Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
My eight-year-old long-haired female cat cries at times during the night. It is really a nasty, loud call and it wakes us up. There is nothing wrong with her physically. What’s up?
Siouxsie: When you say there’s nothing wrong with your cat, we assume that means you’ve taken her to the vet and had her checked out from nose to tail, including a blood test.
Thomas: The reason we say this is that there are many medical reasons why a cat may howl at night.
Bella: Although it’s not terribly common in 8-year-old cats, hyperthyroidism is a main cause of nighttime howling. We should know — before Siouxsie got treated for her hyperthyroidism, she howled like a banshee!
Siouxsie: That’s not nice, Bella! You’re just lucky you’ve never known how crazy it makes you to have an overactive thyroid gland. I just got so anxious …
Thomas: Another common reason for nighttime howling is high blood pressure, which can occur due to a number of conditions.
Bella: If your kitty is losing her sight or hearing, she may get disoriented or confused, which can also cause excess vocalization.
Siouxsie: But if you have tested your cat for these conditions, and she is indeed healthy, the issue could be behavioral.
Thomas: One thing you can do to keep your kitty calm overnight is to give her a big round of exercise. Fifteen or 20 minutes of full-fledged, high-energy play with a “thing on a string” toy, followed by a small meal, might get her to settle down and sleep through the night.
Bella: If you do feed her a small meal before bedtime, don’t feed her more than you did before, just divide her usual portion up so that you have a little to feed her before bed. If you feed her more, you risk weight gain, and obesity is not good for kitties. Not that I have that problem, of course; I’m a slender, willowy little thing.
Siouxsie: Oh, quit your bragging, Bella.
Thomas: Another possibility is that she’s seeing something outside that’s making her aggravated. Does she howl when she’s looking out a window? If so, there may be another cat or some sort of wildlife like squirrels, raccoons, skunks, and so on, that are getting her overly excited.
Bella: Squirrels! Squirrels! Oh, I love squirrels, and they’re all over the place here. Look, there’s one right over there! And there’s another one — right on our porch. Oh, Mama, can I get out and chase them? Pleeeeease? Kek-kek-kek-kek …
Siouxsie: Oh, honest to goodness. No, you can’t go out to chase the squirrels! Come on, we’ve got work to do here.
Bella: You’re no fun.
Thomas: If your cat is reacting to outdoor life, you have a couple of options. You can either place deterrents in your yard or you can block the windows so she can’t see out.
Bella: Deterrents can be very humane. You can get motion-activated sprinklers or motion-activated sonic deterrents that emit a supersonic noise when intruding critters come into your yard.
Siouxsie: Blocking the windows may be easier, because you can just put some cardboard up at night before you go to bed.
Thomas: Another thing you need to do is not reinforce the behavior.
Bella: It might be hard not to pick up your cat or yell at her when she cries, but if you do, you’re telling her that she can get attention from you by making excessive noise at all hours of the night.
Siouxsie: Another option, if the problem is behavioral, is a short course of anti-anxiety medication. If she’s crying at night because she’s anxious or stressed, medication could short-circuit the overstimulation and stress that are causing the behavior.
Thomas: We’d recommend getting a couple of Feliway Comfort Zone diffusers and putting them in the rooms where your cat hangs out most often. Feliway is a synthetic “happy cat” pheromone, so if her yowling and howling is due to anxiety, it might help reduce the behavior. Feliway is available at most pet stores, vets’ offices and online shops.
Bella: If nothing helps, you should consider consulting a feline behaviorist, who can look at your cat, your home and your lifestyle and make recommendations that could help your cat feel better and safer … and howl less.
Siouxsie: Please let us know how things turn out. And if you other readers have some suggestions for dealing with midnight yowling, please share them in the comments!