Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
Help! My cat won’t stop meowing! He is a three-year-old male. We got him a few months ago, and now my roommates want to start spraying him to stop the meowing. I am concerned that will just make matters worse, and I really don’t want to re-home him! Please, please help me!
Siouxsie: The first thing you need to do is to figure out why your cat is meowing all the time.
Thomas: Excessive vocalization may be a sign of a health problem, so you’ll want to rule that out first. Call your veterinarian and take him in for a checkup, just to make sure he doesn’t have a urinary tract problem (which can cause excessive meowing because of the discomfort and pain) or a hormonal problem like hyperthyroid disease (which can also cause cats to be very noisy).
Dahlia: If your cat gets a clean bill of health, he’s probably meowing because he’s bored or he wants your attention.
Siouxsie: Most humans aren’t very good at picking up the subtle signs that we want attention–staring, walking on your newspaper, walking back and forth in front of you when you’re on the computer, and stuff like that–so a cat may have to resort to yelling and crying so you’ll interact with him.
Thomas: Like human children who are ignored, cats start to act out because they feel that even negative attention is better than no attention at all.
Dahlia: You’re right in thinking that if you spray him when he meows, it will only make matters worse. That’s because you’d be rewarding him for the behavior you don’t want. As Thomas said, your cat is meowing because he wants your attention, and even a squirt with a spray bottle is attention!
Siouxsie: Rehoming isn’t necessarily a good solution, either, because you’d be passing on your problems to someone else.
Thomas: So what can you do to stop your cat’s constant calling? We assume he’s neutered, but if he isn’t, take care of that first.
Dahlia: Behavior experts recommend two courses of action for excessive vocalization–ignoring and distraction. Whatever course of action you take, your roommates are going to have to be on board with it too. Neither of these techniques will work if one or more of you fail to commit to–and act on–these retraining methods.
Siouxsie: We’d recommend that you try distraction first, because it’s hard to ignore a cat that’s howling and yowling constantly.
Thomas: Distraction requires that you be observant. Notice the behavior that happens before your cat starts his meowing phase and pre-empt the meowing by doing something more enjoyable. We recommend a good, energetic play session.
Dahlia: You’ll be amazed what 10 or 15 minutes of play with a thing-on-a-string toy will do to calm your cat down, give him the attention he craves, and stimulate his mind by triggering his hunting reflexes.
Siouxsie: Make sure you provide him with toys to play with when he’s alone in the house, too. The most fun toys are the ones that roll and bounce off things so we can pretend we’re hunting them. Rolling plastic balls with little bells in them are a good option, as are solid foam-rubber balls. Fur-covered fake mice can be batted around and chewed, and that’s lots of fun, too.
Thomas: If your cat likes catnip, consider purchasing him a Plague Rat. These toys are made of linen and other things cats like to get their paws around, and they’re stuffed with catnip for extra goodness. I love my Plague Rat! I can’t get enough of it! (Although since I’m a gentleman, I do share it with Siouxsie and Dahlia sometimes.)
Dahlia: Plague Rats are hand-made in the UK, but the creator will ship to the US and Canada as well.
Siouxsie: In addition to distracting your cat with play, you and your roommates can schedule in regular 10- to 15-minute play sessions as part of your day. Your cat will love you forever if you take the time every day to do something fun and interactive with him.
Thomas: If your cat meows at night after you go to bed, make sure to have a good play session just before bedtime. This will tire him out and get him to sleep, at least for a while.
Dahlia: If you have a spare room that you can use as his “bedroom,” put his bed, a litterbox, some toys, and a bowl of water in there and put him to bed each night before you go to sleep. Also consider putting a radio in there and tuning it to a mellow station, playing at a low volume. If his night meowing is caused by anxiety, the radio might help to calm him down by reassuring him that he’s not alone.
Siouxsie: If he starts crying in the middle of the night, you must ignore him. Get earplugs if you have to, but do not reward him for waking you up when he wants attention but you want to sleep!
Thomas: One other thing you might consider is getting your cat a friend. If your household is very busy and you and your roommates are rarely home, your cat is probably lonely. Getting another cat might help to solve this problem. Also, because he’ll have a pal to play with, he can work off his excess energy.
Dahlia: If you do go this route, we think you’ll have the best luck adopting a younger cat–perhaps even a kitten–with a similar temperament and energy level. We cats tend to get along best with cats of the opposite sex, so get yourself a girl cat. Your local shelter can help you to find a cat that will be a good fit for your household.
Siouxsie: When you bring home the new cat, make sure you introduce her properly into the household in order to avoid other behavior problems like fighting and territory marking.You’ll need to get another litterbox, too, just to prevent any potential problems in that arena.
Thomas: We think that if you take these steps, you’ll be able to train your cat out of his constant meowing habit.
Dahlia: It’ll take time and patience, but don’t give up! Good luck, Denelle.