Why Is My Cat Suddenly Meowing All Night?

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?

~ Sleepless

Meowing kitten (CC-BY-SA) by Algėrds at the Samogitian language Wikipedia

Meowing kitten (CC-BY-SA) by Algėrds at the Samogitian language Wikipedia

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.

Thomas: Yeah!

Kissy: Eek! *hiss*

Mama: Cool it,Kissy, you’re safe. Thomas and Siouxsie, you be nice!

Thomas: *grumble*

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!

Kissy: *sniffle*

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.

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Comments

  1. Rebecca says

    I can confirm that using the hunt-eat-groom-sleep cycle to your advantage can really work. I have been doing it for a few years now and I get woken up much less during the night than I used to. For example, if my cat is chasing something at a time when I want it to be quiet, I can just fast-forward her to the “eat” part, and then she’ll quiet down. Or, if I want her to eat some food I put out and she’s stubbornly ignoring it, I can stimulate her appetite by playing with her so she feels that she’s hunted and now it’s time to eat something. It really works!

    • says

      We inherited my brothers 20 year old Himalayan female, who insists on sleeping with me at night, which upsets my 13 years old bottle fed kitty girl who has always slept with me. The new cat Dusty, bops Sassy on the head so she can have the snuggle spot, cat fight ensues, usually on top of me, and then no one gets any sleep. Out of pure desperation I put a baby gate at the door to my bedroom at night. Dusty can see what is going on, but can’t get to me and cause trouble. My 13-year old kitty girl thinks that is the cats meow, Sassy can now sleep with me again, and use the litter box without getting attacked, she can also eat in peace and not get beat up. When I fill her cat dish at night, she falls right in line behind me and we march off to the bedroom. Dusty, the Himalayan, has finally accepted the baby gate and sleeps in my chair at night, but when I get up in the morning, she has her nose pressed against the gate, waiting for me to come out. It only took a year to figure out what to do, then a week before it all came together, but peace is mine once again.

    • says

      We inherited my brothers 20 year old Himalayan female, who insists on sleeping with me at night, which upsets my 13 years old bottle fed kitty girl who has always slept with me. The new cat Dusty, bops Sassy on the head so she can have the snuggle spot, cat fight ensues, usually on top of me, and then no one gets any sleep. Out of pure desperation I put a baby gate at the door to my bedroom at night. Dusty can see what is going on, but can’t get to me and cause trouble. My 13-year old kitty girl thinks that is the cats meow, Sassy can now sleep with me again, and use the litter box without getting attacked, she can also eat in peace and not get beat up. When I fill her cat dish at night, she falls right in line behind me and we march off to the bedroom. Dusty, the Himalayan, has finally accepted the baby gate and sleeps in my chair at night, but when I get up in the morning, she has her nose pressed against the gate, waiting for me to come out. It only took a year to figure out what to do, then a week before it all came together, but peace is mine once again.

  2. Vagabondmoon says

    The cat might be lonely- I have four kittehs- mom & 3 kits, 3 1/2 yrs old now. They run, play, and rough-house during the night, then come and sleep with me. The mom cat sometimes drags a peice of clothing of mine around, usually a sock, crying and mewing. This happens at all different times, though. I can’t figure out if she’s bringing me a ‘kill’ or a ‘baby’, as she did this when she was preggers. Her daughter is picking up this habit from her- sometimes when I’ve been gone all day there will be a 1/2 dozen socks all over the house!
    Just so everyone knows: Miss Emmy was a feral that chose me one horrible icy March night ( by dashing into the house and never leaving) that was barely past the kitten stage herself and guess what! Yep, a month later she blessed me with 4 kittens. Everyone is spayed and neutered, althogh unfortunately my black Omen died at the age of 2 of liver disease.
    BTW, you guys go easy on Kissy- remember when you were the new kid on the block, lol!

  3. Jynjyr says

    I had a 21 year old who would cry at night. I would just say something to her and she’d come running to me. The vet said that she had Kitty dementia and couldn’t remember where I was.

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