A cat yowling or making another sound.
A cat yowling or making another sound. Photography ©White_bcgrd | Thinkstock.

Cat Yowling — Why Do Cats Yowl and What Does It Mean?

Cat yowling is among the strangest — and most alarming — cat sounds out there. So, why do cats yowl? And what does it mean when your cat yowls?
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Cats make all kinds of sounds. Some feline vocalizations are pleasant for us, like purrs, trills and meows. Others are annoying or downright alarming, as in the case with cat yowling. So, why do cats yowl? What does it mean and more importantly, how do you get cat yowling to stop?

Related: 9 Weird Cat Sounds and What They Mean

First, know that when your cat makes any type of sound, she is talking to you. Of course, the problem is, humans don’t technically speak cat. “They’re trying to communicate something,” says Cynthia Karsten, DVM, outreach veterinarian for the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine’s Center for Companion Animal Health. “We just have to try to figure out what that something is.”

To identify the reasons for cat yowling, act like a detective. Landing on the right answer is often a process of elimination. Consider the following reasons, then see if your cat might be experiencing one or more of these things.

Cat yowling or making another sound.
A cat might yowl because he’s hungry. Photography ©Анатолий Тушенцов | Thinkstock.

1. Cats yowl because they’re hungry

This one is obvious, but cats do what works. A cat yowling in your face gets that food bowl refilled. Hunger is easy to rule out. If your cat has plenty of food and is still yowling, hunger is probably not the cause.

2. Cat yowling happens to get your attention

Although cats have a reputation for being aloof loners, some cats need more attention than others. If you’ve been away from home a lot lately or not playing or cuddling with your cat as much as usual, try to ramp up the attention and see if that cat yowling stops.

3. Cats yowl because they’re bored

Cats require a certain amount of enrichment in their lives. A cat yowling might be the cat’s way of expressing that she’s frustrated and bored. “It’s really hard for owners to provide an indoor-only environment that’s entertaining to cats — especially a cat that’s been outside and then is brought inside,” Dr. Karsten explains. “Some cats do fine with it, but many don’t.” If you think your cat is longing for the great outdoors, consider building or purchasing a cat enclosure so she can have safe outdoor time.

4. It might signal a hormone issue

“When I think about yowling, the first thing that comes to my mind is breeding season,” Dr. Karsten says. “When cats are breeding, they can make really horrible noises that really disturb people, but it’s quite normal.” If your cat isn’t spayed, she might be in heat. Talk to your vet about having your cat spayed and see if that takes care of the yowling.

5. Cats yowl when they’re in pain

A cat might yowl if she’s hurting. Since cats instinctively hide their pain, almost anything could be causing it, including arthritis, an injury or an illness. “You want to rule out medical (causes), so have your vet do a full physical, including looking at bloodwork to make sure there’s nothing abnormal and checking for pain,” says Dr. Karsten, who adds that hyperthyroidism may cause irritability, which manifests in cat yowling.

6. It could signify cognitive dysfunction

If your cat is older, cognitive dysfunction (aka cat dementia) could be behind all those cat yowling sounds. Your vet can examine your cat to determine if this might be the cause. “They start to not really understand what’s going on and then they start to vocalize,” Dr. Karsten says. “A lot of times, the yowling seems to happen at nighttime. Try feeding them a highly digestible meal before bed so they’re not hungry, create a relaxing area for them at night, and increase environmental enrichment throughout the day so they’re tired at night.”

7. Cats yowl due to behavioral issues

“If nothing seems medically abnormal and it’s a younger animal, it could be some sort of behavioral issue going on,” Dr. Karsten says. “Keep a log of all your cat’s activities. Journal when the yowling happens and try to link it to something, some sort of trigger.” For instance, if you’ve had any changes in the household, like a new baby, a new housemate, or a recent move or divorce, your cat might be yowling out of stress or anxiety. If your cat is always yowling next to the same window, for example, maybe a stray cat outside is coming around and upsetting her.

If all that cat yowling becomes bad enough that it’s affecting your cat’s quality of life (or yours!), and you can’t identify a trigger, ask your vet for a referral to a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, who might be able to figure out the root cause of the yowling and help you work with your cat to resolve it.

Tell us: Have you ever dealt with cat yowling before? Why was your cat yowling and how did you solve the issue at play?

Top photograph: ©White_bcgrd | Thinkstock.

Originally published in 2017.

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118 thoughts on “Cat Yowling — Why Do Cats Yowl and What Does It Mean?”

  1. Kimberly Kammeraad

    My cat yowls when he is bringing home a prize catch. We believe he wants to show us his catch? But he always wants to bring them in the house, which we obviously don’t want. So we look through the windows and begin to praise him for being such a good boy. He then let’s it go or eats it and comes in when he is finished. It’s gruesome, I know, but this is a cat’s nature. He seems to be satisfied once we praise him, but he definitely yowls with a “full mouth” we recognize it immediately.

  2. I have a 17 year old male neutered Maine Coon cat. Dr says he’s in the early stages of renal kidney failure. He started yowling by his water dish that’s always full and clean. I’ve tried different colored bowls because I don’t think he can see the water. If I tap the dish the water ripples then he drinks. I bought a small cat water fountain and he figured it out after a few days. It reduced the yowling to about 10% of the time. The water fountain splashed and the drinking caused even more residual water on the floor even with a tray under it. The fountain is gone and now I use a large juice bottle filled with cool fresh water and pour it slowly into the bath tube and he stands on his hind legs and laps up the stream as it cascades past his nose. I call it the water fall but this happens at 3:00 am. Can anyone suggest a quality cat fountain?

  3. are you serious!? that is sick to do any animal. I wonder why they keep doing it after a few days…maybe very unhappy with the home you provide them

  4. Hi, did you tried to play with your cat before 9PM food time? I have to do that with my very territorial and vocal Vicca especially when she sees wild animals in the garden.
    Second thing I would suggested to give her raw meat in addition. My mom got 16 years old girl with Alzheimer’s and she is better when got some raw beef. We tried also CBD hemp oil for cats on the evening so there are less vocal mornings on 4:30 AM. :) hope it will work.

  5. I have a British Shorthair, who is on a diet from her vet. She gets fed every 12 hours: 9am and 9pm. Will howl incessantly from around 7am/pm. If she eats any more than what I give, she will throw it up in the middle of the night onto our carpet, or gain weight very quickly. At the moment, I lock her in the laundry from 7pm-onwards (if I leave her out within that timeframe she will get impatient and start scratching the carpet- I live in a rental house). I can cope with the yowling from the laundry but I move into an apartment next month and worry that my neighbours won’t be very forgiving. Any help or advice would be appreciated.
    Love Missy

    1. Have you tried some catnip? That sometimes seems to help. My female cat was a stray and
      had one batch of kittens 8 years ago. She will yowl and walk around with a cat toy in her mouth. I think she misses having kittens. That may sound weird but she only yowls when she is carrying a toy.

  6. My Cat Hyena meows at night and during the day usually in the morning when the sun comes up and when I’m asleep I get woken up to the yowling noise sometimes it sounds depressed and it immediately scares me awake, I give her plenty of attention, she usually doesn’t like attention and love, regardless i shower her in it, i feed her dry food along with cat soup so she gets plenty of moisture, I give her bottled water everyday about two to three times, I give her baths that she can’t stand every two to three weeks, Sometimes I wait longer because she is soo scared of being wet she pees on herself in fear but feels good and gets sleep after, even then the yowling continues, I give her deworming medication the all natural kind you buy on chewy i put drops in her water to keep the parasites away, I do everything in my power to give her the healthy, happy life any animal deserves, and she still Yowels at night. I literally don’t know what else to do or why she does this.

  7. When my cats yowl at night, and only two of them do it, they get two a warnings. First i snap my fingers loudly and several times. Second warning is I angrily call their name, if the behavior continues they are scruffed and water boarded or slapped. Cures the yowling for several days.

    1. You should not have animals if you treat them like that, this is cruel and wrong to hurt animals esp. those smaller than you

    2. Maybe YOU should be scuffed, waterboarded or slapped. You sound like a bully to me. You should not own any pet if that’s the kind of torture you use.

  8. Pingback: Why Do Cats Knead? Explaining Cat Kneading, a Quirky Cat Behavior – Petcobestfood.com

  9. My cat will leave the room and go upstairs or in the basement, and yowl. Sometimes he also yowls to announce he is taking a poop, or if my roommate leaves. But the majority of the times I’d go to check on him because he has the kind of meow that sounds distressed (so I’m always concerned). When I check on him, he is just sitting in the middle of the room and just looks at me as if nothing happened, or I’ve disturbed him.

    1. My cat also yowls first thing in the morning for food. Sometimes my cat vomits, but not always. I know he has an allergy to grain, but I also see that he will vomit liquid if he doesn’t get fed right away, like an acid reflux situation.

      But the same thing you are dealing with seems to be the case with me. He seems just fine, and wants constant attention.

      Barb

    2. My older cat yowling sometimes during the day and several times at night.
      At nine yowls at a time.
      I’ve put a radio in the closet where she goes,but I think she can’t her no more,so l put a night light and that didn’t work,she is fixed.

  10. my cat yowls everytime its sunny and blue skies- which it is at the moment so she awaits impatiently for me to open the door to let her out only, minutes into her adventure she yowls to come back indoors again and so on and so fourth is our sunny day out. She also yowls for food and for me to accompany her outdoors as well regardless of time…how many days before winter?

  11. Tammy Rosenbalm

    My cat mostly yowls at night, but I’ve figured him out. He sleeps way too much during the day, then it night he’s ready to play. He wants me to chase him around the house and play hide and seek. Seriously he loves that.

  12. My cat, Oscar, yowls when he carries his stuffed toys around the house. He usually brings them to my bedroom at night and arranges them around the door. I think he is trying to protect me or something.

    1. Sally L Gersten

      Years ago we used to let our cats go in and out as they pleased, and they delighted in bringing us a ‘present’ in the middle of the night and you could tell they had by their yowl. Well, I wised up after losing a beloved cat to a coyote and now my cats never go outside. My oldest cat, Pippin (female), is around 6 years old and she will get one of my dog’s toys and then yowl to tell me about it. It was funny when I lived in a house, but not in the apartment I am living in now! I have 2 other cats and they never do this. In fact, she’s doing it as I write this!

    2. Terrie, you’re cat is soo adorable that is the cutest thing ever, If you’re cat ever has kittens with a female I would love to have one of them, I think you are right he is trying to protect you.

  13. My Calicocoa has two stuffed toys – a cheetah and a teddy bear – that are the size of week-old kittens. She has been waking me up at dawn, bringing one or the other one to bed and yowling with the toy in her mouth. She’ll plop the toy down on the bed – but I don’t know if she thinks she’s trying to bring me a kitten to take care of, or a prey animal as a “love gift.” At any rate, once she and the toy are on the bed, she promptly falls asleep and ignores the toy from then on….

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