Cats can surprise us with their unexpected and unusual sounds during the day, but how often do you take the time to hear what they have to say? Even though they don’t speak our language, cats use various vocalizations to communicate with us and other animals to ensure their survival. Cats make 21 different sounds, and while a true howl only has one cause (antagonistic or defensive communication), it can easily be confused with other types of cries 1.
A cat’s howl can be one of the more startling sounds to hear and one of the most critical to heed. Let’s explore what cat howling means, why your kitty might do it, and what you can do to help.
The 5 Common Reasons Why Cats Howl
Howling is one of several agonistic sounds a cat might make before engaging with a potential threat. A cat will howl, moan, or hiss as a warning to startle and ward off encroachers, protecting themselves and their territory. They may also howl to warn nearby affiliates to stay on the alert.
- How to Handle Howling Due to Threats
Remove the stimulus, and you can, unsurprisingly, decrease your cat’s protective howling. In some instances, it could be as easy as closing the blinds to stop your cat from reacting to the neighborhood animals. Other times, a cat may howl if there’s a new household member they perceive as a threat and competition for resources.
Slow introductions are often necessary. Separating cats for days or weeks initially while trading scents will keep both from becoming too stressed. Gradually, you can desensitize your cat and counter-condition their response by associating the new pet with positivity and rewards.
For instance, you can feed your cats treats on either side of a closed door to show the other cat’s presence isn’t a threat. Eventually, you can bring them together in supervised play sessions.
Sometimes, your cat gives off a unique howl simply because they have nothing better to do. Bored howling may accompany other destructive and unwanted behaviors of an under-stimulated cat. This is usually a learned behavior to get your attention.
If your cat is healthy and no stressful stimuli are causing the noises, you can reduce their howling by adding enrichment devices like puzzle feeders, toys, and cat trees to keep them entertained.
3. Sexual Attraction
A cat in heat can give off crystal-clear indicators of their situation, including changes in their vocalization and a propensity for spraying. In this context, your cat’s cries are an invitation to any males wanting to mate. Other behaviors related to being in heat include extra affection, excessive grooming, and restlessness.
Cats generally go into heat (estrus) after 6 months of age. Estrus during the breeding season lasts for several days before the cat goes out of heat for roughly 1 to 2 weeks.
Spaying and neutering are the surest ways to eliminate howling and other undesirable reproductive behaviors. If your cat goes into heat, keeping a calm, enriched environment will help them overlook their seasonal agitation.
Numerous stimuli can cause mental, physical, or emotional stress in a cat, causing them to howl and vocalize in agitation. Threats fall into this category, as do unexpected changes in the routine or environment.
Cats may vocalize more, have changes in energy and appetite, or engage in problem behaviors if they’re anxious, fearful, or otherwise uncomfortable.
- How to Help a Stressed Cat
Offering positivity, comfort, and care is the first (and sometimes only) step in helping your cat overcome anxiety. If you’re unsure what is causing your cat’s stress behaviors, you may need to visit the vet to rule out underlying diseases or pain. Their help will be crucial in extreme cases of anxiety, as your cat may need medication.
At home, you can manage stress by identifying the stressor and conditioning your cat to remain calm in the face of it. You can try desensitizing your cat with managed exposures to decrease the fear response or use a reward system to help them form positive associations with the stressor.
To supplement your efforts, ask your vet about products like pheromone diffusers, calming collars, or anti-anxiety supplements.
Pain is a particular type of stress that cats reveal by howling, yowling, and retching. Knowing they’re wounded and vulnerable, cats might exhibit a defense response when someone approaches. Your cat will typically show other outward signs of discomfort by remaining restless, changing their grooming or eating habits, or making abnormal movements.
- How to Manage Pain
Take your cat to the vet when you notice changes in their typical behaviors that could indicate pain. It can come in countless internal and external forms, requiring a professional to find the root cause and develop a treatment plan.
Your vet can prescribe medications, therapy, or dietary changes, allowing you to fix the problem and the associated howling as quickly as possible.
What Does Cat Howling Sound Like?
Howls accompany several other defensive sounds, including hissing, growling, yowling, and spitting, in lengthy sequences when the cat is on the defensive. Cats often combine howling and growling into one intonation.
Howls are shorter than yowl sounds, typically lasting less than 1.5 seconds. They’re also higher-pitched than yowls. The frequency fluctuates significantly as the cat opens and closes their mouth to produce extended vocalizations.
Agonistic sounds like howling occur when the cat’s body is tense and displaying other signs of stress. Their hair may stand up, and their whiskers point forward as they arch their backs, making them appear larger.
Sometimes, the solutions are simple, and other times, you’ll need expert help. No matter the cause, you shouldn’t brush off your cat’s howling as a mere quirk. Every howl is an attempt to communicate with you, and taking a few seconds to look for the reason could make all the difference for your furry friend.
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