Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I would like to know why my little cat all of a sudden started meowing at night. She has manage to wake me up several times a night. I feed her and pet her for a bit then she stops but once I leave her a few minutes later she starts up again. What’s going on?
Siouxsie: Well, Sleepless, your cat’s midnight serenades could be do to any number of things.
Thomas: You didn’t tell us how old your cat is, so we’re going to offer you several possibilities, some of which might not apply to you.
Kissy: Some cats become a lot more vocal, especially at night, as they get older. Siouxsie caterwauls and cries for about 10 minutes a night!
Siouxsie: Shut up, screechy-pants!
Kissy: Eeeek! *hisss*
Siouxsie: See what I mean? Go in your room and cry, little girl!
Kissy: Mama! Siouxsie’s being mean to me!
Mama: Stop that, you two. We’ve got a job to do here.
Kissy: Eek! *hiss*
Mama: Cool it,Kissy, you’re safe. Thomas and Siouxsie, you be nice!
Siouxsie: Anyway. As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted — yes, it is true that we cats can get more vocal as we age, and this could be due to any number of factors from impaired senses to feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome (known to some as “kitty Alzheimer’s”). Of course, in my case, it’s simply that I want to announce to the world that I’m awesome and beautiful … and I brought Mama a present!
Thomas: If your cat is still young and she hasn’t been spayed yet, you may be seeing the initial signs of sexual maturity. If you haven’t had her fixed, you should do so as soon as possible; even if you swear you’ll keep her inside only, female cats in heat are extraordinarily talented escape artists.
Kissy: Another possibility is that your cat is seeing something outside that’s disturbing her and making her cry out. If you think that might be the case, cover the lower half of the windows or doors she looks out of, so she can’t see what’s outside.
Siouxsie: The first thing we’d recommend you do is take your cat in for a complete veterinary checkup. Sudden behavior changes can be a sign of illness or discomfort, and you want to rule out any physical problems before you start dealing with the behavior issue.
Thomas: If she gets a clean bill of health, the next step is to stop feeding her and petting her when she wakes you up. By giving her food and affection, you’re positively reinforcing the behavior you don’t want: she’s learning “This is awesome! If I cry and carry on, Mama will feed me and pet me.”
Kissy: “But how on earth do I ignore a cat that’s howling in my ear?” you may ask. A perfectly reasonable question. The first step is to close your bedroom door so she can’t come in and wake you up.
Siouxsie: This is probably going to be a drag, especially if you’re used to sleeping with your cat. But the only way you’re going to start getting some sleep again is to put her on the other side of the door. Get some foam earplugs or a white noise machine if you have to, in order to minimize the sound of her crying.
Thomas: You also need to change your feeding and playing pattern. What we want you to do is get an interactive toy like a feather wand or a thing on a string of some kind and do a really intensive play session with her just before bed time.
Kissy: When we say intensive, we mean at least 10 to 15 minutes. If she’s healthy, you can exercise her until she’s panting. Once she stops chasing the toy, she’s tired out.
Siouxsie: Once she’s exhausted, feed her.
Thomas: As Jackson Galaxy, the host of our favorite TV show, My Cat From Hell, says, a cat’s natural activity cycle is “hunt, eat, groom, sleep.” By playing with her and then feeding her, you’ve given her a satisfactory hunting cycle: she’s killed something and then she eats. When she’s finished eating, she’ll groom herself and fall asleep.
Kissy: It’s not my favorite show! All those screaming and hissing cats make me scared!
Siouxsie: Everything makes you scared!
Thomas: One note of caution: make sure you’re not giving your cat more than her daily portion of food. Don’t give her an extra bowl of food at night, just divide her regular daily portion into thirds and feed her once in the morning, once at supper time, and once just before bed.
Kissy: Of course, if you’re free feeding, that’s not going to work. But we recommend against free feeding anyway. Cats aren’t designed to be grazers, and we believe free-fed cats are more likely to be overweight. Also, being able to keep track of exactly how much your cat is eating will make it easier for you to notice changes in appetite that could be signs of illness or pain.
Siouxsie: So fear not, Sleepless; you don’t have to be sleepless for the rest of your cat’s life! It will take time to change the meowing-all-night behavior, but if you stick to your guns and refuse to feed her or give her affection when she cries at night, you will help her to break the habit. Don’t give in — not even once — or you’ll undo all the nights you’ve stayed strong.
Thomas: Good luck, Sleepless. Please let us know how things turn out.
Kissy: And if you readers have any tips on managing a crying-all-night cat that have worked for you, please share them in the comments.