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San Diego Humane Society

Excessive Meowing

Does your cat meow nonstop for food? Or maybe he is waking you at 3 a.m. with his special song? If so, read on!

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Why Is Your Cat Vocal?

Though cats communicate mostly by body language, some cats “talk” more than others. This behavior is part genetic (Siamese cats are especially prone to this) and part learned behavior.

Your cat may have learned that you react a certain way when they meow, such as talking to them, feeding them, playing with them or even yelling back. Some cats seek attention and reaction regardless of whether it is positive. If you adopted an adult cat, it is possible that a previous owner would “talk” with them and encouraged this behavior. If you have had your cat since they were a kitten, then you have likely “rewarded” meows.

Cats use meowing to let you know what they want — such as letting you know that the litter box is in need of cleaning or that their water bowl is empty. When you respond by attending to the litter or water, you help develop associated behavioral patterns. Cats also meow to express discomfort, pain or agitation, and in some cases use it to claim their territory. Male cats who haven’t been neutered may yowl in conjunction with sexual behavior, and female cats in heat also tend to meow excessively.

Reducing the Noise

There are ways to stop, or at least curb, your cat’s chatty habit:

Don’t Reward Unwanted Behaviors

This is crucial for modifying your cat’s behavior. Reward your cat and give them their food in moments when they are silent. Conversely, you should ignore them when they meow excessively. If your cat is meowing constantly at night, you should first try ear plugs or close the door to the bedroom. If you break and give your cat attention, it will reinforce the meowing and you will have to start the process all over.

Meet Your Cat’s Needs

Cats thrive on routine, so make sure you set a daily schedule that your cat is accustomed to and you can maintain with ease. This includes scheduling feeding times, changing the litter box, playing and petting.

Remember to also provide your cat with stimulation, such as toys and exercise, regardless of whether they are an indoor or indoor/outdoor cat. New toys (bought or made), food puzzles and the occasional catnip toy will keep them from getting bored. Make your playtime interactive by incorporating toys like fishing-pole toys and feathers that your cat can chase.

Cover the basics by making sure your cat has a clean litter box and fresh water at all times, and that their diet is adequate. If your cat seems hungry all the time, consult your veterinarian to see if some supplementation would help.

Be Patient

Whenever you are teaching a cat a new behavior or modifying unwanted behavior, remember that it takes time for cats to learn and often takes even more time to unlearn behaviors. In order to make a change in your cat’s meowing, you need to be very consistent, positive and give your cat time to adjust.

When Behavior Is Not Likely to Change

You may be able to reduce the amount of attention-seeking meowing or feeding-time meowing by ignoring and setting scheduled times to feed and play. Some hardcore talkative breeds, such as some Siamese or Siamese mixed breeds, cannot be cured so easily. These behaviors are characteristic of some breeds and are not likely to go away in their entirety. A behavior specialist can help ensure that you have exhausted all solutions to the problem. For extreme cases and in short-term stress situations, a veterinarian may be able to prescribe anti-anxiety medication. If you have a situation that you are unable to cope with, re-homing your cat with an owner willing to deal with this behavior can be a last resort.

Some Situations Require a Different Response

If your cat is grieving:

If your cat has recently lost a companion — feline, human or even canine — they may walk around the house and meow in search of them or just be reacting to the change. While you don’t want to reward the meowing, it is important to give your cat extra reassurance in these cases. Spending quality time with your cat, preferably on a schedule, can help curb the behavior until they adjust to the loss.

If you have a new cat in your home or have moved into a new home with your cat:

It is normal, especially for an adult cat, to be disoriented and unsure in a new environment. Introducing your cat to the house gradually may help prevent some agitation. Again, don’t reward the meowing, but be a little understanding in these instances. This behavior can take a few weeks to ease down.

If a normally quiet cat has become very vocal:

Schedule a check-up with your vet to make sure there is nothing medically wrong with them. Pay attention to environmental changes to see if something could be troubling, such as an animal coming by your back door or window. If you cannot find a cause, you may want to contact a cat behavior specialist.

Behavior Helpline: Contact our Behavior Team


Behavior Helpline

For behavior questions, please contact our Behavior Helpline either by calling 619-299-7012, ext. 2244, emailing behavior@sdhumane.org or filling out our Ask a Trainer form

Questions About Public Classes

San Diego Humane Society offers training classes and resources to address a variety of needs for companion animals.

Our training philosophy is based on the behavioral science concepts of positive reinforcement. Training your pet using these concepts will not only help them learn new behaviors more quickly, it will also strengthen the bond you share.

Our website includes a current schedule of training classes or call 619-299-7012, ext. 2398. 

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