Once a week or so, I’ll answer readers' behavior questions. Since I won’t always have all the necessary information, I’ll keep responses general to help as many readers as possible. Jackie asks the first (excellent!) but complicated question:
Cat Behavior Question
“My cat is 17. She is deaf, hyperthyroid, has chronic kidney failure and arthritis in one knee. Despite all of this she's in pretty good shape, but she has a habit of staring into space and yowling and crying loudly just before she lies down to go to sleep. If you walk in on her when she's doing this, or if she senses movement, she'll immediately stop. It's disruptive at night when we're trying to sleep but I hate to barricade her downstairs when she's used to having the run of the house.
She's had x-rays and has blood work done on a regular basis so I don't believe it's health-related, although her T4 results bounce around a lot, from being low to being high. My vet thinks it may be a cognitive/aging behavior and suggested that I try a holistic approach so I've ordered a concoction off the website he suggested but haven't received it yet. Any suggestions on how I might help her?”
Both health and behavior issues, including stress, can prompt loud-mouth complaints, and you name four possible culprits right off the bat! Your cat's cries could be due any one or combination of these issues.
Cats aim meow-demands at people to open a door, fill the bowl, or pet/pay attention. A cat’s meows increase when these requests aren’t met, and even young healthy felines learn to yowl to get their way. But arthritis might prompt a meow of anticipated pain if it’s uncomfortable for your cat to lie down. High blood pressure (common in kidney disease, hyperthyroidism and other kitty health concerns) also can increase meows. Your veterinarian could recommend medication to help relieve these issues.
Feline Cognitive DysfunctionIt’s also true that a percentage of old cats can develop feline cognitive dysfunction (FCD) and excessive meows can be one of the constellation of signs. If it is FCD, then the veterinary drug Anipryl® may be helpful. Some holistic veterinarians recommend Cholodin®, a nutritional supplement that contains choline (a B vitamin) and other ingredients said to help with brain and memory function. These treatments won’t work with all pets, and it likely won’t hurt but might not improve the behavior if your cat isn’t suffering from FCD.
Deaf Cats' YowlingA deaf cat’s meows become more strident and insistent when they can’t hear themselves, and/or have trouble locating their special people because they can’t hear where you are. Your cat’s plaintiff cry could simply be her asking, “Where are you, Mom?” Once she gets the answer (she sees you, or feels the vibration of you entering the room) she’s satisfied.
Suggestions and Solutions for Loud Meowing
After so many years together and allowing her free run of the house, I know that it feels wrong to restrict the cat’s liberty. But it’s often more kind to confine a cat in a safe, known area so that she understands what to expect and feels comfortable. This might be your bedroom (maybe in a cat condo?) so that she can smell/sense that you’re nearby. Or it might be in another favorite room away from your bed to cut down on sleep disruption.
If all she needs is a motion or vibration to stem the angst, a training collar that uses vibration may be helpful. Designed for deaf dogs, the collar would be too big for most cats. So place the collar in/under the cat’s bed or attach to the side of the cat condo. When she cries, briefly trigger the remote control switch to cause vibration. You wouldn’t even have to get out of bed and could soothe her from across the room—or even across the house.