“Ask a Vet Tech” is an ongoing advice column written by our resident pet expert and registered vet technician, Mel Adams. You can find her online at: www.vettechmel.com.
Question: My 16 year-old cat has started yowling only in the night. She is generally a quiet cat and it is keeping my whole family up at night. What are my options?
Answer: I can answer this because I worked in a cat only practice for 4 years and I was asked this question on a regular basis. I also took care of a yowling cat for a summer, so I can sympathise with your lack of sleep. Unfortunately, this is not a straight cut answer as there are several possibilities of a cause. Here is what I can tell you:
Try this first
Cats are known for being able to “see in the dark”, but they do need a little light in order to see at night, although that requirement is quite minimal. As cats age, however, their eyesight can decline so it is possible that your cat’s ‘night vision’ is simply not as good as it used to be. Plugging in a few night lights could be your simple solution to having a better night’s sleep.
If this does not solve the problem right away, then a visit to the vet is in order. Senior cats are more prone to chronic kidney disease and hyperthyroidism, both of which can cause this symptom. An easy blood test and a urine sample can tell your vet if either of these are the issue. It is not understood why these diseases cause this haunting yowling in cats, but some theorise that the cat is restless and feels a bit disoriented, particularly at night when everybody is asleep.
A little more info
Sadly, there is no cure for chronic kidney disease, however if diagnosed early, it can be managed and its progression slowed with the aid of medications and fluids. Other symptoms include: loss of appetite, nausea which can lead to vomiting, abdominal pain/discomfort, and weight loss. One function of the kidneys is to act as a filtering unit for the blood. They are responsible for removing the bloods waste products. When the kidneys are not working well, these waste products build up in the blood to unacceptable levels and that is what makes the cat feel sick.
Hyperthyroidism is the result of a thyroid gland that is producing way too much thyroid hormone. The hormones of the thyroid are responsible for regulating the metabolism, therefore if there is too much thyroid hormone, the metabolism is moving at a rate the cat’s body cannot keep up with. The symptoms include irritability, weight loss, excessive hunger, an increased heart rate, an enlarged thyroid glad, and let’s not forget that yowling. Hyperthyroidism can generally be managed with medication and regular monitoring of the thyroid hormone levels or by radioactive iodine treatment, if deemed appropriate by your veterinarian.
Oh, it could also be this
If it is decided that there is no medical cause, then your cat may have some sort of kitty dementia or Alzheimer’s and is feeling lost and confused. I’ve learned of several people who have cats with this problem and they find that putting the cat in “his/her chair” or special safe spot before bed has helped immensely. Depending on the size of your home, secluding her to just one level or a couple of rooms at night may help her feel more secure.
The bottom line
Any change in behaviour, routine or habits for a cat should be investigated. Cats are creatures of habit and do not like a lot of change. They also don’t follow the rules when it comes to health, so it may not always be a simple answer or solution. If you are ever worried about your pet, remember that your veterinarian is a phone call. They are trained to answer all of your questions… even if you think it is silly.
Have a question for Mel? Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.