I’m fortunate to have had our oldest cat for over 17 years. She is a Siamese named Marty. She is vocal at the best of times, but over the past year, she has developed nightly bouts of howling. As a veterinarian, I recognize this complaint from owners of geriatric cats, and as an owner, I can see how distressing it can be to hear your cat yeowling in the dark.
In my own experience, this howling is related to the cat having shorter sleeping cycles, and waking up looking for assurance or attention . Marty stops as soon as she know someone is near, either us or the other cats and dogs in the house. Many owner say that all they have to do is call out the cat’s name and that helps them settle.
So what can cause sleep disruption? Pain and discomfort will affect your pet’s ability to stay asleep. Arthritis makes it hard to get comfortable or access that favorite sleeping spot. I find that old cats are fussy eaters and prefer smaller, more frequent meals, so hunger may wake them up. They often have kidney insufficiency that necessitates more frequent urination and increased drinking. Once they are up, decreased sight and hearing can make your cat feel more isolated. Vocalization is a way for them to try and communicate .
There are recognized medical problems that are common, if not exclusive to the senior cat. High blood pressure, over active thyroid and brain disease can affect behavior. Nausea and imbalance can also play a role. Sore joints may result in reluctance to void contributing to bladder problems or even constipation. Dental disease affects many senior pets, and mouth pain is a real concern. Cognitive deterioration results in confusion and disorientation that adds to the anxiety when they don’t see or hear well.
There is no one solution to this problem. Each cat needs to be assessed individually and have the appropriate tests run. Here at Colborne Street Pet Hospital, we recommend examinations every 6 months for our seniors. During the exam, I go over behavior in depth to try and pick out early changes before they progress. If there is a specific diagnosis, treatment can be prescribed. Many drugs are now available in flavored forms or even topical creams that can be rubbed on instead of taken by mouth. There are things at home that can be done to help the senior cope. Night lights place along the routes to litter, food and water make it easier to see. Consider a heated bed and mini stairs or step stools to reach it. Make sure they eat before bedtime. In Marty’s case, we feed her separately from the other cats multiple times per day.
Here is a video of Marty howling during the daytime. She stops when our other Siamese, Gracie, comes to investigate.