Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I have a 6-year-old deaf white cat that meows excessively and loudly throughout the day while I’m at work. While I’m at home she rarely meows, and when she does, it’s early in the morning, not at night. I give her lots of love and attention, plenty of food and water, and I’ve bought her all kinds of toys. I have found that she isn’t interested in the typical cat toys, but she loves shadows, so I have bought toys with lights and movement. I’ve done all kinds of research and tried everything I can think of, but nothing seems to keep her from crying all day. I live in an apartment complex and my neighbours have complained about the noise, so now I have to find something that definitely works or I’ll need to re-home her. This is a path I definitely do not want to choose. Please help.
Siouxsie: Well, Michelle, you are in a bit of a pickle there. What a shame that your neighbors have decided to complain to the landlord about your poor kitty!
Thomas: It sounds like your cat may be suffering from separation anxiety. It’s pretty scary for a deaf cat to be left alone, especially if at some time in her past she was abandoned for a long time by herself.
Dahlia: In addition to excessive vocalizing, cats with separation anxiety exhibit other symptoms, including “velcro kitty syndrome,” where your cat follows you everywhere you go and demands attention constantly. Some cats with separation anxiety vomit while their owners are away and can also pee or poop outside the litterbox. These are signs of stress, not signs of anger or resentment.
Siouxsie: There’s plenty of material about how to treat separation anxiety in cats. But because your cat is deaf, you can’t employ some of the more commonly used tactics to keep her from freaking out: she won’t hear a radio playing soft music, for example.
Thomas: But don’t fear. We have a few ideas that might help your sweet girl feel less frightened while you’re at work.
Dahlia: The first thing you should do, if you haven’t done this already, is to take your cat to the vet for a checkup to make sure she’s physically okay. Some behavior issues are a response to health problems.
Siouxsie: After your kitty gets a clean bill of health, we’d suggest is that you use a pheromone diffuser. Most commonly found under the brand name Feliway Comfort Zone (this link is to a U.S.-based site, but we’re pretty sure you can get it in the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, too), the diffuser emits a synthetic form of “happy cat” scent that’s pretty effective in relieving stress. Mama’s used it with us when introducing new cats or when we’ve had to move to a new house. Our former vet used to have Feliway plug-ins in the cat exam rooms at her clinic.
Thomas: Although we say it has a scent, only cats can smell it. Humans don’t notice any aroma at all.
Dahlia: We’d also recommend a consultation with an animal behaviorist. These people are specially trained and have lots of experience treating emotional and behavioral problems. Your vet may be able to help you find one in your area — and if there aren’t any nearby, many behaviorists offer consultations by phone or e-mail. If possible, find a behaviorist that specializes in cats. The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants has a search tool at its website that can help you locate a consultant in your area.
Siouxsie: Sometimes a veterinarian who also practices homeopathy can provide you with a remedy that will help your cat feel less anxious and stressed.
Thomas: Mama gave me a homeopathic remedy when I first came home to live with her, and it really helped me. I went from hiding all the time to exploring all around my room in just a couple of hours.
Dahlia: If your cat cries because she’s lonely, consider getting her a kitty friend. Keep in mind that if you do so, you need to introduce the cats properly — or else you could cause your current resident to become even more stressed.
Siouxsie: But if it’s not the right time to bring another cat into your life — for example, if your lease only allows one cat, or if your budget doesn’t have room for an extra set of vet expenses and food — don’t do it just because it might help your cat stop meowing so much. If both you and your cat are overstressed, it could make a bad situation worse.
Thomas: And if all else fails, your vet can prescribe a short course of medication. The meds could help to break the cycle of ever-increasing stress and anxiety and help your kitty re-program herself to be more comfortable while you’re away.
Dahlia: Regardless of what tactics you try, it will take a while for your cat to learn to turn the volume down. If you can convince your neighbors and your landlord that you really are working to solve the problem, perhaps they’ll be able to be patient with you. Good luck, Michelle.