Feline Excessive Vocalization

Cats communicate through a variety of vocalizations - meowing, purring, and hissing, among others. They display their unique personalities through these vocalizations, a characteristic most people find endearing. When these vocalizations become excessive or occur at inopportune times, however, problems arise.

What is Excessive?

Excessive vocalization does not have a strict definition. What is considered "excessive" depends on the tolerance level of the individual listener, which may be influenced by many factors including their prior experience with cats, the type of vocalization, time of day, and perceived reason for the vocalization. For example, a cat purring loudly for breakfast may be more tolerable than the same cat repeatedly meowing for no apparent reason in the middle of the night.

When is Excessive Vocalization Normal?

It is important to remember that all vocalization is NORMAL - it is the way cats communicate with each other and with us. Normal increases in vocalization occur during mating season when female cats are in heat and tomcats compete for access to them. Increases in vocalization are also common when there are changes in the household such as a move or when cats are changed from outdoor to indoor pets. In these cases, the increases in vocalization may be transient. Certain cat breeds, notably the Siamese, are also known to vocalize more than others.

What Causes Excessive Vocalization?

The most common cause of excessive vocalization is attention-seeking, a learned behavior. Many cats learn to meow to signal their wish to go outside or be fed. This technique is especially effective early in the morning when owners are tired; they readily acquiesce to their cat's demands to stop their vocalization. Once cats expect their owner's attention, they continue to vocalize even if their owners attempt to ignore their behavior. Most cats will outlast their owners who eventually give in.

Excessive vocalization may also indicate the presence of a medical or more serious behavior problem. Cats may excessively vocalize when they are painful or possess neurologic problems or sensory deficits such as hearing or vision loss. Anxiety disorders, aggression, cognitive dysfunction, or other behavioral problem can also cause cats to vocalize. Consultation with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist is recommended to determine if medical or behavioral problems exist.

Treatment:

Treatment for excessive vocalization depends on the underlying problem. All cats should be taken to a veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist so a primary medical or behavioral diagnosis can be made.

If attention-seeking behavior is diagnosed, owners must consistently ignore their cat's vocalization, refusing to respond to any request for attention until the cat is quiet. Typically, cats will initially vocalize more and for longer periods of time before they finally give up. During this time, owners must continue to ignore their cat. If they give in, their cat will learn that louder and longer vocalization is the only way to reliably get their owner's attention.

For further treatment options, please consult with your veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist.

Click here to return to the University of California School of Veterinary Medicine Behavior Service website.