Night Meows
December 7, 2009 6:55 AM   Subscribe

New cat meows all night. Sleep much disturbed ...

I adopted a cat this past Friday. Filbert is about 16-18 months old. He was a stray, fed for 3 months or so by a very nice couple who wanted to bring him indoors and adopt him, but couldn't do so or reasons that will become obvious.
Last week, they captured him & brought him to the vet, got him neutered, brought him up-to-date on his shots, de-worming, etc. But the vet discovered Filbert was FIV/FL positive, which precluded this couple from adopting him (they have 3 other cats without FIV).
Long story short: I decided to adopt Filbert.
Since Friday, he's been more or less hiding, which is fine; gotta give him time to get accustomed to his new digs. But he is eating, using the litter box, and occasionally, gracing me with his presence, even spending some time curled up with me on the bed last night.
But every night, starting at around 11 or midnight, he wanders the house, meowing loudly, jumping up on windowsills as if he wants out. Given he was a stray, I suppose this is quite normal, as he's lived most of his recent life outdoors.
I loathe the idea of letting him out. One, his feline leukemia is contagious to other cats (and there are several other outdoor cats in my neighborhood). Two, I live on a very busy road and lost a cat 4 years ago to its traffic.
So ... any way to reduce his night meows, short of letting him out?
posted by jrchaplin to Pets & Animals (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
earplugs. seriously. for you, I mean.
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:58 AM on December 7, 2009

He WILL get used to it. I went through something similar, it takes a lot of time (a year and change in my case) but eventually they grow accustomed to staying inside. I used earplugs at night. I could still hear my alarm and COULD hear meowing if it was right in my face, otherwise I was fine to sleep. Make sure he gets enough exercise and attention (as much as he will allow right now) and he should be okay. Good luck!
posted by heavenstobetsy at 7:00 AM on December 7, 2009

You got him on Friday, so you've only had him for two nights. He'll calm down, don't worry. Earplugs until he does.
posted by sunshinesky at 7:02 AM on December 7, 2009

Also, close your bedroom door.
posted by sunshinesky at 7:03 AM on December 7, 2009

You will get used to the noise, and he will shut up eventually.
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:07 AM on December 7, 2009

Thank you for adopting Filbert and giving him a nice home. When one of my cats starts peeping endlessly about nothing, I put him in a room with food, water, the litter box, and a place to sleep. It's not mean, you'll be happier, and he'll be safe.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:09 AM on December 7, 2009 [4 favorites]

Yeah it's a time thing. He'll soon forget outside exists.

I suppose you could buy him some more toys or something to try and keep him occupied, but I think this will pass in a couple of weeks.
posted by fire&wings at 7:10 AM on December 7, 2009

Yeah, this is just an adjustment period. He will calm down soon.
posted by something something at 7:15 AM on December 7, 2009

Nthing "He'll adjust," and adding that you (and he) really will benefit from prolonged play in the evening before you're ready for bed. Most cats can't resist the feather-on-a-string-attached-to-a-stick toy, and laser pointers are always great. Wear him out. He'll be happy and tired and you'll get less complaining from him during the night. Plus, if it's something he can look forward to every day, you'll get more attention from him as a matter of course.
posted by cooker girl at 7:16 AM on December 7, 2009

Our thorough bred cat (from a registered breeder, and otherwise very well behaved) was exactly the same for the first month, then gradually got better. I think this is a pretty normal "cat thing," especially for an indoor cat. I'd say just put up with the noise, turn it into a joke, say it's a poltergeist, whatever. If it's really disturbing you all night, consider putting a room between you and him at night. We used to shut ours in the living room which provided much relief.

Looking back, though, it wasn't really that bad.. nothing compared to the baby we have now! At least you don't have to get up every few hours for a cat.. *groan* :-)
posted by wackybrit at 7:18 AM on December 7, 2009

Oh, also: ignore him when he cries. Our cats go in the basement at night and I'm usually the first up in the morning. One of them will cry a tiny bit, get ignored from me, and then I won't hear a peep again. If my husband gets up first, they cry and cry and cry and he can't take it so he'll let them out. They've trained him well. They also beg him for food because they know they won't get anything from me until the bowl is completely empty. I'll walk by one of them while they're sitting at the bowl - nothing. He walks by a moment later and it's all pathetic cries and pleads for food.

So, ignore him and he'll eventually realize (hopefully) that crying gets him nothing.
posted by cooker girl at 7:19 AM on December 7, 2009

Earplugs, tire him out, possibly Feliway, and if you have a room that can be assigned as a cat seclusion area with food, water, toys and litterbox, shut him up.

I'm not going to say that he'll eventually let you sleep undisturbed, because, frankly, ours still have their yowling moments at silly o'clock, but he'll probably come to terms with the idea that he's not going out.
posted by holgate at 7:24 AM on December 7, 2009

YOU MUST IGNORE HIM. Always and totally.

Sorry for the all-caps, but I have learned this lesson the hard way. I got my first cat when I lived in a studio, and when he'd start to meow I'd bring him into bed with me. Surprise surprise, 7 years later he still meows at the bedroom door.
posted by desjardins at 7:25 AM on December 7, 2009

When we adopted Bonus Cat, also a young adult intact male stray, a few months ago, he went through a horrible whine-all-night emocat phase. Neutering calmed him down immensely, though it took a few days. Since Filbert was neutered recently, he may have some residual testosterone kicking around, in addition to the normal adjustment to indoor life.

In the meantime, do what you can to amuse/exhaust him during the day, and at night shut the bedroom door and get some earplugs for the time being.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:38 AM on December 7, 2009

yeah, he's just feeling the phantom pain from his lost testicles and whatnot. he'll calm down in a couple of days.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 7:45 AM on December 7, 2009

both our cats, 15-y/o male and female, neutered at 6 mos, occasionally yodel at night. it happens when they are doing their tours of inspection before coming to bed. usually just calling out their names puts a stop to it.
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:49 AM on December 7, 2009

Don't want to be a downer, but when I moved from the country to NYC, my previously indoor/outdoor cat could never adjust to being an indoor only cat. He went from being the happiest, sunniest, basking-est orange tabby to a neurotic mess who clung with all fours to window screens, endlessly smeared his poop into expensive rugs and yowled in misery for hours. This went on for three years until I gave him to cat-loving friends with a farm, where he once again grew sleek, smiley and happy. It depends on the cat, but if you can't take it now, it might be good to know they don't ALWAYS adjust.
posted by fullofragerie at 7:49 AM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

My cat did the same thing for the first few days. She's loads better now and we get plenty of sleep. If you get really sleep-deprived, try a Benadryl and some earplugs, and shut your bedroom door. I'm sorry! It'll be over soon, I bet.

Don't give him lots of attention when he does this - that'll set up bad habits. Give him tons of attention and playtime during the day (when he's ready) and then keep to yourself at night.
posted by Cygnet at 7:51 AM on December 7, 2009

Lots of play before bed time, tire him out. Ours sleep with us and have learned that night=the people are not up for shenanigans. We don't mind them sleeping with us, mind you, so YMMV as to whether you are okay with that, but generally it's about routine. Going to bed should sort of always look mostly the same. Lights out, cat goes with you and/or is put into "his" area, whatever. The routine will get less important as the cat gets older but when they are young, it's helpful.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:44 AM on December 7, 2009

Loving Filbert's expression in the picture, and Metroid Baby's word "emocat."

Like everyone says, remember that Filbert will immediately latch onto whatever you do in response to the meowing. This positive reinforcement linkage is both instant and permanent. If you just can't take it and you have to DO SOMETHING, stick with something negative (but not harmful). A "shaker can" (empty soda can with some pebbles and coins inside) or squirt gun are ideal.

I wholeheartedly recommend Feliway. I think in your case the plug-in atomizer would be ideal. It's pricey, somewhere around $40, but it seriously works.

Feliway is an artificial version of cat cheek pheromones. When a cat marks its territory, the resulting smell tells the cat that "it's safe here." Plug in the atomizer, and it starts pumping out the "it's safe here" message right away. I have seen it settle cats down within minutes, no lie.
posted by ErikaB at 9:40 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

This noise machine will help, too:
posted by jennyb at 9:57 AM on December 7, 2009

Also maybe try giving him some Composure for cats (a liquid OTC medicine) before you go to bed. This plus Feliway might help.

Of course, he'll always be noctural.
posted by Knowyournuts at 11:22 AM on December 7, 2009

If this doesn't die down after a few days, and if you have a situation where it can rapidly become unbearable (studio apartment), keep a squirt bottle near your bed. That's the only thing that let me put an end to 3 a.m. playtimes.

Also, consider buying a feliway diffuser. I actually picked one up yesterday for a spraying issue and it had an unintended benefit: I woke up with my kitty Sammy in bed with me, purring, rather than being awoken by him doing his normal morning routine--whining and walking across my chest.

Or, on preview, what ErikaB said.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:23 AM on December 7, 2009

Also, he is a very handsome tabby man! Congrats on the new family member.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:24 AM on December 7, 2009

Don't want to be a downer, but there may be no fix for the yowling.

I've a yowler... 15 year old I took from the human society a dozen years ago, and it was immediately obvious what got him there: the only time he isn't running his mouth is when it's full, or he's asleep (and even then, not always). Shoo him away and he's back five minutes later yelling more; punish him, he's back in ten; every time he uses the litter box he has to run up and down the hall singing about his achievement as loudly as possible; when awake at night, he wanders the halls wailing until he goes back to sleep; when he wakes himself up by yowling in his sleep he looks around the room grumpily as if he's looking for someone to blame for the noise. In all those years of trying things and searching for reasons why, nothing his altered this behavior in any way.

But other than that, he's pretty much a dream. When he was younger and outside-y, he had in-house visiting privileges with at least three neighbors because he was so friendly. He went out less as he aged and didn't seem to care when I stopped letting him out. He's never tried to escape. He loves everyone. He forgives anyone who is accidentally/purposely mean to him in seconds. He's never failed to use the litter box, and does just as well sharing a lap/bed as he does sleeping alone. He can be left alone for days/weeks and not mind as long as there's enough food, water and litter. He isn't deaf, ill, stressed or suffering in any way... feliway does nothing, being the only cat in the house did nothing, having other cats does nothing, leaving lights or noise on does nothing... he just seems physically incapable of shutting the hell up.

I won't deny it still gets on my nerves now and then constantly, but when I finally realized there was no fixing this, I simply decided that he was just too good a cat to let that one horrid thing be a reason to get rid of him. Definitely try things listed here, and I hope you're lucky... but it's at least possible you may have make that choice also.
posted by Pufferish at 11:25 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

He hasn't quite adjusted yet, but he will. It sounds like he is still feeling shy around you and is probably a bit lonely at night (and you're right: he's used to wandering about). Don't let him out.

But since it sounds like you aren't purposely trying to keep him out of your bedroom, so if he meows tonight and it wakes you up, try calling him to you. Once I had a semi-new cat (he wasn't totally new to me, but we moved to a new place) and he did the cry-at-night thing that you're describing. A couple of nights where I would just call out to him, and he'd jump happily up onto the bed, purring like crazy, then he'd settle down and sleep. This happened a couple of nights until he was used to the new place. It was almost like he wasn't sure where I was and once he was used to the new place and routine, he was fine! Your case might be a little different, since it's a full-grown cat that's been acclimated to outdoors living, but give it a try. After he settles in, I'm sure he'll be fine. (But letting him out at night when he cries would be the worst thing to do! Then he'll keep up that behavior forever.)
posted by Eicats at 12:24 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have a yowler I adopted and no, he never calmed down. Not after being ignored, not after spray bottles, not after playing with him to tire him out. Feliway did nothing, and even with a closed door and earplugs, he woke us up continually every night - at least once an hour.

Our PERFECT solution? A compressed air collar with remote (usually reserved for dogs). We strap the collar around his neck every night, and when he wakes us up we press the button. 90% of the time he shuts up and doesn't meow the rest of the night.

One tip though: put the collar on upside down. Otherwise the air shoots up in the kitty's face causing a sneezing fit. Upside down makes sure that it's the noise more than anything that scares the cat.
posted by jennyhead at 12:28 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

Get a cardboard box, put a towel in it, and maybe a toy. Some cats feel better if they have a hidey-hole.
posted by theora55 at 12:58 PM on December 7, 2009

Also, make sure there aren't other cats parading outside the window providing additional stimulation to your kitty. Use barrier if needed.
posted by metaseeker at 4:37 PM on December 7, 2009

Best answer: I don't think you will be able to evaluate his true behavior until his hormones level out after the neutering, which might be as little as a week from now, or could take up to a month after the procedure, as I understand it. So he's reacting to significant change - physiological, environmental and emotional, and each of these things will take some time to stabilize. I personally would wait (earplugs!) until things have settled down for him before trying to determine if the night-yodeling is going to be a persistent problem. And as others have so wisely counseled, be very aware of what positive reinforcement you give when he's noisy! If he learns that this behavior will get him food, attention, cuddles, play, he's more likely to continue to communicate his desires in this way.

If possible, let us know how it works out!
posted by taz at 12:46 AM on December 8, 2009

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