Why Do Old Cats Yowl So Much?

By: Kristen Hall-Geisler  | 

cat howling
As cats get older, they tend to yowl a lot more, especially at night. What are they trying to tell you? Akimasa Harada/Getty Images

There's nothing like being jolted awake in the darkest hours of the night by an otherworldly yowl. Your sleepy brain runs through the possibilities: Ghost? Banshee? Ax murderer's rampaging cry?

Then you wake up enough to realize it's just your elderly cat howling and yowling as she roams through the house. Why do old cats yowl? Why at night? And is there anything to be done about it? We've got answers.

Cats can begin this yowling behavior once they're past about 8 years old. This sound is different from the sounds they've been making their whole lives — purring, chirping, meowing persistently while sitting next to an empty food bowl. This yowl doesn't seem to be an attempt to communicate with you. It seems as aimless as the cat's wandering.

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Head to the Vet

First, as always, you'll want to take your cat to the vet for a checkup. Hyperthyroidism and high blood pressure are both common in older cats, and both can be treated with medicine. The pain and discomfort associated with these conditions can keep your cat awake and cause them to yowl all night.

As cats age, they experience a lot of the same issues that humans do, such as declines in hearing or sight. Cats are terrible about wearing glasses or hearing aids, and it makes them cranky. Loss of sight and hearing is also disorienting for them, especially when the house is dark. These can make an old cat anxious. Cranky and anxious-feeling felines will probably yowl.

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Did Her Routine Change?

Speaking of feeling disoriented, changes to an elderly cat's household can upset them and make them feel out of sorts, too. Big changes like a new pet or person can be upsetting, but so can small changes like rearranging the furniture. It helps to make sure the cat's most important possessions — litter box, food and water bowls, and a bed or chair they love — remain in the same places they've always been.

Lastly, it might be cognitive dysfunction syndrome, or CDS. Some vets call it feline cognitive dysfunction, or FCD. In either case, it's a common kind of dementia that can affect older cats. It affects about half of all cats between 11 and 15 years old and 80 percent of cats 16 to 20 years old, say the ASPCA.

You might notice that your cat seems to forget that she's already eaten or forgets where the litter box is. This also causes changes in the cat's sleep patterns, so they might be getting up in the night and not remembering where you are.

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Keep Her Comfy

No matter what your old cat's reason is for yowling, the key is not to punish her for it. In addition to medications for some conditions, you can try hormone therapy or antianxiety diffusers.

Before heading to bed yourself, make sure all the cat's needs are met. Play with her to help her get tired and stay asleep, fill food and water bowls, and make sure she has a warm bed to help regulate her temperature while she sleeps.

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