Stop us from sleep-murdering this sweet cat
May 7, 2012 10:09 AM   Subscribe

How have you convinced your cat to let you sleep? (The cat who howls in the night).

So, we have three cats in our household: A 12 year old male, a 3 year old female, and an 8-9 month old male.

The 12 year old male has recently (well, on and off for a while now, but the last few months have been really bad) decided that really, no one should sleep. Not ever. He positions himself in the hallway, dead center between bedrooms, the best so that everyone can hear him, and HOWLS. He is astonishingly loud.

This goes on a while, until some groggy individual starts issuing death threats. Then he either continues to howl, or goes in to get pet. There will be a reprieve. Perhaps in an hour it will commence again. Or maybe he'll take a nice nap. There's no way to know, and so some nights are semi-okay, and some mornings we wake up like the walking-dead.

I know this is not an entirely unusual thing for cats, but we need to
sleep. Badly. Does anyone have any helpful suggestions? What can be threaten him/bribe him with to make him stop?

A few things: I don't believe it's medical. He's recently had a full
blood panel to check on some vomiting issues, and while he had a slight tummy infection, it was dealt with by antibiotics. Everything else was perfect across the board, so, no to hyperthyroidism. We've had that in the household before and would (probably) recognize the symptoms.

He is an indoor/outdoor cat, but never, ever allowed out at night, or when we are not home. This hasn't changed, he knows the deal. He might not like it, but after about 15 minutes of complaining after dusk and lockdown, he gets over it, and starts asking for snacks instead.

The kitten is obviously a new addition, who has been with us 6 months. He has gone from being something the other two could mostly ignore despite his annoyingness, as at 2.3 pounds he was easily swatted, to the largest cat in the house, at 12 pounds, and still growing. A whole lot less easy to ignore. But I don't want to necessarily blame this behavior on him, as the older male has always been something of a howler when he wanted your attention, and there was a time when, during the day, he would simply sit in another room and yell loudly until you came to see what the deal was. Which was that he wanted your attention. Some pettings. Maybe a nom.

He is best buds with the girl cat. This is not the issue.

There is plenty of clean litter. All were neutered/spayed at between 6-7 months.

We have moved an additional bowl of food and one of water upstairs recently, as a bribe. There is a new pillow on the floor hallway for him. A new cat lounger/scratching pad is on the way for this area as well.

Any other ideas?

Here he is: This is his "pick me up now" move.

Sleeping with his girlfriend

His Nemesis.
posted by instead of three wishes to Pets & Animals (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My (10 year old) cat has also started doing this recently. She'll cry really early in the morning (about 2 hours before everyone usually wakes up) until we are all up and giving her attention. What I have been doing, which seems to have some effect, is firstly, to not give her what she wants. I do not give her positive attention. Secondly, I will in a strong voice say to 'shut up' then spray her with a water mist spray bottle. It seems to be working a little.
posted by greta simone at 10:19 AM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

You can't pet him ever when he does this. If it works every once in a while he will always howl when he wants late night pets. My husband cat is a howler and we do a couple of things. First we keep a squire bottle by the bed and squirt the ever-loving shit out of him when he does it in the middle of the night. Second, we make sure he gets plenty of play time and cuddles during the day/evening when he gets extra howly. Some times he misses us when we're extra busy and just wants some attention. This may be the case with the new addition of the kitten.

I really feel for you, when I first moved in with my husband and he went on a business trip, Jack would howl and howl because I was in no way good enough and he missed his daddy. Lots of pets and loves and generous squirting mitigated the behavior mostly. He still does it sometimes, but not enough for me to want to murder him anymore.
posted by Kimberly at 10:19 AM on May 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Ok my husband's cat, not my husband cat. What a difference punctuation makes.
posted by Kimberly at 10:20 AM on May 7, 2012 [31 favorites]

I think that the people letting him in for a petting are only exacerbating the problem. You're only confirming that "yowling at night = eventually people will give me some attention."

I got my own cat to keep calm at night by feeding him his one meal about an hour before I went to bed. He did go through a phase in his elder years of nighttime random yowling, but stopped that fairly quickly when he realized that the only attention he'd get would be me shouting "SHUT THE FUCK UP" and that's all. It wasn't instantaneous, but it did end fairly soon.

Don't let him into anyone's room, and hang in there.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:21 AM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Our former roommate's cat would do this as she got older and her hearing and vision started to go downhill. She'd be fine and then be all like HOLY SHIT WHERE ARE YOU GUYS and I tell you what, the volume of the sounds that came out of that little 4 pound cat defied all natural laws. Anyway, what solved it for this cat in particular was to leave talk radio or TV on in the living room. The sound of voices soothed her and she would shut the hell up and stay quiet. For what it's worth, she was (and reportedly still is) partial to BBC America.
posted by bedhead at 10:24 AM on May 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

Wow, those are beautiful cats, and I totally feel for you.

Perhaps it's not physical, but mental. He may be experiencing kitty dementia. I'm not sure how that's diagnosed, but ask your vet if this is possible.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:31 AM on May 7, 2012

He may be experiencing kitty dementia.

Or feline anxiety or catish depression, all of which can get worse with age. Your vet may have options for you.
posted by bonehead at 10:34 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

A bedtime snack ("second dinners") for our cat helped us - now she doesn't try to wake us up until after 6, usually.
posted by Occula at 10:37 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

We have one crier who will yowl incessantly for hours. She doesn't get attention of any kind when she yowls and she's done this for YEARS. You may just have a yowler. Stop giving him attention when he cries and see if that helps. It will likely get worse before it gets better, since he's been getting intermittent reinforcement so far.

But honestly, the only thing that works for us is putting the cats to bed in the basement while we sleep on the second floor of the house, and having white noise going all night. This also stops the younger cat from attacking the blanket monsters who live in our bed.
posted by cooker girl at 10:44 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have cats who are intermittently noisy at night, and my husband sleeps right through it every time, because he wears ear plugs. I, for various reasons, cannot sleep with ear plugs, and find it very irritating that they seem to work so well. So, that might be a last ditch effort for you.
posted by something something at 11:05 AM on May 7, 2012

I would recommend keeping him shut into a separate, litterbox-containing area of the house at night, because it sounds like otherwise you'll have to endure a number of sleepless nights before he gets untrained to do this and stops expecting to get petted. I second the point made about not feeding them until later in the day.

But I do think that it could be a cat psychiatric issue too.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:06 AM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have to agree with the feeding before bedtime routine - this practice completely ended the early morning (3-4 AM) howling for breakfast that my cats liked to inflict on me.
posted by longdaysjourney at 11:07 AM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: What an adorable little monster!

In addition to not rewarding him for evil behavior, and thereby retraining him, the other trick is to wear them out in the day. When the cats get rambunctious at night, I simply don't let them sleep (much) during daylight for the next couple of days. (The expression of disbelief and horror when you wake them up is delightful too.) Turn on the vacuum cleaner and leave it on all day.

Also: exercise the holy heck out of them. I've got both cats (FOR NOW, KNOCK WOOD) trained to sleep through the night in their little beds, because they are on champion workouts and awake most of the day. (It's also getting them in cat bodybuilder shape.)

Oh and also: yup, regular feeding times help a bit. If they know there's a routine ("Ooh, a couple hours after the sun comes up the humans awake and then after they have coffee there's food!"), they get into it. Then they get their late dinner, some more playtime, some bedroom time, then it's off to their beds. (CROSSES FINGERS, PRAYS TO CAT GODS.)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 11:08 AM on May 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

Is he going deaf? My mom's cat went stone-deaf over a short period of time, and in conjunction started the same type of yowling. Mom had to train kitty to come up to bed based on flicking the bedside lights on and off.
posted by Wossname at 11:20 AM on May 7, 2012

Response by poster: A few things of note to add to the above after reading through the suggestions above:

1) They are being free fed. There is always dry food out, there is almost always wet food out. It has always been this way, and lately, with the kitten eating his body weight in food every few hours, its even more necessary, as he is eating all their food, and my food, and random pieces of lint he finds on the floor. Yesterday I found him in the sink eating sweet potato peelings. But, they do get treats around 8 or 9 pm on top of that, and the addition of dry food on the second floor is new.

2) The doors to the bedrooms have always been propped open at night, just about 6-12 inches, to allow cats to enter and leave at will. It's not that he can't get in, it's that he'd rather we come to him. And we do know it's an issue, and try not to respond.
posted by instead of three wishes at 11:23 AM on May 7, 2012

Lots of cats howl at night. Our alpha-male does it too, although less frequently.

Better than a squirt bottle is a can of compressed air, e.g. used to blow dust out of electronics. You don't even have to hit them with the air, just the hissing sound is enough.
posted by mikeand1 at 11:24 AM on May 7, 2012

Best answer: Yes, DO NOT reward him with attention at night!

We have a cat who doesn't see very well in the dark, and he cries when he gets lost. Leaving a lamp on in the living room basically cures this problem. It took a while to figure this out, because it was mostly only on moonless nights that he would cry!

I had another cat who was a nighttime yowler and we finally started locking him in a basement bathroom overnight (we could STILL HEAR HIM on the second floor!), with food and water and litter and a little nightlight, and in the cabinet under the sink I put his favorite old towel (he could open and close cabinet doors). After a couple nights of complaining bitterly about being locked up, he started sleeping in his sink-cabinet-cave and closing the door behind him. After a while we left the door open and sometimes he'd come sleep on our feet, but sometimes he went to his cabinet cave and closed the door so nobody could bother him.

On preview: If he's not entering or leaving the rooms, how is the nightlight situation? If his vision is going, he could need more light at night to find you. We also have a chest at the foot of our bed so our older cat can get up and down off the bed without help, as he can no longer jump all the way to the bed.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:27 AM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Here's an old answer of mine from another question, copy/pasted:
"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."
And yeah, you may find it a lot easier to deal with if he's put away in another part of the house for a while.
posted by moira at 11:45 AM on May 7, 2012

We used to have an open bedroom door at night until the yowling and stepping on my head in the middle of the night got too much to bear. Now the bedroom door gets shut tight at bedtime and we turn a fan on next to the bed to drown out the noise. It cuts down on the sound enough to allow us to sleep through it and I suspect he's actually yowling less now that he's not getting any response from us.
posted by platinum at 11:58 AM on May 7, 2012

Squirt guns.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:27 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Our dear, sweet, late alpha male cat used to do this.

It might be sundowning and it's not uncommon in older cats. We either let him howl it out without saying or doing anything, or we called him into our bedroom where he'd crawl up in between our pillows and go to sleep. We'd call loudly until he came, rather than going and getting him, which seemed to be what he needed - to orient himself by the sound of our voices. As he got older and a little more fragile, we called him or brought him into our room before turning out the lights and gave him lots of pets before going to sleep. The attached link recommends making him his own little environment so he doesn't have to navigate the dark, as Eyebrows McGee suggested.

Scolding a cat this age for doing something like this is counterproductive. He's not doing it to annoy you; he's doing it because something has changed for him and he's freaked out about it. I get that it's annoying but cats are weird and they only get weirder as they get older, trust me. Personally, I'd give him more attention now, too, because of the younger cat being introduced into the mix.

If nothing else works, try a white noise machine in your room to soothe yourselves while he howls it out. Sorry this is happening; your cats are really adorable.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 1:09 PM on May 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think the best response to the howling is closing the bedroom door immediately. I bet it would only take a couple nights of howling before he stopped.
posted by beccaj at 3:03 PM on May 7, 2012

I agree with the squirting helping and that it might possibly be kitty dementia. My late 20 year old cat started doing that in the last 3 years of her life. I think she was deaf and blind-ish though.

Look, here's a crazy idea. I don't know how good you or your co-house-people are with computers or electronics, but bear with me.

I have a feeling that having his yowl repeated back at him maybe 100-500ms later than he yowls would really throw off his game. I would set up a very directional mic near the area where he yowls, then run that through a single delay effect, then to an amp/speaker behind the mic so you don't get feedback. You'll probably have to play with the levels and EQ a bit to prevent feedback as well.

This really makes me want to go home and try it on my cats.

Also, I suppose there is the likelihood he would enjoy this new robot cat companion and yowl even more.
posted by MonsieurBon at 3:57 PM on May 7, 2012

also your cats are very cute!
posted by MonsieurBon at 3:57 PM on May 7, 2012

I've got a cat like this, only he's deaf so he can't even hear himself scream. Yelling at him doesn't work for obvious reasons, and if you ignore him long enough, he'll come in to the bedroom and methodically throw everything off the nighttable, yelling. Squirting him with water doesn't help as he likes the shower. And locking him in the bathroom? Hell, he'll lock HIMSELF in the bathroom, and yell in there, and sometimes he'll get in the tub first for better acoustics. The only thing that reliably works is wearing him out all day with tons of exercise and rude awakenings, and copious amounts of food before bed.
posted by tatiana131 at 8:13 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh gosh, I had never heard about sundowning in older cats and now I feel like a terrible person for suggesting the squirting. Thanks for posting that link, TryTheTilapia.
posted by Kimberly at 8:55 AM on May 8, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks all. For now, we are trying a combo of 1) ignoring the hell out of him 2) wearing him out before bed with play and catnip and 3) a new nightlight. (We tried leaving the tv on for him downstairs, but this resulted in him sitting in front of the tv all night and howling.).

He has his yearly vet visit coming up, and we'll get him checked out for hearing loss and possible old-age issues at that time.
posted by instead of three wishes at 8:09 AM on May 16, 2012

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