Cats make a variety of noises. We enjoy hearing purrs, trills, and other cat vocalisations like meows. Others, like cat yowling, are obnoxious or plain frightening. Why do cats yowl, then? What does it mean, and maybe more importantly, how can you stop a cat from yowling?
First of all, understand that your cat is communicating with you whenever she makes any noise. Naturally, the issue is that humans don’t actually speak cat. According to Cynthia Karsten, DVM, outreach veterinary specialist for the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine’s Center for Companion Animal Health, “They’re trying to express something.” We only need to attempt to identify what that something is.
To identify the reasons for cat yowling, act like a detective. Landing on the right answer is often a process of elimination. Consider the following reasons, then see if your cat might be experiencing one or more of these things. A cat might yowl because he’s hungry.
1. Cat yowl when they’re hungry
This one is obvious, but cats do what works. A cat yowling in your face gets that food bowl refilled. Hunger is easy to rule out. If your cat has plenty of food and is still yowling, hunger is probably not the cause.
2. Cat yowl when they want attention
Although cats have a reputation for being aloof loners, some cats need more attention than others. If you’ve been away from home a lot lately or not playing or cuddling with your cat as much as usual, try to ramp up the attention and see if that cat yowling stops.
3. Cats yowl when they’re bored
Cats require a certain amount of enrichment in their lives. A cat yowling might be the cat’s way of expressing that she’s frustrated and bored. “It’s really hard for owners to provide an indoor-only environment that’s entertaining to cats — especially a cat that’s been outside and then is brought inside,” Dr. Karsten explains. “Some cats do fine with it, but many don’t.” If you think your cat is longing for the great outdoors, consider building or purchasing a cat enclosure so she can have safe outdoor time.
4. Because of hormone issue
“When I think about yowling, the first thing that comes to my mind is breeding season,” Dr. Karsten says. “When cats are breeding, they can make really horrible noises that really disturb people, but it’s quite normal.” If your cat isn’t spayed, she might be in heat. Talk to your vet about having your cat spayed and see if that takes care of the yowling.
5. When they’re in pain
A cat might yowl if she’s hurting. Since cats instinctively hide their pain, almost anything could be causing it, including arthritis, an injury or an illness. “You want to rule out medical (causes), so have your vet do a full physical, including looking at bloodworm to make sure there’s nothing abnormal and checking for pain,” says Dr. Kirsten, who adds that hyperthyroidism may cause irritability, which manifests in cat yowling.
6. It could be a symptom of cognitive impairment.
If your cat is older, cognitive dysfunction (aka cat dementia) could be behind all those cat yowling sounds. Your vet can examine your cat to determine if this might be the cause. “They start to not really understand what’s going on and then they start to vocalize,” Dr. Kirsten says. “A lot of times, the yowling seems to happen at nighttime. Try feeding them a highly digestible meal before bed so they’re not hungry, create a relaxing area for them at night, and increase environmental enrichment throughout the day so they’re tired at night.”
7. Cats yowl due to behavioral problems
“If nothing seems medically abnormal and it’s a younger animal, it could be some sort of behavioral issue going on,” Dr. Karsten says. “Keep a log of all your cat’s activities. Journal when the yowling happens and try to link it to something, some sort of trigger.” For instance, if you’ve had any changes in the household, like a new baby, a new housemate, or a recent move or divorce, your cat might be yowling out of stress or anxiety. If your cat is always yowling next to the same window, for example, maybe a stray cat outside is coming around and upsetting her.
If all that cat yowling becomes bad enough that it’s affecting your cat’s quality of life (or yours!), and you can’t identify a trigger, ask your vet for a referral to a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, who might be able to figure out the root cause of the yowling and help you work with your cat to resolve it.