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It's a part of every cat parent's life: You're sleeping deeply in the middle of the night when suddenly, you wake up to an ear-splitting shriek. It's not a bad dream — it's just your cat.
So, why does your cat yowl at night? Some cats are chatty because it's a breed characteristic (The Russian blue likes to carry on constant conversations.) but most kitties do it for specific reasons. A cat yowling at night has something to say and wants to say it. Right now.
Why Does My Cat Yowl at Night?
Vocalisation is just one of the ways in which cats communicate with their human families (and sometimes with each other). Much of cat language is non-verbal, making vocalising an effective manoeuvre for getting someone's attention. It's possible to ignore (sort of) a cat pawing at your keyboard while you work, but a cat yowling at night? That will make you take notice.
Cats usually aren't too feisty when they go about their business during the day. You're awake and interacting with them, so there's no need for a screech. Cats are crepuscular creatures, however, meaning they are most active at dusk and dawn. Your kitty is programmed to kick into high gear right at the crack of dawn when it may still feel like the middle of the night. They may howl because they want to eat (the hunting instinct runs deep in cats), or because they really wanted some extra-early playtime.
When Should I Worry?
As a cat ages, explains Animal Planet, they want to be around their humans as much as possible. Being separated from their family at night may distress or confuse them. Some age-related issues like diminishing hearing and vision can cause them increased anxiety and yowl-inducing frustration.
Your kitty's sleep cycle also can be affected by neurological conditions like cognitive dysfunction, which can occur in cats older than 10 years old. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, loud midnight meowing out of nowhere can be indicative of dementia. Just like in humans, an elderly cat's sleep-wake cycle may change and cause them to sleep during the day and wander at night. If your older cat exhibits unusual behaviour like staring blankly at walls or refusing to eat or drink, take them to the veterinarian as soon as possible.
An otherwise healthy female cat who's not spayed may meow constantly at night, too. Indoor cats can come into heat year round, says the ASPCA. Spaying your cat is the best way to reduce their excessive meowing. Spaying also helps to reduce their risk of illnesses like uterine infections and certain types of cancer.
Living With the Noise
There are a few ways to curb your cat's nighttime antics. If they’re food-motivated, feed them before going to bed. Actively engaging in playful activity can work, too. It's easier said than done, but try to ignore your kitty's demands for nightly snacks or cuddles. Giving in reinforces the behaviour and will end up keeping you up at all hours of the night.
More often than not, a cat yowling at night isn't cause for alarm. Cats have perfected the art of waking up their pet parents during the night for random reasons, mostly because they want to spend more time with you — the person they love most in the world.