowing. Also hearing loss should be considered. Just be sure to consider the many possible physical causes first.

Posted on February 5, 2009

sue says: live in mn want to find a affordable place to get my cat fixed

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