One of the most regular complaints from cat owners, is of their cat's loud 'crying' in the middle of the night. This behaviour is unfortunately very common, particularly in older cats. Usually the cat just wants attention and reassurance that her humans are still around and she has not been left on her own. Cats often meow during the day as well, but the night call can seem much louder and more demanding!
Older cats do not move as fast or as easily as they did when they were younger, and sometimes, they find it easier to call for their humans, rather than going to them. Older cats in general tend to depend more on their humans not only for food and accommodation, but also for reassurance.
Younger cats may also get into the habit of 'crying' in the middle of night, sometimes through boredom, but often because they may be feeling anxious. This could be due to changes in their environment, or perhaps if they've moved house.
Cats are intelligent creatures, and they can learn pretty quickly what works for them and what doesn't. So as the cat owner will go to check on the cat because she/he worries that the cat is in some form of distress, this will soon become a habit. The cat has now learned that this form of behaviour works and it will get her the attention she wants. By getting up and checking on the cat we ourselves are unintentionally reinforcing this kind of behaviour (our cats 'train' us to do what they want us to do!)
If cats become used to being fed at 6 in the morning, they will demand to be fed at that time everyday (even weekends or holidays!). They have made a direct association of their human getting out of bed with being fed, and will meow to their human(s) every morning to get up and feed them when they feel hungry.
Routines help cats to feel relaxed and secure. So by establishing a general routine for feeding, attention and play times you can avoid situations that might upset and stress the cat. Such a routine could also include for example, having a little play session with her just before bed time, to use up some of the energy built up through the day (particularly for indoor cats that tend to sleep most of the time, when their humans are not at home). This could then be followed with some food; perhaps half of her dinner kept back from her mealtime. If she is tired and full she should sleep more soundly, and be less likely to get up early and begin meowing.
Because cats are creatures of habit and routine, if you are going to break one of their established routines then you will need to establish another for them. So instead of going to the cupboard to feed the demanding cat immediately on getting out of bed, do something else first, and wait for at least 10 minutes before attending to the cat's need. This way the cat will not make the direct association of her human getting up with feeding her or letting her outside. As a result the cat will stop bothering her human(s) to get up.
It is also important that the cat has things to do when she wakes up. For example, if she has toys to play with, or some hidden toys for her to find. Perhaps leave some paper bags or cardboard boxes for her to entertain herself, so she doesn't feel bored and start meowing to get attention. Also it is a good idea to leave some biscuits around for her to eat, or hide a few biscuits or treats for her to find. In this way, not only will she have something to munch until her regular feeding time, but also searching for her treats will keep her entertained, and therefore she is less likely to begin meowing.
If she is an older cat it might be a good idea if she is not left alone at night, for example being left downstairs while her humans are sleeping upstairs. It can help reassure her if she is able to get to her human's room if she wants to. With older cats, it's also possible that louder meowing (at any time of day) could be due to some loss of hearing, so it would be worth asking your vet to test her hearing on her next visit. Your cat's eyesight may not be as good as that of a younger cat. Plugging in night lights at points where she needs to navigate to in the dark, will save her getting lost or confused. If your senior cat sometimes seems bewildered, check out these advice pages on elderly cat care:
Feliway's information page here: Signs of old age in cats
International Cat Care (formerly FAB) page here: Elderly cat care
The most important thing is that the cat learns that meowing doesn't get her anywhere. So you must try to ignore her, and not to give in one night and try again the next. This will confuse the cat and it will simply make things worse. Ignoring the cat means that you don't even talk to her, pet her or even look at her as she might see this kind of behaviour as getting the attention she was meowing for in the first place. Solutions such as burying one's self under the covers, wearing earplugs or listening to music etc. can be tried as long as the human doesn't give in to the cat's night cries. After a few nights (depending on the individual cat) she will have learned that meowing doesn't work, and it is also possible in some cases to adapt to her human's sleeping routine.
Other aids such Feliway for a calm environment, as well as Bach Flower Remedies can also be used and can help to improve the situation. For Bach Flower Remedies to be effective, the individual needs and character of the cat need to be first assessed and the relevant remedies suggested accordingly.
If you would like guidance on which particular Bach remedies might suit your cat, you can email our Behavioural Adviser (below). Please include a detailed description of your cat's nature, behaviour and domestic circumstances.
You can email Cat Chat's qualified behavioural adviser at:
Feliway spray and diffuser: www.feliway.com
Information, understanding and help with cat's behavioural problems: www.daily-meowing.com
You may like to post your query under our 'Health & Behaviour' section here » the Cat Chat Forum