Why Senior Cats Meow at Night
Why, as soon as I turn off the lights, get settled into bed, does my cat starts howling and meowing?
This is not something my cat had ever done before. This change in my senior cat’s behaviour seems to have started out of nowhere, and since its begun, it hasn’t stopped.
I lay in bed going over a check list in my head – yes, I fed the cat; yes, the litter box has been cleaned; yes, the water bowl is filled. So why is my cat making these moaning, meowing, howling sounds? I mean, he was fine a few moments ago before I went to bed.
I call out my cat’s name, letting him know I’m still here and everything is ok. I get out of bed, pick him up and bring him into the bed with me. Sometimes this works, sometimes it only delays it.
Perhaps my cat doesn’t like the silence once we go to bed? Maybe he’s confused once the lights are turned off and the house is dark? I strategically install nightlights throughout the house, but still the nighttime howling continues.
This post is for information only and not a substitute for veterinarian care. If your pet is experiencing any unusual symptoms, or if they are unwell, always consult your pet’s veterinarian.
November is Senior Pet Health Month
November is Senior Pet Health Month, and Dr. Alex Avery of Our Pets Health joins us to share possible causes and reasons why your senior cat may start howling at night.
Why Your Senior Cat Starts Howling at Night
It’s easy to appreciate the physical changes that your cat experiences as they grow older and begin to fall into the geriatric age group. We can all recognize the need to take action if we notice any weight loss, mobility issues, increased thirst, or any number of other issues that can go hand-in-hand with the aging process.
Another change you can’t fail to miss is a cat who starts to howl, cry, or meow their way through the night. Often choosing the moment your eyelids are growing their heaviest before starting their night-time symphony!
Just because this change is behavioural rather than physical does not mean nothing can be done, or it should simply be ignored.
For younger cats, meowing at night can be completely normal. Dusk is often the time when they start to become most active and are letting the other neighbourhood cats they are around and not to be messed with. Equally, if you have an entire female cat they could be advertising themselves in an attempt to have kittens. Finally, stress, boredom or hunger could mean their midnight crying is simply an attempt to get your attention!
If you’ve got an older cat who has just started howling at night it is, unfortunately, more likely that there is an underlying medical problem that has caused their change in behaviour.
While there are many different causes, including pain and kidney disease, the most common are an overactive thyroid (known as hyperthyroidism) and senility (also known as dementia or cognitive dysfunction syndrome).
An Overactive Thyroid
One of the checks your veterinarian will carry out when examining your senior cat will be to feel along the underside of their neck. The purpose of this is to check for any enlargement of the thyroid gland, the presence of which will likely trigger blood testing to see if an overactive thyroid gland is the problem.
Crying at night is not the only sign of hyperthyroidism in old cats. In fact, the most common symptoms are an increased appetite accompanied by weight loss despite eating more than normal. Diarrhea and vomiting are other issues that you might notice, and as well as increased vocalization.
An increased vocalization is not the only behavioural change seen in hyperthyroidism. Restlessness and appearing to be always on-edge or anxious are also often a feature.
The good news for a cat suffering from an overactive thyroid is that the disease can normally be treated very successfully. There are a number of different treatment options including tablets, topical gels, a prescription diet, surgery or even a special form of radiation therapy. Each has its pros and cons, but there is almost certainly an option suitable for you and your cat, and the prognosis is typically very good.
Just like us, our pet cats are living longer than ever before. This makes it more important than ever that we pay attention to all of the changes going on within their bodies.
Cats over the age of 10 can suffer from a gradual deterioration in brain function. This is something that tends to creep up on them over time and can take many forms. The end result of this brain aging is a general decline in cognitive ability that bears a strong resemblance to a person suffering from senility or dementia.
Every cat is different in how they manifest this disease, but the more common symptoms include:
- Confusion about where they are
- Changes in when they are awake and sleeping
- Appetite changes
- Loss of toilet training
- Activity changes
- And of course, vocalizing at night
Making the diagnosis of cognitive dysfunction is through the elimination of other potential problems. This will more often than not involve a physical exam combined with blood and urine testing. If everything comes back as normal then a presumptive diagnosis is made.
Management Strategies to Help Improve Brain Function
Unfortunately, there is no cure for senility in cats. There are however several treatments and management strategies that can help to improve brain function or slow down the progression of this disease. We can break the options down into several categories, and implementing several can improve the chance of your cat benefiting from your efforts.
- Mental Stimulation: engaging your cat with new toys or using food puzzles to give your cat their meals will improve mental stimulation. It will also help your cat exercise more, become more tired and so be more likely to sleep through the night.
- Environmental modification: Make sure everything your cat needs is within easy reach to minimize the effect of any arthritis. Don’t make frequent changes to their environment that could lead to increased confusion. Ensure the lighting inside is good so any failing eyesight is supported. Finally, be sure to reduce any stress that your cat may be under by, for example, giving them peace and quiet when they want it and using the pheromone Feliway.
- Supplementation + diet: A diet rich in antioxidants can help reduce ongoing nerve damage. There are also various supplements which may improve blood flow and nutrient delivery to the brain, although their benefits
- Treating concurrent diseases: old cats often have several issues so it is important to stay on top of any other conditions your cat might be suffering from, for example making sure their arthritis is being managed appropriately.
- Medication: anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication may be prescribed by your veterinarian. These drugs are more normally reserved for more serious cases of senility.
And if, despite all this, your cat is still yowling at night, remember to be patient. Shouting or punishing them is only going to make them worse. After all, they are not doing it to keep you awake on purpose.
Thank you to Dr. Avery for providing us with information to help us understand our senior pet’s health.
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