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Cats might not be able to talk to their pet parents using words, but that doesn’t stop them from communicating. They use a variety of vocalizations, including meowing, yowling, chirping, and chattering.
While adult cats use several types of sounds to communicate with one another, meowing is one that they reserve for their humans. The only cats that meow at other felines are kittens trying to let their mothers know they’re hungry or cold.
Pet parents who live with cats know that felines have numerous types of vocalizations. The question they often have is, when do cat sounds and vocalizations become excessive?
Felines vocalize to communicate different messages. Here are some of the most common:
Some cats may meow to greet pet parents returning home from work or when they cross paths with their pet parents in the house. They may also circle between their pet parent’s feet or rub up against their leg.
While cats have a reputation for being solitary creatures, most enjoy the company of their pet parents. They may be asking for pets, playtime, or simple acknowledgment.
Cats that go outdoors may sit at the front or back door and vocalize to be let out (or back in). Indoor-only cats may do this too if they can’t get into a bedroom or other part of the home they want to visit.
Hungry cats may cry nonstop every time someone enters the kitchen or when they believe it’s feeding time (even when it isn’t).
Senior cats can develop cognitive dysfunction. The condition can lead to confusion and disorientation, which may result in more frequent vocalization. Pet parents may also notice their older cat getting lost in familiar places, aimless wandering, and general restlessness.
Events like the addition or loss of a family member (human or animal), moving, or other significant life changes can leave a cat feeling stressed. They may express that stress by withdrawing, grooming themselves more frequently, urinating outside of the litter box, and excessive vocalization.
While cats generally try to hide their pain, they may not always be successful. If they’re experiencing a medical issue that’s causing them significant discomfort, they may meow more often or even start howling.
Unaltered female cats may yowl when they’re in heat to attract a mate. Likewise, unaltered males may vocalize when they know there’s a female in heat nearby.
Every cat is unique and vocalizes differently. When pet parents take the time to learn when and how their cats communicate, it can help them decipher the messages.
Pet parents should take note of their cat’s typical vocalization habits and be mindful of any changes. More frequent meowing can sometimes indicate a problem, especially if it’s also louder and more urgent than usual.
High-pitched meows or yowls often indicate pain or anger (someone may have stepped on the cat’s tail). Lower-pitched sounds may be a sign of fear, distress, or anger. Cats with cognitive dysfunction may give low-pitched yowls in the middle of the night if they’re having trouble getting around.
Short meows are often a standard greeting. Longer, drawn-out sounds can indicate the cat wants something (such as food). They may also be lodging a complaint.
If a cat starts vocalizing excessively, here are a few ways pet parents can manage these behaviors:
Avoid punishment: Punishing a cat for being too vocal can make them fearful and damage the bond between feline and pet parent.
Make sure the cat is okay: While pet parents don’t want to incentivize excessive vocalization, they should make sure their cat isn’t trapped in a closed room or can’t access essentials like the litter box or water.
Provide more stimulation: If a cat seems bored, pet parents can give their cat more playtime, offer more stimulating toys, or place a cat tower near the window.
Stop excessive vocalization with cat training: Often, cats become more vocal when they realize it gets their pet parents to do something for them. Untraining the behavior requires a pet parent to ignore the sounds (after making sure the cat is okay) and only give the cat attention when they’re quiet. The key here is to avoid rewarding unwanted behavior.
Spay/neuter intact cats: Pet parents can deter yowling by having intact female and male cats spayed or neutered. These routine procedures can also provide several health benefits.
Consult with a professional vet: If a pet parent isn’t sure why their cat has become more vocal or is worried there’s an underlying health issue, they should consult with a vet for further advice.
Vocalizing is a normal behavior for cats that allows them to communicate their needs and wants. However, when the sounds become excessive, they can start to cause problems. Understanding the reason behind the increased frequency can help pet parents take the best steps to get the sounds back to an acceptable level.