Does your cat prevent you from sleeping at night or wake you up in the morning with its very loud, piercing yowls or by constant excessive meowing?
In this weeks’ podcast episode, I talked about the various reasons a cat will yowl or start meowing more than usual. You can listen to the episode below. It’s important to figure out why your cat may be making those vocalizations, in order to know how to restore peace and quiet to your household and get rid of those dark purple circles under your eyes. If the yowls are due to a medical problem, how good it will be to get your cat to the vet, or if it’s because your female is in heat, at least you’ll know there is nothing you can do. Just wait it out.
However, a very common reason for the continual, habitual, totally annoying, yowling or non-stop meowing from your cat is because the feline has learned that this is what gets your attention. In essence your cat has been trained by you to do this. No offense to you, but it’s just that every time you respond to the cat when it makes that ear shattering call at the most inopportune times – even to yell “shut up” or throw a shoe at them that is reinforcing your kitty. It may not get you out of bed, or deliver more food in its bowl, but the cat’s noise has gotten your attention, hasn’t it? And that’s a pay off in itself, for the cat.
This is what I’ll address in this blog article. What to do if your cat has developed the habit of over vocalizing loudly and persistently because it works to get you to respond to them.
Now, before I explain what you can do to put a stop to this (or at least reduce some of it) there are some other circumstances to mention. Like if you have a Siamese cat – they normally always are more vocal. They are known for constantly “talking” even when nothing is troubling them. We’re not going to change that. Hopefully if you chose to live with one of these cats, you already knew what you were in for. That said, still – pay attention if your Siamese starts talking even WAY more than usual. Could be a medical issue as I spoke about in the podcast.
Also, if you have an older cat who begins yowling at night because they may get disoriented and are not able to find you or their way up the stairs to the bedroom, remedy this by anticipating the problem. Help your cat get settled in with you for the night before you turn in, so your cat does not get lonely or lost and have to call for help. If you suspect your older cat has feline cognitive dysfunction, then take them to the vet for diagnosis and get the vet’s advice. Here are a few signs that may indicate the condition.
How to retrain a cat that is yowling or meowling because it has learned this gets your attention.
Stop reacting to your cat. Totally. No matter how hard this is for you.
Here is the simple, bottom line, truth. No matter how frustrating or upsetting it is, or how tired you are from lack of sleep, when your cat is excessively meowing at you, in the morning or late at night, for no other reason than it wants you to get up, or feed it, or play with it, or interact with it, you cannot react to your cat or give it any kind of attention.
No yelling at it, no telling it “NO!” or “quiet” or “it’s alright,” or “what do you want”? Don’t say anything.
Don’t move. Stay still. Do not look at your cat. Do not blink. If in bed, don’t even roll over or put the covers over your head. If during the day, don’t get up from your chair and go over to your cat. You’re going to have to ignore it. I know, this is going to take a while – you’ll just have to deal with it. At some point, the cat will stop when it finally learns all that verbal demanding has no affect.
Never pick up your cat while its meowing like this – not even to put it in another room. Picking him up is a reward. What about taking the cat who is standing outside of the bedroom door yowling at you and shutting them in a different room? Not recommended for a long-term solution. You may not hear the cat, but it does not train the cat to stop. It will yowl itself hoarse from the other room. Remember, your cat is in retraining.
Think about this. If your cat decides it wants you to wake up at 4:00 a.m. and makes a lot of noise to convince you, and it works, and you do get out of bed then you have just trained your cat to start meowing at you at 4:00 every morning. If your cat starts yowling at 6:00 for food, when breakfast is normally at 8:00 a.m. and you feed it to shut it up, you have just trained it to always ask for food at 6:00 a.m. You’re not going to like this either, but if you endure your cat meowing endlessly for a half hour and then because you can’t take it anymore – give in and react, you have effectively taught your cat to meow for up to thirty minutes. This is how acutely cats can be programmed in a way you don’t want. Who would figure they are this intuitive?
If all the extreme vocalizing is during the day, and your cat is standing there staring at you or wandering around and meowing its head off, again, don’t talk to it, just leave the room. In the book the “Cat Whisperer” by Mieshelle Nagelschneider, she relates that this is what the mother cat did when the kitten did something she didn’t like. She left. Your cat remembers this. Return to the room only after the cat has stopped its caterwauling for a full three seconds or more. If your cat follows you, yowling all the way, go to another room and shut the door. Wait for quiet, then come back. If you practice this, over time your cat will learn that meowing results in you immediately going away and no chance of getting attention from you. At the same time, he learns that when he becomes quiet again, he gets the pleasure of your company. When you do withdraw your attention this way, be aware that your cat’s meowing may increase. If it does, that is proof that you were inadvertently reinforcing this behavior. Don’t fear, it will be temporary if you stick to your plan. Your cat may act like you don’t care anymore and try harder to get the old familiar response from you. Cats have even been known to step up their game and knock over thing on your tables or bookshelves to get some kind of a response from you. Keep steady – hold firm and your cat will eventually stop.
If you’ve been able to identify when or where your cat starts all the racket, before they start, anticipate it and distract them from indulging in their habit, by giving them a desirable toy or fun activity – a paper bag tunnel, a new catnip mouse or puzzle feeder. Try one of the new battery-operated toys to help them release pent up emotions and tension that often leads to excessive vocalization. Timing is critical here though – you don’t want to give your feline the toy after the meowing begins. That will just be a reward for the noise. Only offer something fun before they begin being noisy or after they’ve gotten all quiet.
How to reset your cat’s “hunting” clock from morning to night.
In the podcast I explained one of the reasons a cat may meow more than normal in the morning, is that its internal clock that would typically be set for instinctual, nocturnal hunting may have gotten set for the morning rather than in the night. Here is how to reset that to the evening according to cat expert, Mieshelle Nagelschneider. Her clients have found great success with this after a few weeks or even days.
For at least two to four weeks – every night, a half hour before your bedtime, play with your cat, engaging them in a prey sequence game. You want your cat to stalk, chase and pounce like they would do while actual hunting. Use a wand type toy with feathers or fake prey at the end that will replicate the unpredictable movements of a prey animal that your cat is programmed to notice. Move the toy to best copy real prey and a real hunt. You want kitty to stare at the toy, stalk and chase it, grab at it and pounce and then give the killing bite. Play for a minimum of 10 minutes up to thirty minutes.
Now, after the playtime, feed your cat, either a portion of his regular evening meal or a few special treats. Usually, consistent results that reset the clock to the evening and allow your cat to rest easy in the mornings, happen after using this technique for two weeks. If you have more than one cat in the house, make sure to separate them and play with them individually – not together. You don’t want them to have to compete for the prey.
All of our domestic cats that don’t regularly hunt for their food, even if they don’t have any behavior issues, will benefit from and be happier from having the opportunity to use their hard-wired hunting skills by playing this game. Play it with any and all of your cats often.
Cats do have their reasons for all that over-the-top meowing and I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t care about the things that can cause it, nor find remedies. Your cat could be feeling stress or boredom or legitimate hunger. Of course, you want your cat to be happy and you’ll want to figure out if there is something wrong that needs fixing. Domestic cats use their meows to communicate with us and you’ll want to listen to a request or a need. But for you and your cat to both be happy, there is no reason your cat has to develop and keep repeating the bad habit of nagging and telling you “pay attention to me” over and over and over again all night or day long. We teach our children that it is better not to beg and nag us incessantly, we can do the same for our feline family members.