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My cat keeps crying – it’s driving me crazy! What can I do?

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Our question this week was:

I hope you don't mind me imposing on your expertise, but I'm about at the end of my rope here and aside from the vet, you're the only ones I can think of who might have the knowledge to provide an answer to my question.

I need to know if there is anything I can do about the excessive vocalizing by my cat, Ebony. Ebony came to us as a stray and has been a much-loved member of our family for two and a half years now. He moved to an apartment with us where we spent 18
months while our new home was being built. He was perfectly happy and calm, sharing his temporary abode with our other two cats.

A couple days before we were due to move into our new home, Ebony began vocalizing loudly, mostly at night. We thought he sensed the upcoming move and was stressed about it. When we moved into the new house, the vocalizing escalated and became quite unnerving to all residents, human and feline. I bought some of those Feliway diffusers that are supposed to calm the cats, but they didn't seem to help him. Neither of the two other cats had a problem with the move. Only Ebony. After only five days in the new house, my husband made the unfortunate mistake of letting Ebony out.

He disappeared and wasn't seen again. I was despondent, placing ads in the newspaper, looking all over the neighborhood, asking neighbors. Nothing. My heart was broken. Then a few nights ago, three months almost to the day of his disappearance, one of our other cats was looking out the screen door, growling and when I looked to see what was disturbing her, I saw Ebony dash off into the bushes. I quickly put food down to occupy the other cats and took a bowl out to the front porch to see if I could coax him closer. He crept forward and as I watched, crying and laughing, he ate the entire bowl.
He was considerably thinner but seemed quite glad to be home, purring and kneading our laps in delight. That first night, his vocalizations were quite different than those he'd been doing when we had last seen him. They were much more subdued--more whimper than yowl--and he purred as he whimpered.

Feeling that he needed to be checked by the vet after his 90-day absence, the morning after he returned to us, I took him to the animal hospital that has cared for our cats for years. Sure enough, he had an infection and they wanted to keep him overnight for observation to see if they could bring his white blood cell count down. He wouldn't eat for them so they had to force feed him. The vet said he couldn't go home until he was eating on his own. Reluctantly, I left him at the vet's. The following day, I went to the vet's office after work. A vet tech took me back to the cat room where Ebony was asleep in a
litter box in a cage. As soon as he heard my voice, he got up and pressed against me. I had taken a can of his favorite soft food to the vet's office on the way to work that morning. Evidently, they'd just dumped it in a dish instead of flaking it out with a fork. Ebony had ignored it. But when I mushed it up with my fingers, he immediately began eating. After a few bites, he rubbed against me and wanted to get out of the cage. I kept pointing to the food dish and he'd take a few more bites and then try to exit the cage again.

The vet permitted me to take him home and sent along antibiotics and appetite stimulants. The first night home, he did a lot of vocalizing and although it diminished briefly since I brought him home, last night was the worst night yet.

He yowled just about all night long, only stopping for brief intervals before starting up again. This plaintive meowing is heartrending, yes, but after awhile....well...it does tend to get on the nerves, especially when it awakens you several times. I don't understand why he's doing it. He's been neutered. He gets plenty to eat. There's always water and a clean litter box. But last night he acted like he really wanted to go out. Knocking things off the windowsill in an attempt to get out the closed window and yowling at the front door. I'm at my wit's end! Do you have any suggestions? I'd sure appreciate your help with this! Sorry to be so longwinded!

THANKS!

Heather A. Perry


Answer

Hi Heather– thanks for your email. Wow! What a story! I can just picture Ebony! Hypervocalization is a behavioral problem in cats. I don't know if you read our article on hypervocalization – but I think it might help you. Go to Hypervocalization in Cats. It is written by one of our behaviorist that has dealt with this problem.

This is my opinion. Cats can be vocal for a variety of reasons. In some cases – they are trying to communicate something. Some breeds are known to be more vocal and talkative such as the Siamese cat. Other cats greet you or let you know if something hurts. Some cats will be very vocal if they are agitated or excited such as when they see another cat outside or a bird. I've found that cats that have been out will be very vocal letting you know they want back out. It is very common for them to do this vocalization when by a door or window – rubbing back and forth and knocking stuff down is common.

To be honest – there is no prefect solution. I think you can do the following:

  • Play with your cat in the evenings. Make sure he has plenty of stimulation from toys, scratching posts, and window perches. Check out the suggestions in this article on Environmentally Enriching Your Cat's Home. I'd try to have active play time in the evenings so he is "tired" at night (if possible).

  • Reward quiet calm behavior – with praise or a treat. This doesn't' work well in many cats.

  • Let him be an indoor/outdoor cat. This is not ideal as many cats that go out can get a variety of diseases and problems from fleas, trauma, toxins or life threatening infectious diseases such as feline aids.

  • Your veterinarian my prescribe anti-anxiety medications. This isn't my first choice it sounds like you are at your wits end. Some cats that are very anxious have benefited from some of the new behavioral drugs on the market (like prozac). Many times you don't have to use them forever –just for a while. Other cats need them long term.

    Read the article I mentioned and see if that helps.


    Best of luck!


    Dr. Debra



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