In collaboration with Cat Educator, Intersand®’s cat experts would like to offer a few tips and tricks for new “parents” of cats, cat lovers and anyone who’s considering a feline addition to the family.
It’s 3 a.m., the whole family is fast asleep when suddenly a noise disrupts the calm. Like a rooster crowing at sunrise, the cat sounds the alarm with a melody of nighttime meows, just to make itself heard. Nothing will get him back into bed. The kitty keeps at it, despite the intervention of a family member who is now awake. Being up so early must mean something’s wrong with him, but what is it really?
Although the feline vocal range varies, it would seem that typical meowing is exclusive to communication with humans. Such vocalizations will mainly be requests for attention that can be interpreted based on their context. Over time, the cat will be able to deduce that in some situations, meowing is useful to get what he wants based on the human response. The result is learning by association, in which meowing portends (for instance) the arrival of food, the opening of the door to the outside world, or getting pet.
Many domestic cats struggle to find enough entertainment in their days. Houses that aren’t designed to meet their needs and the lack of social interaction are factors that lead to unwanted behaviour. That’s because a cat that lacks activities to expend his physical and cognitive energy will busy himself in ways that sometimes annoy humans. Destroying furniture, playing mean tricks, and excessive or inappropriate vocalization are just a few examples. To solve this problem, the cat needs to be provided with a lot of activities. Rooms with many surfaces high up, access to windows, interactive food stations, play sessions, teaching tricks, and leash outings are all activities that can be added to the daily lives of housecats in order to provide them with a routine less likely to lead to problematic behaviour.
It should be noted that the nervous system is divided into two parts, each of which has its own role in regulating the body. One of them, called the parasympathetic nervous system, is responsible for digestion and rest. This is why some people feel more tired after eating a heavy meal. The same is true for cats. What’s interesting is that it is possible to exploit this biological rhythm in order to induce a sleep cycle that is more suitable for cohabitation with humans. For example, in order to promote sleep, it is recommended to try to reproduce the cat’s cycle of hunting, eating, grooming and sleeping. Thus, at the end of the evening, he’s offered a bit of playtime, followed by a meal in an interactive bowl. The cat will then be physically and mentally busy getting its food. When he has finished eating, he will tend to groom himself and then fall asleep to digest. The frequency and duration of night meowing should therefore decrease.
The context in which unwanted meows occur is very important, as it will dictate the best alternative to offer the cat in order to meet the need that he’s expressing by vocalizing. As a general rule, meowing should be ignored until the cat understands that this behaviour no longer benefits him. This period may last a few days or weeks, and there will be a period during which the intensity level will increase. Like a final request to get back what he’s meowing for, the cat will become more insistent when he understands that what he was doing is now useless. Completely ignoring the cat means not looking at him, touching him or feeding him when he’s vocalizing. At the same time, providing or teaching an alternative to achieve his goals can speed up the process. A change in routine could also be beneficial. For example, let’s say the cat is meowing in the morning to get his meal. He probably deduced that meowing leads to the human getting up and serving him food. However, if the sequence is modified and the human feeds the cat later, such as after taking a shower, it will now be the shower that foretells the arrival of food rather than getting up.
Some pathological behavioural disorders can cause excessive meowing at night. Keep an eye out in case these basic tips do not improve the situation or if the cat appears to be in distress when he does not get enough attention. In such cases, a personalized intervention plan is required, and only a qualified feline behaviour counsellor or veterinarian can help you, such as by diagnosing the problem.