Older cats may howl or excessively meow for a number of reasons including illness, a loss of senses, stress, and attention-seeking. This can be distressing for both cat and owner, but the good news is that there are things you can do about it.
Introduction to Geriatric Cat Howling
Cats usually live to around 16 years, although there are some who will far outlive this age and go on to their early twenties. However, it may come as a surprise to learn that a cat is classed as geriatric when they reach age 11 – so after the first youthful decade with your puss, you may notice a change in his behavior.
Much like humans, as cats get older, they may develop a range of age-related health problems, and this is one of the major causes of excessive howling, particularly at night.
In this article, we are going to be exploring the many reasons that your senior cat is howling and yowling, as well as giving you some excellent advice on what you can do to resolve the problem – or at least help your pet.
Why Is My Geriatric Cat Howling?
There are a variety of reasons that your cat might start howling or meowing far more than she used to as she reaches her golden years. Many pet owners are under the false impression that this is normal, and the behavior can often go unnoticed. However, the opposite is true, and any change in your cat’s behavior should be investigated.
It could be the case that there is nothing wrong with your cat and they are simply looking for a little extra attention, but if it is health-related, then it is essential that your vet gives them the once over and administers the correct treatment.
Let’s take a closer look at why your geriatric cat is howling.
One of the first things that any cat owner should think about is whether there are any health issues that could be causing your kitty to feel distressed.
This is, unfortunately, one of the most common reasons that an older cat might start behaving in this way. There are several conditions that could cause your cat to literally cry out for help.
These might include high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism, dementia, and tumors – whilst all of these sound serious, your vet will be able to make a prognosis and offer treatment where they can.
Most frequently, elderly cats will howl at night as this is when they experience the most discomfort from their ailments. It might be compared to when we have the flu or cold – you tend to struggle more during the night. Your cat is no different, and when all goes quiet, and she has time to focus on any health conditions that may be causing her pain, she is going to let you know about this.
It can be difficult to know if it is an illness that is causing your cat to act this way and the best thing that you can do is to book an appointment to see your vet as soon as you notice this increased howling.
However, if you have to wait for your appointment, it is a good idea to monitor your moggy and look out for other symptoms that could be related to their health. The more information that you can give to your vet, the more they will be able to help.
Some things that you could look for might be:
- A change in appetite. This could go either way with your cat refusing to eat at all and potentially losing a lot of weight or an increase in appetite where the cat’s hunger cannot be sated.
- Excessive thirst can be a sign of diabetes and some other health conditions.
- Your cat may appear more aggressive or anxious.
- The animal may start seeming more lethargic and may spend long periods of time sleeping.
Linked with their health, your elderly cat may also be in pain, and since he cannot communicate in any other way, he may use howling to let you know how he is feeling.
The pain may be difficult to locate, and once again, this is something for your vet to diagnose, but noting the behavior will go a long way in helping your pet.
Pain in older cats can come from a variety of sources; it could be something that is easily treatable such as urinary tract infections or stomach problems through to something a little more serious like pains in the head.
You must also be aware that geriatric cats can suffer from the inflamed joint condition, arthritis. This is extremely painful, and humans who suffer severely are always offered pain medication to manage this. Your vet will be able to offer you advice on what they can do for your cat.
Your cat might also be experiencing pain as a result of dental problems; these can often be easily treated, so it is important to take a look at their eating habits. It is likely that if there is discomfort in the mouth, your cat’s appetite will be affected.
It is extremely sad when we learn that our pet’s cognitive function has deteriorated, but this can be even more distressing for the animal.
Their ‘normal’ abilities will be far less accessible for them, and this is in both a physical and mental capacity, this can cause the cat to become confused and scared and is a frequent cause of howling, especially at night in cats that are older than 15. Although, the first signs of feline dementia may become apparent from the age of 11 or 12.
In some cases, there is only one solution for cats who are suffering severely from dementia, and that is to put them to sleep. This is incredibly sad for owners but is often the kindest thing for your pet. Once again, this is a matter that should be discussed in-depth with your vet, who will be able to offer you the most professional advice.
Loss Of Senses
Some people might be quick to compare a loss of sense to feline dementia and link the two – but they are vastly different. Where feline dementia is a result of a lack of blood flow to the brain and to do with free-radicals in the bloodstream, a loss of the senses is simply the body losing function because of age.
You could compare the body – both human and cat, to a car. When it is new, it is strong, resilient and will perform well. However, over time, things start to wear, and problems begin to happen more frequently.
Just like their owners, as they age, both hearing, sight, smell, and taste can deteriorate in cats, leaving them a little confused and worried.
In this instance, there isn’t much that pet owners can do to stop the problem. The only real treatment here is to let the cat know that you care – give her lots of extra attention and fuss so that she feels safe, and her anxiety decreases.
This is not as common as some of the other things we have discussed, but stress can sometimes be a factor when elderly cats start to howl frequently.
It is worth looking at whether there have been any significant changes to your cat’s routine or in their day to day life. Things that you might deem to be minimal could have a profound effect on your cat, so it is important to be mindful of how little changes might affect them.
One of the most common reasons that your elderly pet might be howling is if you have recently welcomed a new pet into the home. This could be especially true if the original cat has never had a housemate before.
It is not wise to put an older animal under heavy levels of stress as this can contribute to a decreased quality of life and potential health problems.
In their old age, you should make the most of your moggy and give them the love and attention that they deserve, making their later years as stress-free as possible.
They’re After Attention
Your older cat may have spent his younger years out exploring the garden and not seeming to have wanted much of your attention at all. This could lull owners into a false sense that makes them believe that their cat is ‘just independent.’
But much like a human child wants to explore the world, your young cat will have been full of energy and vitality, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t still need you.
As he starts to age, the comfort of home might be much more appealing to him, and if you have been used to him coming and going as he pleases, it could be hard to make the transition to him being there more often than not. This might mean that he feels neglected – but don’t feel bad; this simply requires a few changes to your relationship.
Perhaps your cat never used to return home until just before bedtime, when he would sleep at the end of your bed and be gone again when you woke up. It may mean that his late afternoon return signals a desire to cuddle up on the sofa as you watch your favorite TV show.
You might also spend more time playing with him, while he may not be as active as he once was, older cats will engage in more gentle play, and this is a great way of letting him know that he is loved.
Aside from wanting affection and love, your older cat may be more demanding when he wants something. For example, where he may have once waited patiently for you to fill his food bowl, in his later years, he may howl until you open the cat food.
This is completely normal, but sadly, there isn’t much that can be done other than giving your cat the attention he needs – this is simply another part of caring for an animal.
What Can I Do To Help My Cat?
As we have discussed, there is not a lot that can be done for geriatric cats who have taken to howling. However, a trip to the vet may be useful if there are health problems.
Even if you suspect that your cat is still in good health, it cannot hurt to have them checked over, just to be sure. If your vet can provide treatment, this may stop the cat from howling as much – and stop him from disturbing your sleep if he is doing it at night.
Most cat owners will have to go through this, and sometimes, it is simply a case of accepting this normal change in behavior and learning to live with it. Of course, giving your cat lots of attention and love might help the situation, and it’s enjoyable for you too. Particularly if this is the first time you are able to properly spend time with him.
Cats are complex creatures, and it isn’t uncommon for them to display behaviors that are nothing short of mind-boggling for owners. However, this is not necessarily a cause for concern because older cats do sometimes start howling for no reason.
In some cases, however, this could indicate that there is an underlying health condition and it is vital that this is assessed by your vet who will be able to diagnose any problems and provide the correct treatment.
Alternatively, your cat’s howling may be related to stress or old age, in which case, providing them with a lot of reassurance is essential.