Annoying cat is annoying
October 22, 2010 4:37 PM   Subscribe

So we have a cat. He came with the house, and probably not the cat we would have picked for ourselves, but now he's ours and we love him. However he's recently added a new behavioral problem to a list of behavioral problems that isn't as short as all that: From 3 in the morning onwards he wanders the house and meows constantly.

Often he starts out just behind the cat flap, meowing to be let in (depsite having a perfectly good flap. He's not a very smart cat.) Then he'll patrol up and down the house, meowing all the way. Sometimes he seems to be leading us into one particular spot in the living room, and petting him may make him settle there for a bit, though if we return to bed he's back to meowing. Eventually he'll either go to the door and ask to be let out, or we'll just throw him out.

Then half an hour later he'll do the same thing. And again and again... meow meow meow.

I am of course the designated person to get up when the cat meows.

So, my possibly quite futile cat psychology questions are:
What on earth is my cat doing?
How can I make him stop it?
posted by Artw to Pets & Animals (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What on earth is my cat doing?

Seeking your attention.

How can I make him stop it?

Stop giving it to him.
posted by jacobian at 4:41 PM on October 22, 2010 [14 favorites]

My cat does this at night, too, with the added bonus of running up and down the stairs and yowling. At first I thought she was all OMG HALP IT IS DARK IN HERE AND I AM ALONE! but then I realized she's actually just playing by herself. And that is why she is no longer allowed in the bedroom at night.

Anyway, yes, your cat has trained you. Stop getting up and petting him. When the meowing starts up, you just ignore, ignore, ignore.
posted by anderjen at 4:44 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

What happens when you ignore the cat? Have you tried earplugs?

My sympathies ... my first beloved Coon wandered yowling through the house as he got old, deaf (which made him REALLY loud) and, um, kitty senile. The equally ancient Siamese would sigh, heave herself off the bed, find him slap the shit out of him. Then he'd happily follow her back into the bedroom, and go to sleep. I suspected that he was getting lost and then confused in the night.

One piece of cat lady advice is NEVER feed a cat first thing in the morning, or they will forever associate waking you with kibble.

If he isn't making a mess in the house, I'd pop in earplugs and try ignoring him for a few nights. He's training you to get up and fuss with him.
posted by cyndigo at 4:44 PM on October 22, 2010 [15 favorites]

We successfully dealt with this with our kitty. I'll copy/paste part of an answer I gave in another thread:
"That's another difficult one to eradicate once you've allowed/reinforced it. We have a night meower that we have [...] cured of the problem. If the ear plugs and white noise won't be sufficient, you'll need to take some steps to stop the behavior.

First and foremost: do not reinforce their meowing by personally responding in any way, positive or negative. Don't talk to/yell at them, make noises at them, squirt them, or open doors for them. That's going to be the hardest part. If you have a way to make a loud, unpleasant noise that cannot in any way be associated with you, go ahead and use that when they meow.

Keep them alert and active during the day, especially in the afternoon/evening. Get cat toys they love, leave them around the house, and trade them out on occasion. Hide treats around the house for them to find. Wear the cats out by playing them at night before you go to bed (think laser toy or "da bird"). Leave toys in the area they meow at night.

Along the same lines, give them attention/affection during the day and especially before you go to bed. I understand you don't feel a lot of affection for them, so maybe your girlfriend can take care of that. Brushing them, petting them, talking to them, and allowing them to sit on your lap all count.

Make sure they have a comfort zone at night, such as a soft bed in an area away from any noises or disturbances, such as a central air vent. Close your blinds and curtains to block any outside stimulation. You may want to consider using Feliway in their comfort area and in the area they meow at night.

So, night-meowing summary: activity and attention during the day, quiet area and an outlet at night. Ignore the meowing when it happens."

Hope that helps.
posted by moira at 4:56 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yowling in the middle of the night is, for my furball, a feline version of 'HEEEEEEY! HEEEEEY! SOMEONE COME PLAY WITH ME I'M BORED!!!'

I plan on getting her a buddy when I can afford it, but till then I just accept the fact that I am a night owl and a bit of a tool and whenever she brings it to me I will throw her toy mouse down the hall so she can go run after it.

Or, in short, cats are weird.

We demand pictures of said cat.
posted by Heretical at 4:56 PM on October 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

If all else fails, shut him in a bathroom/laundry room/mudroom/whatever that's as far from your bedroom as it can be. Give him a litter box, some water, and maybe food if he's the type who grazes instead of having fixed mealtimes. Enjoy your sleep.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 5:04 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Maybe you need a second cat to keep him company?
posted by Jacqueline at 5:07 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Having companion cats has never discouraged my meowers.
posted by moira at 5:11 PM on October 22, 2010

Yeah, what's going on is that 3ish in the morning is a normal time for a cat to be active, and you're rewarding what was likely at one point largely incidental loud obnoxiousness, which tends to escalate the situation. He knows that if he makes noise, you'll get up, pet him, and let him in and out.

I feel for you. Two years ago, my Sammy Katz had me trained to wake up every day at 4 a.m. to let him out. He did this by: 1. Running around and meowing. 2. Walking over my chest and face. 3. Darting his little paws out and stabbing me in the armpit or neck with his claws. Over and over again. 4. Knocking over items on my nightstand. Onto my head. Including, once, a glass of water. Awesome

Because we lived in a 2-room apartment in no doors, there was no shutting him out. And he was extremely difficult to ignore. When my husband moved in, he wanted none of this nonsense.

What helped us was air cans and water bottles, applied whenever he got too close in the middle of the night. Some will tell you that this sort of positive punishment is ineffective for training or cruel, or that you're actually rewarding the cat for its behavior by paying attention to it, or that the cat will come to hate you, but that has absolutely not been the case for us. Sammy knows the difference between person + water bottle and person alone. Within half a week or so, we'd just half to touch our hands (while half asleep) to the air can or water bottle to send him scampering off. Within a month, he'd stopped waking us up completely (though he did learn to come cuddle and beg for food when the alarm clock went off, but that was more acceptable). We never have to do it at all anymore, and he generally leaves us alone at night.

If we could have, we likely would have just shut him out of the room. But barring that, or if you know it's ineffective (like he still wakes you while in other rooms despite your repeated attempts to ignore it), I'd highly recommend a brief squirt of a water bottle or blast of air.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:11 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

(2-room apartment with no doors; have to touch our hands, rather. Blargh.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:13 PM on October 22, 2010

Yeah, when I was getting up to attend to the meowy cat in the middle of the night, I had no idea why it was the stupidest thing to do EVER (because my instinct said, "baby cries, pay it attention and soothe it!"), but then AskMe told me to stop getting up and giving him pets because I was teaching him how to wake me up at 3am whenever he wanted attention. I quit getting up, and kitty quit it within a couple weeks or so, and it only happens very few and far-between nowadays. (I do give him LOTS of snuggles when I get home from work, though.)
posted by so_gracefully at 5:20 PM on October 22, 2010

We have a cat who doesn't see in the dark so well; leaving a light on in the living room and a light on in the basement near the litterboxes basically solves the problem, he can find his way up and downstairs to get where he needs to go. If we turn all the lights off and there's no moon, he frequently cries because he's lost and confused. The other cat does not have this problem.

But yes, make sure there's not an issue (can he see to get through the cat flap?), then stop paying attention.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:42 PM on October 22, 2010

Companions have never made any difference for my nighttime meowers. My ex-roommate's cat was the worst. I've slept so much better ever since they left.

My cat Fergus only meows a little bit at night now, he used to be awful when I first got him. Ignoring works best. Eventually he gets tired of it and either runs the length of my house repeatedly or abuses the dog.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:06 PM on October 22, 2010

Our whacky cats like going nuts at night. They also like having the run of the house. Once we started consistently responding to the late night yowling, everything got better. We have the tried and true Slip Spray Sling Stuff Snooze approach (slightly modified from an Aussie skin cancer campaign):

Slip out of bed

Spray with compressed air or a squirt gun

Sling the offending feline into solitary confinement (aka our laundry room)

Stuff towels under the door and earplugs in our ears

Snooze blissfully

But seriously, the important thing here is consistency.
posted by arnicae at 6:55 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Some notes on the kitty:

* Here he is having a lovely tea party, courtesy of my daughter. Sometimes they like to snuggle
* I probably should have mentioned that he's a neutered male indoor/outdoor cat.
* Despite this he's previously had a spraying problem, though that seems to be over.
* It's not a light thing - in fact the full moon makes him go mental. Meow meow meow meow meow.
* The "ignore him until he stops doing it" solution is undoubtedly the best, but it's not me he wakes up. I'm the person who gets woken up by the person he wakes up.
* God, I'm one of those "your perfectly reasonable answer is no good because I'm a special case!" people, arn't I?
* "you should go get him!" "No I shouldn't, the internet says so!" may be a future conversation. "But he'll wake our daughter, and then I'll have to get up with her, so you should go get him." might be another.
* That thing with the one specific spot he always wants to go to is weird. Perhaps he thinks my couch is haunted. Honestly, I'm used to getting up to let him in or out from time to time but this very specific behaviour makes me wonder if he has some kind of kitty brain damage.
posted by Artw at 8:46 AM on October 23, 2010

The "ignore him until he stops doing it" solution is undoubtedly the best, but it's not me he wakes up. I'm the person who gets woken up by the person he wakes up.

Earplugs for the wife for a week or two might help, then. :)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:17 AM on October 23, 2010

First off, he's adorable! I love fluffy kitty tummies!

Second - when my cats have done that in the past, it's always been because they wanted attention. So I would suggest somehow wearing him out during the day so that he sleeps at night. Catnip at bed time might help. or one of those automated laser pointers.

...this very specific behaviour makes me wonder if he has some kind of kitty brain damage

LOL. I've never met a cat that didn't do something completely inexplicable at some point. It's part of how they keep us on our toes, bending over backwards to try to please them.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:27 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

N'thing "you're reinforcing the behavior", but another thing to try (while you're practicing ignoring it) is to feed him just before you're going to bed. If you have food down all day, you might try taking it up for awhile until bedtime, putting fresh food in, adding a favorite canned treat at bed time, whatever, as long as he eats, and gets in the habit of eating at that time.

Much like some of us, cats tend to decide to settle in for a digestive nap after dinner; often this is enough to quiet them down until you're well and truly asleep and it's easier to ignore their messing about.
posted by nonliteral at 10:13 AM on October 23, 2010

It probably is just attention-seeking, but I'm gonna say: take him to the vet.

My cat started doing this after years of not doing it. We brushed it off as her new annoying habit, but she died of bone cancer about 18 months later. Now I think it was probably pain. I'm not sure a vet visit would have changed the outcome, and might have been expensive, but it might not hurt to just check things out and see if anything's amiss with his other vital signs.
posted by Miko at 11:12 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have until recently been sharing a house with an indoors/outdoors cat. Sometimes she comes in, in the middle of the night, and starts yowling loudly. As far as I can tell, this translates to "HELLO! Hello look at ME! Look at me because I am CLEVER AND WONDERFUL! So wonderful I have brought you a PRESENT!

And there will be some sort of rodent somewhere, possibly hiding under the sofa.
posted by Lebannen at 11:16 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are there critters outside that the cat is meowing at? We've had possums and raccoons in our yard at night lately, and the cats have been "talking" through the window and back door at them.
posted by vickyverky at 3:55 PM on October 23, 2010

Ugugugugugug my own pussycat, Eric, decided spontaneously four years ago that he wanted to wake me up with yowling, then ramming my bedroom door open and biting me gently/running his claws through my hair, all so I would come and watch/pet him while he ate his kibble every morning at 7. Weirdest thing I've ever heard of, as usually animals feel most vulnerable when eating and don't like to be observed. It was hard to break him of the habit, as he could push my door open. I'd have to barricade the door every night which made bathroom/water trips in the middle of the night treacherous.

He only stopped in the last year when I completely cut him off the pet-&-eat, not only at night but also during the day.
posted by custard heart at 3:57 PM on October 23, 2010

Well, you've got suggestions for things to do in addition to ignoring it - and really, I think a multi-pronged approach is going to be most effective - but in our case, a minor modification to our apartment also allowed us to keep the cat a few feet away from the bedroom doors, and we added white noise to our little girl's room. Hubby had a hard time with the ignoring bit, and he got the earplugs.
posted by moira at 6:10 PM on October 23, 2010

I'm not a cat expert, so take this with a lot of salt...

Have you considered getting a second cat? I'm told that cats are sometimes very clingy and lonely when they're the only cat in a household. If your cat had a friend he might seek the other cat's attention in the middle of the night instead of yours.
posted by Vorteks at 6:37 AM on October 26, 2010

Not a cat expert, but do have cats and am a behavioral scientist (shrink).

Do give your cat lots of attention before bed, so you don't have to feel guilty for doing the following: Put your cat on an extinction schedule. Extinction is the behavioral term for when you stop reinforcing a behavior that you want to extinguish. Getting up and tending to the cat is rewarding his meowing. As the others have stated, you have to ignore him and his meows. Ear plugs for your wife, maybe even a hotel for several days, could help her to cope while your actively ignoring the cat. The meowing will get worse before it gets better; it's important that you not give in, no matter how tempting it may be.

One other approach-- may seem kind of mean, but you could spray him with water when he meows. That might discourage him, but it's still a form of attention and may keep him on the hook, because at least he gets to see you for a minute.

Good luck!
posted by drjmac at 11:08 PM on October 26, 2010

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