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Why Do Cats Howl? Common Reasons & What to Do

The reasons for cat howling vary. Cats may howl out of boredom or stress or because they’re ill or injured. Let’s learn more about this cat sound here.

A black and white cat with his mouth open making noises or sounds.
A black and white cat with his mouth open making noises or sounds. Photography © SensorSpot | iStock / Getty Images Plus.
Last Updated on November 29, 2023 by Catster Editorial Team

Every cat makes sounds, though some kitties are more vocal than others. Meowing, purring, hissing and growling are some common cat noises— but what about cat howling? Is it normal for cats to howl, and if so, why do cats howl? If these are questions you’ve asked yourself, you’ve come to the right place … read on to learn more about cat howling!

First, what does cat howling sound like?

A cat howling sounds like typical cat meowing, except more drawn out — and sometimes deeper. There can also be a melodic quality to it.

Why is your cat howling?

Cats usually meow to communicate with humans. They use the vocalization to ask for food, attention, to be let in or out of a room or any number of day-to-day reasons. With cat howling, however, there’s typically something more unusual at play. Some of the reasons for cat howling may include …

1. Cat howling happens because your cat isn’t spayed or neutered

Marilyn Krieger, Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and author of Naughty No More! says, “Whole females are known to howl. They howl to let the boys know they’re looking for boyfriends.” Males also howl when they sense there are ready-to-mate females nearby.

2. Cats howl because of boredom and stress

Cats who lack mental stimulation may start howling because they’re bored. This could mean they’re left alone too often or they don’t have the toys and resources to keep their brains active.

Cats could respond to anxiety with cat howling, too. Many cats become stressed when there are shifts in the household, including a move, change in the number of people or animals in the home, or even a switch in food or litter brand.

3. Cat howling happens because of illness or injury

Cats are great at masking pain, but cat howling could indicate a red flag in the health department.

4. Cats howl out of confusion

CDS (cognitive dysfunction syndrome) can affect older cats, leaving them feeling confused and anxious. CDS can even affect the sleep cycle, causing the cat to wander the house howling at night. “Cats with medical issues such as hyperthyroidism and dementia often howl,” Marilyn says. “It’s sad to hear kitties with cognitive issues howling — it’s usually late at night.”

How does cat howling differ from dog howling?

An older calico cat with mouth open making sounds or noises.
Cat howling is different than dog howling. Photography © ablokhin | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

We’ve all heard howling dogs, right? Sometimes canines join together in choral “harmony.” In general, dogs can howl for different reasons than cats do. Additionally, they do it more often than cats do, and a lot of it has to do with genetics. Dogs are wired to howl because that’s the way of their wild ancestors, who howled to direct members of the pack home after they’d been away — kind of like a puppy version of Marco Polo.

Although dogs, like cats, use howling to communicate stress or injury to humans, they also do it during play and to announce their presence to other dogs or mark their territory.

How to stop cat howling:

1. If your cat is howling for medical reasons

First and foremost, medical concerns should be ruled out when we’re faced with cat howling. As previously mentioned, cat howling could indicate injury or illness, including hyperthyroidism and CDS. And for our cats’ comfort and our own — as well as feline overpopulation prevention — cats should be spayed and neutered.

2. If your cat is howling because she’s stressed

Help cats adjust to changes in the home by taking things slowly. Introduce new animal and human additions, as well as modifications to food and litter, slowly. Drastic changes can definitely cause anxiety, which could result in howling. Why not prevent the stress?

3. If your cat is bored

Interactive toys and treat puzzles could be just what the kitty ordered when it comes to mentally stimulating a cat. Scheduled playtime with kitty is also a great way to engage a bored cat as well as provide some human-cat bonding time.

The bottom line on cat howling

Sometimes cat meowing can turn into cat howling. “Vocalizing/howling for attention and/or food can also be stopped,” Marilyn explains. “Never punish the cat, it can escalate the behavior, cause other unwanted behavior and distance the cat from her person. Instead, identify the reasons for the behavior and address it. For instance, if she’s demanding food with howls late at night, get a timed auto feeder that will dispense measured proportions at night or early morning. There are timed auto feeders available for canned food. Right before bed, play with her and end the play session by immediately giving her a substantial meal of healthy cat food. Also, make sure that there’s plenty of enrichment and that the cat receives lots of attention when she isn’t vocalizing.”

Thumbnail: Photography © SensorSpot | iStock / Getty Images Plus. 

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About the Author

Angie Bailey
Angie Bailey

Angie Bailey, an award-winning writer, podcaster, and humorist, is the author of Texts from Mittens and Whiskerslist: The Kitty Classifieds. She’s written cat humor for over a decade, and lives in Minneapolis with her fiancé and two cats — Phoebe, a sassy senior and Janet, a teenage kitty with tons of tortitude.

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