Why is my elderly cat yowling?

Did you know that some cats get louder as they get older? We look at communication changes in senior cats, and what to do if you’re concerned about out-of-character noisiness.

Cats communicate vocally in a number of ways, including meows, murmuring sounds such as purrs, and aggressive hissing or spitting. Their vocalisations are generally either used for defence, when mating, or in mother-kitten or cat-human interactions (such as soliciting food or attention).

Some cats are naturally more ‘talkative’ than others. ‘A few cats never vocalise,’ says feline behaviour specialist Dr Sarah Ellis, ‘but some breeds, like the Orientals, Siamese, Tonkinese and Burmese, are highly vocal.’

Cats may become more vocal as they get older. If their hearing declines, elderly animals may become a little noisier to compensate. But if you’ve suddenly found your older cat is yowling all the time, or has started howling at night, you may be wondering what it all means and whether you should be worried.

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It’s not always immediately clear why a cat is yowling, or whether it’s a sign of physical or mental distress. ‘While some cats in pain may vocalise, it’s uncommon. More often, they become withdrawn and quiet,’ says Samantha Taylor, a Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons specialist in feline medicine.

‘But never assume any changes you see in your elderly cat, including vocalisation, are simply due to old age. If your cat’s behaviour changes unexpectedly, it’s best to get them checked out by a vet.’

Bear in mind that a number of diseases can cause an older cat to feel hunger, thirst, discomfort or confusion, all of which could lead to increased vocalisations – so out-of-character meowing or yowling are signs you shouldn’t ignore in older cats.

‘It is vital to seek veterinary attention so that serious conditions, such as hypertension, hyperthyroidism, osteoarthritis and cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), may be ruled out or treated,’ says Samantha

CDS, also known as feline dementia, is on the rise as more cats are living longer. Symptoms include learning and memory issues – and the resulting disorientation, anxiety and confusion can trigger a bout of yowling.

Increased noisiness can be especially disruptive at night. ‘Excessive nocturnal vocalisation in an elderly cat is definitely a distress signal,’ explains Samantha.

CDS is often associated with nocturnal yowling and changes to sleeping patterns. But other health issues such as declining vision may also be a factor in night-time noisiness.

If your cat is yowling at night, don’t miss our guide to calming their behaviour and giving you both a better night’s sleep.

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