Why do cats yowl and screech?

Picture of tuxedo cat who may have had kitty dementia
Clyde started to yowl in the middle of the night? It could have been he was confused from kitty dementia.
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Why do cats yowl and screech at night? ? Not all cats yowl, but it can be annoying and frightening to owners, worrying about what’s gone wrong. ‘Why did my cat start yowling in the middle of the night, for what appears to be, no reason?’

Yowling is different from MEOW-ing. Both are forms of communication with people. While MEOW-ing is a low-key conversation, yowling can be an earsplitting shriek, often done in the middle of the night. The yowl is similar to the meow but more drawn out and melodic. Unlike meowing, adult cats do yowl at one another, specifically during the breeding season.

So, why does your cat yowl at night? Some cats are chatty. Siamese are known for being very vocal. However, a cat typically yowls for specific reasons. A cat yowling at night has something to say and wants to say it now.

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The cat’s meow is a way of communicating with people. Cats meow for many reasons—to say hello, to ask for things, and to tell us when something’s wrong.

Kittens meow to let their mother know they’re cold or hungry, but once they get older, many say cats no longer meow to other cats. However, they continue to meow to people because it gets people to do what they want.

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    Many cat authorities say cats only meow at people and not to one another. Paws does not believe this as my cats frequently meow at one another. They do this to get their attention, and when they want to play.

    The yowl is often a cat-to-cat communication; it can mean:

    • I don’t want you coming around my place
    • I am in heat and want to mate
    • I’m not feeling well
    • My senses (hearing and vision) or cognitive functions are declining
    • Something in the environment (perhaps a new cat on the block) isn’t to your cat’s liking

    When does meowing become excessive? That’s a tough call. All cats are going to meow to some extent—this is normal communication behavior. But some cats meow more than their pet parents would like. Bear in mind that some breeds of cats, notably the Siamese, are prone to excessive meowing and yowling.

    A cat yowling at night does not need to be cause for alarm. Cats have perfected the art of waking up their humans during the night for random reasons, mostly because they want to spend more time with you — the person they love most in the world.

    Other cats yowl because they’re hungry, and want you to get up to fill their food bowl.

    One-third of cats, ages 11 to 14 (and half of all cats 15 and over), develop dementia, also called senile cognitive dysfunction, a common cause of nighttime yowling.

    Many senior cats yowl at nighttime, disrupting their human family’s sleep. Fortunately, once the cause is identified, yowling responds well to treatment.

    Yowling cats with vision or hearing impairment benefit from night lights or sleeping in a bathroom with a ventilation fan or radio to provide soothing background noise. A Feliway plug-in diffuser releases a pheromone that helps these cats relax and feel secure.

    Some cats yowl because they’re hungry. Try feeding a high-protein, low-carbohydrate meal just before bedtime, or offer Pete a feeding station with compartments that open on a timer.

    Hyperthyroidism that isn’t well regulated can cause nighttime yowling, and it and other diseases can cause hypertension, which also can induce yowling. Ask your veterinarian to check your cat’s thyroid and blood pressure, and prescribe or change up the medication.

    Pain from arthritis or dental disease causes cats to cry at night, when there’s little to distract them from their discomfort. You may want to discuss pain management with your veterinarian.

    One-third of cats, ages 11 to 14 (and half of all cats 15 and over), develop dementia, also called senile cognitive dysfunction, a common cause of nighttime yowling. These cats can be helped with nutritional treatments, supplements, and medications.

    7 reasons why cats yowl and screech in the middle of the night

    1. They’re hungry

    This one is obvious, but cats do what works. A cat yowling in your face gets that food bowl refilled. Hunger is easy to rule out. If your cat has plenty of food and is still yowling, hunger is probably not the cause.

    2. To get your attention

    Although cats have a reputation for being aloof loners, some cats need more attention than others. If you’ve been away from home a lot lately or not playing or cuddling with your cat as much as usual, ramp up the attention and see if that cat yowling stops.

    3. They’re bored

    Cats require a certain amount of enrichment in their lives. A cat yowling might be the cat’s way of expressing that she’s frustrated and bored. Increase playtime, invest in cat TV, and get a catio so kitty can safely spend time outside.

    4. A hormone issue

    When cats are breeding, they can make really horrible noises that really disturb people, but it’s quite normal. If your cat isn’t spayed, she might be in heat. Talk to your vet about having your cat spayed or neutered.

    5.They’re in pain

    A cat might yowl if she’s in pain. Since cats instinctively hide their pain, almost anything could be causing it, including arthritis, injury or illness. Hyperthyroidism may cause irritability, which manifests in cat yowling.

    6. A cognitive dysfunction (cat dementia)

    If your cat is older, cognitive dysfunction (aka cat dementia) could be behind all those cat yowling sounds. They start to not really understand what’s going on and then they start to vocalize. Lots of times, the yowling seems to happen at nighttime. Try feeding them a highly digestible meal before bed so they’re not hungry, create a relaxing area for them at night, and increase environmental enrichment throughout the day so they’re tired at night.

    7. Behavioral issues

    “If nothing seems medically abnormal and it’s a younger animal, it could be some sort of behavioral issue going on, Keep a log of all your cat’s activities. Journal when the yowling happens and try to link it to something, some sort of trigger. If you’ve had any changes in the household, like a new baby, a new housemate, or a recent move or divorce, your cat might be yowling because of stress or anxiety. If your cat is always yowling next to the same window, it may be a stray cat roaming around outside.

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    24 COMMENTS

    1. Although the ‘nighttime’ yowling is annoying, I prefer it to the ‘I brought you a present’ yowl. My heart jumps into my chest as the dogs also recognize that second yowl and run to the door to accept the gift (barf). I didn’t know some of the other reasons – very interesting!

      • That is very interesting. Never heard of yowls being associated with (unwanted) gifts that kitties might bring us. I will need to do some research into that. Thanks for sharing.

      • Presents at night can be a bit disturbing, especially the live ones. I haven’t had a cat bring me live gifts at night, but they leave them by the door so I’ll be sure to see them when I enter the mud room and hallway.

    2. There’s some great information here! I remember the first time that our one cat Pippen decided to yowl in the middle of the night. I was really worried that there was something wrong because it’s not something that she normally does. When I came downstairs I found her pacing at the living room window and yowling – a new stray that I haven’t seen before sitting in the front yard. She has done it a couple of times since but now that we know, it usually involves opening the front door to shoo away a cat that has upset her and she settles back in once again.

      • Thanks for your positive feedback. Cats don’t particularly like other cats invading their space, even if it is outside. You might try drawing the curtains or pulling the blinds to keep Pippen from seeing the other cat. Might help you get a better night’s sleep.

    3. Paying attention to all the animal sounds and their meaning is quite fascinating. And, when they make too much noise at night, also frustrating. At granny’s place, there was often at least one cat screeching through the night. That was not as fascinating.

      • If granny’s cats were not fixed, yowling often goes along with being in heat. But if they are spay/neutered and yowl, it’s a sign something is amiss. We all should be sure to watch our pets so we know when they are not acting as they typically do.

    4. Good to know! I typically have dogs, but every once in a while we foster a cat. Glad to know what to look for if this starts happening 🙂

    5. I feel like yowling is one of the most commonly overlooked clinical signs of discomfort for kitties. Especially because it usually happens so gradually it becomes normal – and we have so many tools in veterinary and holistic medicine to help kitties be more comfortable depending on the underlying cause. Great post!

    6. So interesting! I don’t have any yowling cats yet, but my Manna just turned 15. I will be paying closer attention to her changes in behavior (when they occur) now that I know that 50% of cats over 15 develop dementia. Dexter is only 5 and his way of acting out is scratching things. If either of them start yowling, I will have some ideas about what is going on, thanks to your post.

    7. So true! This list of reasons I’m familiar with all of them, except the cat dementia. I never heard of that one before. My cats would yowl loudly if I overslept and they were hungry. Also, another reason they would yowl involved moving into a new home. I supposed a drastic change in environment is traumatic to them until they are able to self-soothe and understand they are safe.

      • You are right. Cats don’t like change, and that includes moving into a new home. And yes, cats do get dementia, and it sounds like it would be very scary for them. If I were a cat, I think I would yowl too.

    8. We had a little old cat we took in who shouted at night. I suspect from what you say, that it was dementia. He was a sweet old thing, bless him.

      Some of the others I know we have had, Sienna shouts for attention, I think she is worried we might forget her 🙂 But often it is one chasing another * sigh * because they are inside and bored!!!

      • Being inside and bored is something we need to take seriously and play with our kitties, or be sure they have a playmate they can hang out with to keep them from getting bored. And even though cats have dementia, they are still our sweet, loving campanions.

    9. This is very interesting. My cats did yowl, but it was always later in life. I know my one cat had a thyroid issue. I never associated the yowling with age or thyroid. I just knew it was 2:20 a.m. when the yowling began. Thanks for giving an explanation to the yowling.

      • It’s true the yowling often happens as cats get older, and it’s often in the middle of the night, when we humans are trying to get some shut-eye. Cats, indeed, have some very interesting habits.

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