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How Can I Stop Cat's Constant Meowing?

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Cat meowing

Cats target meow-demands at humans, and can be quite determined to get their way.

Photo Credit: © Amy Shojai, CABC

Question: "How can I stop cat meowing?"

Irina and Mark adopted eleven-month-old Mishka at 12 weeks. “She is not a problem cat, she is just spoiled and we don't know how to discipline her,” writes Irina. “When she was little we allowed her everything, and now she does not understand why she sometimes does not get what she wants. She knows we love her and won't punish, so she keeps pushing.

"She used to walk all over us at around 6 or 7 a.m. purring, to get us up and socialize, but would sleep next to us if we didn’t get up. Around six months ago she added miaos which progressively grew louder. Now she just stands in front of the bed at either side and yells on top of her lungs. First she wanted us to just open the patio door for her, but now she wants outside for a walk. So we take her on a leash every day, but wanting to do it at 6 a.m. is a bit much for us."

Mishka dislikes being wet, so they use sprayed water to stop the meows, but it's not terribly effective. A time-out in the bathroom or closet worked to stop meows one morning, but the cat-calls came back the next day. "Now she also yells during the day - all day!" says Irina. "When we ignore her she just gets frustrated and tries harder."

Irina thinks a companion pet might help stem Mishka's loneliness, but Mark disagrees, as Mishka doesn't appreciate other cats or dogs that visit her lawn--and the apartment has limited room for additional litter boxes or other kitty equipment. "We just want to have her not wake us up so early, says Irina. "We do our best to meet her needs but we need our morning sleep and her daily yelling is unbearable and very tiring."

Amy's Answer

My sympathies! It's amazing how pushy those cats can become. Those who read this column know what follows. We figure out the cause by looking at potential physical, emotional, and/or environmental factors using the HISS Test. That stands for health, instinct, stress, and symptom solvers. 

H=Health

There are health issues that can prompt excess cat "yelling." Deaf cats that can't hear themselves turn up the volume. And cats that with high blood pressure (from heart or kidney problems) often yowl, as do very old cats with cognitive disorders. At Mishka's age, I don't believe health problems are the underlying cause of loud mouth behavior.

I=Instinct

Kitties learn cause-and-effect very quickly. It makes sense for kittens to experiment and repeat behaviors that meet with success. Meowing is a form of cat communication that's typically aimed at humans.

S=Stress

Stress sometimes prompts meow-complaints. But according to what I've read, Mishka's stress level is fine, while the humans are ready to explode!

S=Symptom Solvers

I must say that Mishka certainly has people-training down to a science! That’s one smart kitty. And you’re pretty savvy yourself, and understand that what’s working and prompting the behavior. As you’ve discovered, the more you give in to her meow-demands, the greater those demands become.

You’ve already started the process of teaching better manners. But the trick is to continue and not give up. Cats can be stubborn, and trying for one day won’t cut it. Tough kitty love is called for.

The basics of solving the wake-up meows are to ignore them. And yes, I know that she’ll try harder when this happens—it’s called an “extinction burst” which means the behavior becomes much worse just before it gets better. So if the meow-demands have gone on for a week, count on it taking at least two weeks to solve. In other words, double the time that the cat has practiced poor behavior to guestimate how long it will take kitty to learn better behavior. The basics for solving loud-mouth morning kitties is in this Ask Amy column.

The time-out can help during the daytime pesters, particularly with cats that really want attention. Again, the key is consistency. It won’t be fixed in one day. Decide on a schedule that suits you, and stick to it, and any other time respond to the meows with a time-out of two or three minutes, then let the cat back out. She meows again, put her up once more. Do this every time, day after day, and remember, it WILL get worse before it gets better. I'd suggest you invest in earplugs until that happens.

As for getting Mishka a kitty friend, I agree with Mark. From what you described, it doesn’t seem that you have the space or time to deal with another cat or the time needed to properly introduce them. You may have some success calming the meow-pesters, though, by investing in an outdoor cat enclosure with a kitty door. If Mishka has access to the outside patio without you playing doorman, she may reduce her yowls.

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