“My cat is keeping me awake at night with its meowing” is a common complaint. Occasional meowing throughout the day is a normal behavior for most cats. Some breeds meow more often than others (Siamese, for instance), and most cats will meow at mealtimes. However, when a cat meows at night and disturbs your sleep, it is a problem that needs addressing.
Possible Reasons Why Cats Meow at Night
Cats are nocturnal, which means they are naturally more active at night. In addition to playing with their toys and roaming the house, cats may also meow at night . This is sometimes referred to as night vocalization or night calling, and there are many different causes for the behavior.
Attention or Reassurance
A cat might meow at night because it simply wants companionship or reassurance that his humans are still there, and meowing is the quickest and easiest way to get your attention.
Night vocalization can sometimes signal an underlying illness. Cats instinctively try to hide illness until they become very sick. If your cat is not normally a “talker” but starts meowing excessively at night, it’s a good idea to schedule a vet exam to rule out health problems.
The annoying behavior of meowing at night has been associated with aging and senility. Some senior cats begin to vocalize more as their senses or cognitive functions begin to decline. Older cats with mobility issues may find it easier to “call” to their humans instead of going to find them. Senior cats may also meow at night because they need assurance that everything is okay.
A Change in Their Environment
Night calling could be a sign of fear, anxiety or grief. A newly adopted kitten may feel scared or lonely in his strange new environment. Meowing at night can also occur when you adopt a shelter cat who is used to being around other cats and finds your quiet house disconcerting. If you’ve recently moved, your cat may engage in night calling until he gets used to his new home. If you had two cats who were playmates and one of them passes away, the remaining cat could be meowing at night because it misses them or is trying to locate them.
Cats are smart — they quickly learn what works, and then proceed to “train” us to do what they want! When your cat meows at night and you get up to check on them, play with them or feed them, they learn that this behavior works to get your attention, and it then becomes a routine.
Solutions for Cats Meowing at Night
If you have a cat whose nighttime vocalizations are keeping you awake, there are some things you can try to lessen the behavior and possibly even eliminate it.
Exercise and Mental Stimulation
Cats who sleep all day and evening tend to meow during the night because they’re bored and have excess energy. This is especially true of indoor cats whose humans are away at work all day. The solution is to make time to play with them several hours before your bedtime. Interactive cat toys with dangling feathers or other “teasers” are great for getting your cat up and moving, as are remote controlled mice and other toys they can chase.
To provide mental stimulation, try teaching your cat tricks. Some people say cats can’t be taught tricks, but plenty of videos exist online that prove them wrong. One of the easiest I’ve found is the “High Five” trick; most cats can learn it in a week or two. Getting your cat involved in Feline Agility or clicker training also provides mental stimulation as well as exercise.
Ignore the Behavior
When a cat meows at night, many owners unintentionally reward them for the behavior. Any response to the meowing teaches the cat this is what works. Food, attention and playtime are all viewed as a reward for meowing; but scolding, shushing and putting the cat out of the room can also reinforce the meowing behavior, because despite being negative, it’s still attention.
To re-train your cat not to meow at night, you have to ignore the behavior. In order for this to work, you must be consistent. It won’t do any good if you ignore the meowing one night and give in the next. Ignoring the behavior means having no reaction whatsoever to the cat when it meows at night. Using ear plugs, relaxation tapes or a white noise machine can help you ignore the cat’s night calling.
Neuter Your Cat
Meowing at night has been associated with estrus cycles and mating in adult male and female cats that are not neutered. Cats in estrus are particularly vocal because they are “calling” for a mate. Neutering should help to reduce night calling in these cats.
If your cat meows at night, it’s important to first figure out why they’re doing it, and then work diligently to eliminate the behavior. The longer the night calling continues, the more it reinforces the behavior.