Talking to our cats is often a normal part of our relationship with them. We chat away while not really expecting that they understand our complex sentences or even some of our succinct commands. Yet when they ‘talk’ to us, we are often frustrated by our inability to interpret their meaning or intention. This is especially true with our feline friends.
Why is your cat talking to you? Is she upset or not? What does she want or need?
Cats do talk
Firstly, your cat may be perfectly fine. This is most often the case. Individual cats have their own unique personalities. Some are chatty and some are not. There are even certain breeds (like Siamese cats) that tend, by nature, to be more vocal. Certainly there are times when it’s absolutely normal for a cat to be more vocal (like when there are other strange cats in the vicinity or during breeding season) — especially if your cat has not been spayed or neutered.
You know your cat better than anyone. That makes you the best authority on what is normal and also puts you in the best position to notice any increase in your cat’s vocalization patterns or habits. If your cat is talking more, what are the possible reasons for that change?
Could my talking cat be trying to tell me something is wrong?
Pain or discomfort can certainly make your cat cry out – whether it’s due to hunger or thirst, injury or arthritis, or even weakness. Your cat may be crying or talking more in order to put a voice to her physical distress. If you think your cat’s vocalizations may indicate a physical problem, consult your veterinarian to explore those possibilities.
My cat’s a senior. Could she be “senile?”
As is the case with humans, altered perception can result in increased vocalization. This tends to be especially true of older cats and often times is more apparent (or just more bothersome) at night. Just like us, as our cats age, they can experience diminished vision or hearing and may even develop cognitive dysfunction or senility. There are medications that may help with confusion and senility.
If your cat cannot see, hear or even smell or simply becomes confused by her surroundings, she may cry out. Some owners might not immediately recognize impending hearing or vision loss in a cat; fortunately, routine testing could reveal these types of problems and some causes of diminished sight can be treated (like cataracts). Absolutely mention these concerns when you take your cat in for her checkups. You might also consider keeping your cat closer to you at night, leaving nightlights on and maybe even playing music.
What other medical conditions would cause cats to talk more?
Other physiological disorders that can cause increased crying and meowing in cats include:
If your cat’s vocalization seems to be increasing it should be checked out. Consultation with your veterinarian and/or a veterinary behaviorist is recommended to determine if medical or behavioral problems exist so that they can be effectively addressed.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
"Lost in the Night" Howling
Although no one knows for sure why some cats do this, it is most common in geriatric cats due to cognitive dysfunction (senility) and/or decreased vision or hearing. This kind of mournful calling, in cats of any age, when associated with suddenly racing around the house with the fur on the back rolling, can also be the result of another physical condition, feline hyperesthesia, commonly known as rippling skin disorder. Other medical disorders that can cause excessive vocalization include hyperthyroidism, cancer, neurologic disease, and pain. For all of these conditions, veterinary intervention and treatment are indicated.
5 Reasons Why Your Cat May Suddenly become Hyper Vocal
- Heat -- Is your cat spayed or neutered? If not, they could be looking for love. These cries will go far beyond, “feed me, I’m hungry” meows, and instead will sound more like the howls. The answer to this is to adhere to your veterinarian’s recommended spay/neuter schedule prior to these raging hormones.
- Boredom -- If your cat is bored, he’ll let you know by meowing all the time. Make sure to rotate through interesting toys, and truly devote some time to play and exercise each day. You can also talk to us about preparing to adopt a kitty friend!
- Old Age -- There are so many health issues that can arise as cats age, including losing hearing and eyesight. Watch your cat carefully. Is he bumping into things? Seeming more hesitant about jumping? If so, it’s time to get him checked out with your veterinarian to see what’s wrong.
- Sickness -- Kidney problems are common in elderly cats. If your cat is advancing in years, we recommend twice yearly visits for them to monitor their health. You certainly don’t want your cat to be sick!
- Pain -- Cats who are meowing a lot are trying to tell you something, and it may be that they are in pain. Since they can’t tell you exactly where it hurts, you’ll have to watch for clues. Does your kitty seem to have a problem using the litter box all of a sudden? For example, signs of a urinary tract infection include unusually frequent use of the litter box.
When cats are healthy, and they’ve always been vocal, they may be saying “hello” or asking for affection.
According to the ASPCA, “Cats enjoy social contact with people, and some will be quite vocal in their requests for attention. The cat may want to be stroked, played with or simply talked to. Cats who are left alone for long periods of time each day may be more likely to meow for attention.”
If you have your cat checked out and he seems healthy but still more “meowy” than you would like, you can try these cat training tips from cat behavioral specialist Pam Johnson-Bennett.
“How do you do this? It’s actually very simple but it takes patience. Wait out the meowing and don’t acknowledge your cat until he stops. When he’s quiet, immediately reward him. At first, the time that he’s quiet will be very brief but if you only reward him when he isn’t meowing, he’ll eventually realize that silence offers a better consequence than vocalization. Gradually, you can increase the time you’re asking him to be quiet before offering the reward.
I’ve found the easiest way to do “quiet” training is with a clicker. I click when the cat isn’t meowing and immediately offer a reward. Clicker training is a very effective way to let the cat know what you want from him.”
Now that you know a few of the common reasons your cat may be meowing so much, ask yourself if this is a recent change. If so, please make an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out any serious health problems.
Extra Cat Vocalization Could Mean Something's Wrong
Most cases of excessive meowing are habitual and benign. But when this behavior develops out of the blue, it may be a sign that something is wrong. A young female that yowls, purrs, rolls, and rubs on you or household objects incessantly may be in heat. A male cat that cries, howls, and strains to urinate may have a urinary blockage, and this is a medical emergency.
Some other medical causes of excessive vocalization in cats include:
- Hyperthyroidism: An overactive thyroid gland, common in older cats, may cause increased hunger, wakefulness, and excitability, making your cat meow more. Other signs include vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst, and weight loss. Learn more about this illness in our informative article, "Hyperthyroidism in Cats."
- High blood pressure: Cats, like humans, can develop high blood pressure as they age. Felines with this problem often have kidney disease or hyperthyroidism as well. Humans with high blood pressure sometimes have headaches or ringing in the ears. It's thought that kitties may also experience these uncomfortable sensations, resulting in midnight yowling. More information about high blood pressure can be found in "Hypertension in Cats."
- Dental disease: Painful, infected teeth may make it hard for your cat to eat. Mouth pain and hunger may make her clingy and vocal. Signs of dental disease in cats also include difficulty chewing, dropping food, drooling, and bad breath.
- Arthritis: Older cats can develop arthritis just like dogs and people do, and they may not seem to complain. Arthritic cats usually just move around less and do so gingerly. However, midnight yowling in older kitties is sometimes attributed to achy joints. You can learn more about this condition in this article: "Arthritis in Cats."
- Deafness: Elderly cats that are hard of hearing may become louder and more vocal if they simply can't hear themselves talk!
- Feline Dementia: Also known as cognitive dysfunction syndrome, this is a gradual decline in mental ability that affects some feline elders. Signs can include disorientation, altered sleep cycles, house soiling, and bizarre, loud vocalizations. If you notice these signs in your older cat, consult your veterinarian right away. There is no cure for feline dementia. However, there may be treatments that can help dramatically.
Training a Cat to Be Quiet: My Cat Meows Too Much, What Do I Do?
You think YOUR cat meows too much?! Is he a Bengal or Siamese?
Believe it or not, yelling at him or hurling (soft) objects usually doesn’t work. And even though it may make your feel better, in fact doing so may make the cat worse! Yelling and tossing things at them make it clear to the cats that meowing works to get them what they want… your attention! And if it’s food that they want, they know that getting your attention is the first step!
So how DO you quiet a cacophonous cryer? You follow the golden rule of changing behavior—reward the behavior you want, such as sitting quietly, and remove the reward for unwanted behavior—your attention. So when your cat yowls at you to give him what he wants, wait him out patiently and then only pet and provide attention when he sits quietly.
Sounds great, right? At least it does on paper. Realistically taking those steps in that order can take forever. To speed up the process first train the cat to sit for treats and once he’s got that down, then wait him out when he’s noisy.
Teaching Cats to Sit
Training cats to sit is simple. Just take a yummy treat such as greenies, canned food on a spoon or in a syringe with the tip cut off, pieces of cheese, tuna, or, if it’s mealtime, a portion of his meal. When he knows you have it and is looking at you like “How do I get THAT,” just wait until he sits and when he does, deliver the treat right up to his face. Make sure you hold it in a way that he can eat it while he’s still sitting. Once he’s done, repeat. Also, once he’s sitting, you can give him a series of treats for remaining seated. Note this is way easier for cats than dogs because cats love to sit and remain seated whereas dogs love to sit and then pop right up! Next, walk a few steps away and repeat. The goal is that every time you walk away and stop and the cat follows to catch up, when the cat catches up she quickly sits to earn a treat. Now, sit is starting to become a very rewarding behavior.
If you couldn’t get your cat to sit this way, you can also use the food as a lure to get your cat to raise her head and move her weight back to her rear. Place the treat right up to her face, then raise it and move it back so she shifts her weight back into a sit. Then hurry and reward her before she gets up. If needed, you can first reward her for just almost sitting and when she readily goes into this position then start rewarding her only when she sits all the way.
What if She’s Meowing When You’re Training Sit?
If your cat was meowing while your were working on sit, there are two options. You can wait until she’s quiet to reward her for sit or you can just reward her while she’s meowing now and then work in the rewarding quiet later. Generally it’s easiest to train one behavior at a time and she’ll learn to sit pretty quickly anyway—usually in a couple of 5 minutes sessions if she’s hungry, so if she doesn’t get quiet pretty quickly on her own just wait for the next step.
Training Quiet Behavior
Now that the cat has learned a calm stationary position, you can start rewarding for quiet behavior. Here’s an example with my cat Dante. Dante can vocalize longer than the most diligently trained singer but he’s learned that he doesn’t need to meow and scream whenever he wants something, instead we’ve rewarded sitting quietly. However, when something changes, such as when we have dogs visiting for a few days and he has to lay low, he seems to revert back to his meowing ways afterwards. So here’s the routine I use for a couple of days to retrain him to be quiet.
Basically I wait out the long string of meows and when he’s quiet for a few seconds hurry up and reward. Dante’s a quick meower which makes it difficult to get a treat to him while he’s still quiet and before the next meow. As a result, I use a clicker and click to let him know when he’s being good and has earned a treat. At first I can have to reward him for just a 1-2 seconds of silence. But he quickly learns to be quiet for longer periods of time. In fact in the video you can see him looking around to see if it’s the head position that’s earning a reward because different head positions have worked in these training sessions in the past (link to lion head turn). He even gets confused at one point and thinks, maybe meowing does work. So he tries some quiet, tentative meows. But because I avoid rewarding the meows and then reward him when he’s quiet, he gets the message, that it’s the quiet, not the head turns or the meowing.
What happened the next day
Expect to have to wait out the meowing and reward quiet behavior many times during the day if you have a Herculean Howlers like Dante. But if you’re consistent and reward the quiet behavior with enough sequential treats for longer and longer silence, you can fix the meowing in just a few days. Because Dante’s had this training before, it took just 2 sessions of rewarding quiet behavior for him to remember to be quiet all day and the quiet, not shouting works to get him what he wants.