Cats have a wide repertoire of sounds on which they rely for communication. Few owners will object to a cat that curls up on their lap and purrs, but the feline friend that meows incessantly at 5 A.M. may not get such a warm reception. What constitutes excessive vocalization is a matter of perspective, but if the bond between cat owner and pet is being strained by the noise, the problem needs to be addressed.
A sudden change in a cat's behavior, including the amount of noise that it normally makes, can be an indication of an underlying medical problem. Therefore, health issues should be ruled out first. If the cat is determined to be in good shape, it is reasonable to consider behavioral modification therapy. Some types of cats (e.g., Siamese and other Asian breeds) are generally more "talkative" than others, and attempting to alter this innate behavior is generally unrewarding. Many other animals have learned over time that they can get the attention they crave by being loud. Even negative attention, like being yelled at to "shut up already," is better than no attention, so the behavior persists despite the owner's objections.
To reduce a cat's attention-seeking vocalizations, its human family members need to change their behavior. When it is being loud, the cat should be completely ignored and never given what it desires or even punished. Once the cat has quieted down, it should be praised and rewarded with whatever it was seeking. Owner should keep a diary of where, when and under what conditions problem vocalizations occur. Should a consultation with a veterinary behaviorist become necessary, this detailed history will be invaluable. If owners can be consistent in their responses, most cats can be trained to respect times of peace and quiet.
Written by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Last reviewed: October 2, 2008