Is my dude-cat just needy, still in adjustment, or desperate for lady-action? (Please say the middle one.)
December 9, 2008 5:55 AM   Subscribe

Newly adopted male cat yowling in the nighttime. Help me assess the situation, because my landlord has expressed concern about male cats continuing to exhibit male behavior even after alteration.

Checked past threads on cat crying and yowling, and there were some helpful pointers, but I've got a specific end-question that wasn't addressed in the threads I turned up.

So here's the scoop on the dude-cat:
  • Approximately 5 years old.
  • Brought to the shelter as a stray, and UNALTERED.
  • Neutered shortly after his arrival at the shelter, about 1 month ago now.
  • Adopted simultaneously with a 1.5 year old female cat; roommate and I took them both home together, though she did the official paperwork for the lady-cat and I technically adopted this dude in question.
  • He's been in the apartment with my roommate and I (and the lady-cat) since Sunday afternoon (so, less than 48 hours at this point).
  • Disposition very friendly, attention-needy; he will greet and ask for head-skritches, and has curled up with me on my bed while I'm on the laptop, purring while I pet him and then falling asleep.
  • When I've been out of the apartment and my roommate has been here instead, she has reported him walking about the apartment, crying. She said he's been okay for a little while if she gets him to sit with her, but it seems she doesn't give him enough attention (she's allergic, but still cat-devoted) and he'll get restless and leave. Repeat.
  • The talkativeness was not a feature when we met him in the shelter; he seemed much more laid-back and mellow. When we got them both home from the shelter, we kept them in a back pantry room of our apartment for the first afternoon and overnight, and I didn't notice any yowling then, either. Monday morning (yesterday morning, ugh) was the first we let them explore the whole of the apartment.

On the cats interacting with each other:
In contrast to my dude-cat, the lady-cat is friskier yet more standoffish, and alternately tries to play with him or bats him out of her space for sniffing at her back end too much. When she tries to start these play-fights up with him he seems to not know how to respond, and just stands there while she prances and bats, and then she runs off. However, he follows her when she has come into my room for attention (unbidden by me), or if she has trailed after me into the kitchen. I haven't witnessed him trying to mount her at all, just sniffing when she's in range - face, flank, and especially insistent at sniffing her buttal area when she's distracted (eating, scratching at litter, etc.)

The Nighttime Yowling:
Tonight (last night), when I turned out the light, dude-cat hung out with me on the bed (where we had been for some time), in contact with my hand, for about 10-15 minutes, and then got up and departed my room. He has been yowling intermittently in maybe 2 minute stretches, every 10-20 minutes through the night, with exceptions for the few times I have coaxed him into the room and gotten him to chill with me. The situation does not seem to be helped by the lady-cat occasionally joining us on the bed, grooming herself, and then leaving -- dude-cat then follows her out, and begins walking the hallway yowling after a few minutes. I say "yowling," but the quality of this vocalization is not a drawn out wail. It is more like a series of questioning short cries that begins kind of muffled and builds up to a standard level -- it's loud but not CRAZY loud.

I am a seasoned cat person, in that I grew up with cats and have cared for them myself - but, mostly one at a time, and always dude-cats who were altered within their first year of life, having no chance to develop sexually active male cat habits. So, I am bad at IDing that type of behavior, and I am aware that it sometimes does persist in individual male cats.

My questions/concerns are: could his yowling be indicative of territoriality and/or sexual dissatisfaction, i.e. indicating that he is still aware of female cats, interested in them for their bits, and wants to BONE but can't... so has to whine about it? If so, how likely is it that his instinct/possible habit for spraying will manifest?

Regarding the landlord:
We live above him, in a duplex house, so there's a strong possibility he's already aware of the yowling. He was initially reluctant to okay bringing a male cat home; he's had a bad experience with a neutered male spraying after alteration in the past. He consented on the condition that we let him meet the cats and give his approval, which he did (landlord has owned a lot of cats, so this was an informed approval). My dude-cat even used the litterbox in front of him, like he was proving a point.
Also, dude-cat has been grooming himself faithfully since late Sunday (I think he took a little while to get comfortable), which is somewhat heartening -- I've read material that implies that pre-alteration male cats have a lot less interest in keeping themselves clean. Good sign?

To sum all of this up: I am concerned that the yowling and the lady-bits-interest indicate that he has latent male-sexuality habits just waiting to spring up as soon as he gets really settled in. I'm further concerned that, as a result of this, my landlord will ask me to return the cat to the shelter, and that breaks my heart.

We'll be scheduling a follow-up vet appointment soon, and I will certainly ask about this then, but in the meantime I could dearly use some peace of mind/a direction to head. I haven't gotten more than an hour's sleep tonight as a result of the crying, and all the worrying I've been doing (hooray for possible anxiety issues!) -- that the landlord will ask for the removal of the cat, or that we won't be able to resolve the yowling issue and I'll surrender him myself in exasperation. I AM willing to work on this (I'm already really fond of the little guy!), and will heed the suggestions in the threads I linked, but I would like to be reasonably sure of the underlying cause. Please, please, help a sister out here.
posted by dorothy humbird to Pets & Animals (26 answers total)

Every cat is different. I have a shelter-born male that was neutered well before yours and doesn't spray, but because he has a touch of the Siamese in him -- you can see it in the shape of his face and the tiny crook in his tail, even though he doesn't look it otherwise -- he patrols the house howling all night, every night, and has done so for 16 years. It's just what he does. I'm not sure that night crying is necessarily a precursor to spraying or other territorial behaviors.

Maybe Mister Dudecat is a bit on the Siamese side, too?
posted by majick at 6:25 AM on December 9, 2008

I have an 11 year old male cat who was altered right away, and he's a night yowler about once or twice a week. Annoying, it is. But it's just him. Perhaps this is just a quirk you're seeing while he settles in, perhaps it's more long term. But I don't think it has all that much to do with the female cat.
posted by agentwills at 6:33 AM on December 9, 2008

Best answer: Un-neutered or late-neutered males in my experience do have a more "yowl-y" voice. (Though on preview, not as bad as the Siamese yowl majick mentions.)

As far as the butt-sniffing goes, that's just cat identification behavior, unless he pesters or attacks her or yikes tries to mount her. Caveat that neutered males and spayed females who aren't litter-mates tend not to get along very well in my experience -- they'll likely just establish a wary truce, but don't expect them to sleep together or both be on the bed at the same time with you and your partner.

I wonder, are there cats roaming around in your yard at night? If there are, no doubt he can smell and hear them and it might be agitating him. It's also possible in his pre-shelter life, he was always put out at night by his then-owners, and he's confused that that's not happening now. Cats are big on routine and schedule, as you are probably already aware. I mean, not sure what you do about other cats outside, specifically, if you plan to have him be an indoor cat, but it might be an explanation for the landlord if he demands one. It could also just be that little dude is simply confused and anxious about his new circumstances and just needs a little time to settle in. Think of how crazy all this must be for him -- new home, new humans, new other (female, confusing) cat sharing his space.

Give him as much positive reinforcement for his "good" behaviors as you can, firmly correct but don't punish the bad, and be consistent, and you have a chance of easing him into this new phase of his life.

If the night behavior continues to drive you crazy you might seek out a pet behaviorist to give you some advice (some bigger vets and veterinary school hospitals -- I say this as someone who has the Cornell Vet School in his town -- have this kind of service). Good luck to you and your new buddy! Be patient, it'll work out.
posted by aught at 6:40 AM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As for the determined butt-sniffery, my 3 (1 female, 1 gent fixed early, 1 gent fixed late) all do this when the butt-sniffee is doing something interesting and it seems to be a passive-aggressive way to get the sniffee to shove off out of the way.
As for the yowling, some kitties just like to talk a lot, especially late at night and/or while playing. My neutered-as-a-kitten guy tells whole sagas at the top of his lungs when he plays with his catnip mouse. He even does all the different voices. We speculate that he's talking to his imaginary friend, Raoul.
All of ours are fanatically faithful to the catbox.
posted by Lou Stuells at 6:56 AM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Pretty much all four-legged mammals sniff butts; it is the answer to the question "Hey, what's up?"

The "YOW?" noise is not specifically male (though male cats seem to be able to make it louder than most females, I've noticed), and it's not specifically sexual. I'm pretty sure it's the equivalent of wandering around shouting "Hello?" - he's bored, maybe a little confused why there's just the one other cat around rather than a shelter population, he's got all this new space and high ceilings and stuff. My altered-since-kittenhood male does the same thing when he's bored, and I find that a little vigorous exercise in the evening will keep him from being so bad late at night. (Of course, he also does it when his water dish has gone empty, and then I feel bad for yelling at him to shut up.)

A cat's not going to settle in to a new environment in two days. If he's still doing it in two weeks, you may have to start messing with his play/eat/catnip/pet schedules to keep him feeling more occupied at night.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:07 AM on December 9, 2008

My neutered-young boy cat is just plain chatty. He squeaks, yips, yowls, meows, and chirps at every given opportunity and then some. I think he likes the sound of his own voice.

It seems like your boy is looking for something/someone. We had a girl cat who would wonder out loud in the middle of the night where everyone was. We'd call out to her and she'd come running and then greet us like she hadn't seen us in years. We eventually just started wearing her out at night with some serious play and that seemed to solve the problem.
posted by cooker girl at 7:21 AM on December 9, 2008

Our (one of two neutered males, found feral as a kitten, indoor only) will prowl the apartment yelling after one of us (two humans) leaves. It's his "halp, people are not where I expects them" move.
posted by subbes at 7:23 AM on December 9, 2008

He sounds anxious and upset to me. He's adjusting to the new situation and is nervous. You could try using Feliway around the place, but I suspect that the only thing that will cure this is time. He needs to settle in. this is easier for kittens who never know anything else, much harder for adult cats (he's human equivalent of 20 to 30).

Try to be comforting and understanding. Punishing him or isolating him for being too vocal would make matters worse, I'd think. Reassure and play with him. If this continues you may want to speak with you vet about anti-anxiety therapies.

The butt-sniffing is completely normal. The cats will work that out on their own.
posted by bonehead at 7:36 AM on December 9, 2008

On re-read, apologies for skimming and misunderstanding the configuration of your household - when it all shakes out your room will likely be dude-cat's and your roommate's room will be lady-cat's. Based on my experience your male may bond more closely with you and your space than the female will to your roommate and hers.

Also, I agree with those recommending giving your kitty (and your roommate giving hers too) some tiring play (toys on strings, balls to bat around, etc.) in the evening before bed as a way to establish a new "sleep when humans go to bed" pattern.
posted by aught at 7:37 AM on December 9, 2008

By the by, if it's been more than a week and he hasn't sprayed, he probably won't make a habit of it. Cats don't normally spray their living spaces. Let him out though, and he may very well do so.
posted by bonehead at 7:39 AM on December 9, 2008

Two of my family's cats (both early-neutered males) have been yowlers. One was a fairly chatty guy in general, the other is near silent except for the yowling. We usually joke that he's having an existential crisis. Both of them have been otherwise affectionate, well-adjusted cats and haven't exhibited any unaltered-male behaviors.

It's not clear from your question whether your two cats are related or knew each other prior to adopting them; I'd guess Dude Cat is just trying to familiarize himself with Lady Cat as a new roommate.

He's probably still getting his bearings; I don't think either of these things are cause for alarm, but give him a couple weeks to settle down.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:39 AM on December 9, 2008

The nighttime stuff sounds like something my own cat (neutered male, 16 years old) has just started doing in the past year -- not only has he picked up a nightly yowling habit, he directs these yowls exclusively at his water dish.

I've completely given up trying to find a reason for it and am chalking it up to "he's always been a bit odd." My cat seems to pick up a new weird habit each year, and after a year of whatever will let it fade and then do something else loopy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:55 AM on December 9, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the feedback so far, you guys. Having never lived with mixed-gender cats, or been able to observe socialization of two new cats regardless of gender, a lot of this stuff is new to me.

The dude-cat and lady-cat were not previously living together, nor were they related, so, yeah, they're still working things out. Thanks for the encouragement to be patient; it's so hard to keep that in mind when you're still awake at 7am and the thoughts are just racing!

I will make certain to reassure Mr. Dude that he is loved and welcomed into my space (since, oh man, he totally is; I've been waiting almost exactly his entire lifespan to live with a kitty again!), but does anyone have specific suggestions for how to respond to the nighttime yowling? Should I keep my door closed at night? Utterly ignore him? I clearly don't want to encourage this behavior but my soul cracks a little with each fresh session of cries.
posted by dorothy humbird at 7:56 AM on December 9, 2008

Do you know your dude-cat's history? Was he a street cat? I once adopted a street cat who had to be made an indoor kitty because of the laws in the city I was living. He yowled all night long because he wanted to go outside and do his nighttime cat thing. He was fixed, too. It started with yowling, which we tried to ignore by shutting the bedroom doors. Then it became yowling, rattling the doors and knocking things over to get attention. No one got any sleep. In the end he got a new home where there was some land, so he could safely go outside and roam about. He was much happier after that.

Hopefully this is not the case with your cat, but if he was used to being outside and doing his own thing, he's probably just adjusting to his new and smaller world.
posted by slowfasthazel at 9:27 AM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

My cat can be very loud when bored. There doesn't seem to be a magic cure for him, but I do kick him out of the bedroom if he is loud at night. I figure any attention I give him at that point would be encouraging his behaviour. I have also tried to make sure that he is well exercised, fed and watered before bed.

It seems to me that it is all about attention bc he is especially bad when we get back from vacation.

Since it hasn't been that long, your kitty is probably still adjusting.
posted by Gor-ella at 9:54 AM on December 9, 2008

Not to derail, but EmpressCallipygos, have you mentioned the new crying to your vet? There are a couple of fairly serious physical problems that can present with new/unusual talkativeness as a symptom. You might want to throw it out there the next time you are at the vets.
posted by thebrokedown at 10:11 AM on December 9, 2008

Our cats tend to make that confused yowl/meow sound when they've somehow "lost" us. This is regardless of whether they just left the room or if we go upstairs and they're downstairs and suddenly realize THEY DIDN'T SEE US LEAVE OMG. We have gotten them to where they come to their names/calling of "kitteh"/etc so letting them hear us and letting them know where we are seems to fix it. Sometimes it's like, they left the room to do something, and then when they forget on the way they're confused. Anyway, I don't know if it will fix your problem, but if he's confused/lonely/whatever, teaching him to find you at those times, rather than getting up and finding HIM might solve some of the talking behavior. We also talk back at ours, but we are ridiculous people.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:21 AM on December 9, 2008

THis thread is useless without pics.

My older male cat is a yowler - he was neutered before 8 months. Younger male cat is a squeaker - also neutered before 8 months. Early on, I made the mistake of comforting oldercat each time he yowled, so it's positive reinforcement now. Now squeaker has learned from yowler's behavior, and squeaks incessantly outside the bedroom door.

My suggestion is IGNORE IGNORE IGNORE. Do not respond to the yowling in any way. Only respond to affection (head butts, climbing on lap, leg rubs).
posted by desjardins at 10:54 AM on December 9, 2008

Response by poster: Well, since you asked, desjardins.

Dude-cat! Properly called Malachy.

Lady-cat! Properly called Fox Kestrel.

It's helpful to hear that many of you think it may just be that he needs time to adjust. I'm planning to engage him more in play, and we'll see how it goes. He and Fox Kestrel have been occasionally chasing each other in short spurts, so I can only hope that will develop into actual playtime. (Contrary to aught's expectations, they seem to be perfectly okay with sharing the bed while I'm around, so I'm cautiously hopeful that they'll end up at least sometimes-friends.)

More viewpoints still greatly appreciated, if you've got 'em!
posted by dorothy humbird at 11:13 AM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

As I mentioned above, Feliway (or other cat hormone product) could help. It makes the place smell homey to a cat. Don't worry; humans can't smell it. It may help reduce his anxiety.

Otherwise, try to put some effort into being with him, but as dejardins says, DO NOT "reward" him with attention when he cries. That will just reinforce the behaviour. Reward him with treats, pet and play with him when he is behaving as you want him to, ignore him when is behaviour is undesirable. It's not necessary to punish. Being anxious and feeling alone is bad enough. He'll figure out what gets him rewards soon enough.
posted by bonehead at 11:28 AM on December 9, 2008

As others have said, every cat is different, but if it's any comfort, I'll tell you about my cat.

I adopted him when he was 5 years old, and he too was neutered as an adult cat (but before I adopted him). He is and always has been exceptionally dominant and very very male. The yowling you describe I can practically hear in my head because I have heard it so many times before. A female outdoor cat (mine is indoor only due to his lack of claws), sits on our back porch, and he howls at her. If it's late at night and he wants in the bedroom, he howls. The beast is talkative, but I have learned that you MUST ignore it. This in and out of the bedroom at night when he howled only encouraged him. Ignoring him was key. It sucked for a week, but it worked. Now he only makes a noise to be let in in the morning when it is time to get up and be fed.

Although I would describe my cat as neurotic at the best of times, time has calmed him down, and a comfortable routine has limited the irritating howling.
posted by billy_the_punk at 1:45 PM on December 9, 2008

Is he deaf? If he yowls when you turn out the light then that's a clue. The yowling is like radar. (I might not know what I'm talking about here.)
posted by andreap at 3:45 PM on December 9, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone who answered!
All your input was very helpful, and in case anyone else finds this thread in future, when I consulted a friend about this, he asked a good question: is he locked out of any rooms? As it happens, yes - my roommate keeps her door shut at night, to reduce the amount of time she spends directly exposed to their allergens.

Last night he was still prowling and yowling, but I was able to ignore him enough to get a decent amount of sleep. Here's hoping that with time he'll get used to us being boring and/or hidden for the nighttime hours.
posted by dorothy humbird at 1:02 PM on December 10, 2008

If play time before lights out doesn't work, try wetting his paw (in a non-mean way). He'll at least spend some time drying it off...
posted by mightshould at 2:21 PM on December 10, 2008

Always seem to be shooing cat-butt out of your face...? Apparently it's the height of friendliness. (Flattering but.. no. Thanks.) Ugh.

My boy does this perhaps? It's a very trilling/rolling kind of miaow though. Loud, one (brief-ish) sustained sound. Usually 3 or so in a row. Then he'll pause and start up again It's kind of like a yowl but it has that little kind of trill to it... The trill is very similar to the mummy cat "Kitties. Kitties where are you? Come out." Miaow - only, set to a loud yowl.

We almost always hear it at night. The three of us will be snuggled on the couch and then suddenly he will hop up and trot out of the room. Fair enough.
Then from upstairs moments later "Me-rowllllllllrllrllrlrlrlrluh.. ME-rowwllllllllllrllrllrlrlrlrlrLUH.. M-" (And so on.)

Scruff and I just look at each other, "We are down here. Right where you left us... you dick." :) She hops up and trots off in the same direction. And then all the running and tumbling on the wooden floors above my head starts. Tsk.
I have heard it in different circumstances, involving much longer stories... :)
But if it is the same it definitely means "I want to play now, *other kitteh*." (Sometimes he wants to play with me but it sounds slightly different..? Always in the dark though.)

(Also if your girl kitty is fixed and there are no little tramps about - there's nothing for him to be yowling about. If you can rule that out then it's pretty unlikely. And there is just no mistaking that yowl.)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 9:30 PM on December 10, 2008

Response by poster: Is it the done thing now to post a follow-up? Well. Here I am, doing that.

It's turned out that my dude-cat just likes to talk sometimes. As far as I can guess, it seems like he does this when he wants to play, or is a little bored and wants some kind of attention. I've managed to tune him out at night, and my landlord has yet to try and evict me from the building over the mrrowling. (This is not at all likely to happen.)

The amusing/mildly frustrating thing is that he seems to have taught this behavior to the younger girl cat, who I can now hear trilling her questioning "mrrowl?"s in other parts of the apartment on occasion.

In sum: all is well. Dude-cat has not sprayed anything at all (although he has very bad aim when using the litterbox and seems to think his can is in range when it is in fact hanging out over the edge... come on, buddy) and we are a happy family. Thanks, once again, for everyone's input!
posted by dorothy humbird at 11:10 AM on January 9, 2009

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