The daytime noises have faded away, you’ve finished watching the news or the late show and finally gotten to sleep, and then your cat begins to howl. Because cats are nocturnal by nature, this is when they are most active. Have you ever been woken up in the middle of the night by your cat meowing? This is known as night vocalization, nighttime calling or night calling, and there are different reasons that our cats do it.
All cats use vocalization from time to time. They vocalize to connect to each other and to us as well. A mother cat will use it to call her kittens. A cat vocalizes to tell their owner they want food, water, to go out or that their litter box needs to be cleaned. Cats will even use it to let each other know where they are during a game of hide and seek. If a female is in season or there is a territory dispute, two males will use vocalization to warn each other before they square off for a fight, though this is known as caterwauling. Your cat may be disturbed by something they can hear or see outside. It may be as simple as your cat wanting your companionship and they meow to get you to pay attention to them.
There are many other reasons cats may call during the night, though. It could be due to insecurity, CDS (cognitive dysfunction syndrome) or they may be in physical distress. A newly adopted kitten, alone at night for the first time, may use night calling. It isn’t used to being away from its mother or litter mates, and might be a bit insecure being in your household.
Night calling can also happen if you’ve adopted an older cat from a shelter that is used to being with other cats. A cat may go looking for a housemate that is no longer there and call them, trying to locate them. Senior cats will vocalize if they are hard of hearing or going deaf; if they can’t hear themselves they will meow loudly (like a person who has trouble hearing) to make sure you hear them. Sometimes it can be a bit more serious than this. Your cat may have wandered into a closet, a bedroom or an appliance, gotten shut inside and need your assistance to be released.
If you have a night calling cat, there are several things you can do to make life easier for all concerned. If they have a favorite toy, play a rousing game of fetch before you go to bed to help tire them out. A radio tuned to a station that plays easy listening or classical music can help soothe a lonely kitten or an older cat in the middle of the night. If this doesn’t work, getting a baby monitor might. Put one receiver near the cat’s bed and the other in your bedroom. When the cat wakes up you can reassure them through the monitor and help them settle back in.
A cat suffering from CDS may awaken and be disoriented; a night light or two around the house will help them reorient themselves in their surroundings and help them maneuver through the house easier. Moving your cat’s bed into your bedroom can help too. If they wake up and are disoriented you can reach down and reassure them with a quick pet. Putting a small blanket or towel in your cat’s bed that they can nestle into will make them more comfortable. If your house is a little chilly, a heated sleeping pad made for pets might also help.
My cats meow to me all the time and I answer them. Usually it is something as simple as a water dish that isn’t full enough for them or that they want to eat, and sometimes they just want to play. Thankfully, most of these conversations take place during the day. For those rare times when they do engage in night calling, I try to distract them with a catnip toy. While catnip does help to make my cats sleepy after they play with it, it can have the opposite effect on some cats.
The reason for your cat’s night calling may not be apparent at first, so you might want to schedule a checkup with their vet. If there is no medical reason for the night calling, try not to give in every time they do it. If they find out that you will come running every time they call out, they will keep doing it. By assessing the situation and dealing with it early, you can all get a good night’s sleep.
Read more articles by Ruthie Bently