August 2019

Audience: Executive Leadership, Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

Each cat has their own personality. Some cats are more vocal than others, and most cats can learn to vocalize to communicate with humans. Certain breeds, such as Siamese, are known for their vocal demeanor. Many different feline vocalizations exist, and experts have tried to classify the different acoustic variations.

Most cat owners know when to give their cat attention or when it is time to feed (at least in the cat's opinion). Most people can tell when their cat is happy or when they are distraught. Many emotions are differentiated by the different tones and noises your cat makes.

However, continuous or excessive vocalization is not normal. It can be the expression of distress, discomfort or pain, agitation, cognitive decline, or other forms of illness. In some cases, it could be due to territorial behavior. For example, unneutered (intact) male cats may yowl in conjunction with sexual behavior, and intact female cats in heat are known to vocalize excessively or continuously until bred or spayed.

A grieving cat that has recently lost a companion, either feline, human, or canine, may walk around the house and meow, seemingly in search or just reacting to the change in routine. Give your cat extra reassurance, spend more quality time with them, and enrich their life with daily play until they adjust to this loss.

A recent move or a new environment may be the cause for stress. It is normal, especially for an older cat, to be disoriented and unsure in a new environment. Introducing your cat to the house gradually may help prevent some agitation. Pay attention to environmental changes to see if something could be bothering them, such as a new stray cat coming by your back door. This behavior usually takes a few weeks to resolve.

If a normally quiet cat has become very vocal, pain needs to be ruled out first. Make sure there is nothing medically wrong with them; schedule an immediate check-up with a veterinarian.

Older cats can display excessive or continuous vocalization due to going deaf, cognitive decline, or various metabolic or pain related disorders. Consult a veterinarian immediately with sudden changes in vocalization behavior.

This document created by the San Francisco SPCA with a grant from Maddie's Fund®.