Caterwauling — What Is It and Why Do Cats Do It?

Let’s talk caterwauling — why is your cat making this bizarre noise? Any of these six issues might be at play — and here's what to do about each of them.

A cat with his mouth open, making a sound.
A cat with his mouth open, making a sound. Photography ©s_derevianko | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

We’re all pretty familiar with our cats’ everyday meows and other cat sounds, but when the pitch gets higher, drawn-out, melodic and “yowly,” it’s time to really pay attention. This type of sound is called caterwauling, and there’s nearly always a reason behind caterwauling — we humans just have to pause for further examination. Here are some reasons why you might hear caterwauling, and what you can do to help remedy the situation.

What does caterwauling mean? Photography by Valery Kudryavtsev/Thinkstock.

1. Cats caterwaul because they’re in pain

Cats are known for hiding their pain, so if your cat starts caterwauling, and there’s not an immediate reason why this would be happening, start with a veterinary visit to rule out anything health related. In addition to several medical causes that could result in caterwauling, cats of all ages can develop overactive thyroid and kidney disease, both of which can result in excessive vocalizations, including caterwauling.

2. Caterwauling might signal the need to breed

Cats who are not spayed or neutered can produce plenty of noise. Female cats in heat caterwaul to attract a male, and males who aren’t neutered caterwaul when they know a female is in heat. The best way to remedy this situation as well as help control cat overpopulation: Spay and neuter your cats.

3. Cats caterwaul to alert us to outside activity

Most of us have heard our cats making caterwauling sounds. We rush to see what’s up, only to find kitty looking out a window with great concern. Upon further investigation, we’ll typically see another cat who’s planted him or herself on our cat’s “turf,” which doesn’t sit well with the territorial feline master or mistress of the house. Remove the source of the agitation by closing windows and blinds to restrict your cat’s view of the “intruder.”

4. Cats might caterwaul when they are feeling insecure or vulnerable

Cats are known to yowl when they’re feeling psychological stress like insecurity or vulnerability. Some cats are naturally clingy and feel anxious when their human leaves the house — or even the room. They feel abandoned and then the caterwauling begins.

This can be especially true when the family changes residences. The cat is no longer familiar with his surroundings, so he feels even more stressed when he can’t find the comfort of his human.

If you know your cat is subject to these kinds of behaviors, it’s important to anticipate his needs and reactions and reassure him of his safety. Bring him to bed with you at night so he sees that you haven’t left him alone. Give him extra cuddles, especially when there are possible triggers like company coming over or a change in housing.

5. Cats caterwaul to get your attention

Some cats resort to caterwauling when they want or need something from us. It could be food, water, physical attention, play or any number of reasons. If you get up to give your cat treats when he starts caterwauling in the middle of the night, he’ll soon learn that caterwauling = treats. Of course, it’s critical to have him examined by a vet to rule out any serious reasons for the caterwauling; however, sometimes cats are like human toddlers, and they know how to train us.

6. Caterwauling might mean you cat is disoriented

As cats age, we sometimes see changes in their cognitive functioning. According to the ASPCA, feline cognitive dysfunction (FCD or cat dementia) affects more than 55 percent of cats aged 11 to 15 years old and more than 80 percent of cats aged 16 to 20. Excessive vocalization and caterwauling can be just one symptom of FCD, but it’s important to familiarize yourself with all the symptoms, especially if you share your life with a senior cat. Here’s the ASPCA’s cognitive dysfunction checklist.

The bottom line — don’t ignore caterwauling

If your cat begins caterwauling, don’t assume it’s typical cat behavior. Stop and look for reasons why it’s happening, and take the appropriate actions. As always, check with a veterinary professional to rule out anything serious, or if you have any concerns at all about your cat’s health or behavior.

Tell us: Does your cat caterwaul?

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

This piece was originally published in 2018.

Read Next: Let’s Talk Cat Growling — Why Does Your Cat Growl and How Should You React?


59 thoughts on “Caterwauling — What Is It and Why Do Cats Do It?”

  1. Pingback: Six Problematic Male Cat Behaviors And What To About Them – Pampers for pets

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  4. My 9-year-old neutered Maine Coon male caterwauls a lot. He wasn’t adopted until he was six months old because he was so shy he hid when potential families came into my vet’s adoption room. I took him because my husband had just died and our Siamese female was so lonely without her Daddy. She immediately took the youngster under her wing and mothered him — until he grew to be twice her size. Now she’s 16 and arthritic, and growls at him a lot when he tries to play with her as they used to. He is still shy and insecure, although he likes to cuddle up next to me on the couch, and sleeps with me at night. But when he’s feeling anxious, he wanders around yowling, looking for her for comfort, not for me. Crabby or not, she’s still his Mum and he gets distressed when she hides from him for a private nap.

  5. Pingback: Caterwauling — What Is It and Why Do Cats Do It? – KatCat

  6. Our girls alert us to their heroic deeds as they drop their “kill” (a toy hedge hog or a stuffed mouse) nearby and expect our effusive praise. This is a nightly ritual as we show our over the top appreciation for their efforts.

  7. My 9 yr old Russian blue started caterwauling every day after he finishes his canned cat food. We cut it back because of a weight issue. I know he wants more and I’m sure that’s what he is saying: More Food.

  8. We just recently found a stray unfixed male cat that does this sound constantly. He wanders around the house and just loudly calls out. I’m sure its because he want to go get some ladies, but that’s not happening anymore. We’re still giving time in case he had any owners looking for him but in another week if no one shows. This boy is getting fixed. I’m 95% sure that will stop the calls and will defiantly stop his stink

    1. Related to Litterbox Euphoria.

      My Dingles does it after pooping. They feel so light and free, they must share the experience with everyone else.

    2. my male cat yelps before poop and after and then no sounds. every day of his life. runs like roadrunner afterwards.

    3. My cat, part Maine Coon, has an over active thyroid. The vet prescribed Methimazole 0.25 ML every 12 hours. After a week she started vomiting all night long. I learned this was an allergic reaction to the medication. I am concerned because she went from 19.6 pounds to 12.3 in a year. But I am wary about using a different form of medication. I do realize that I cannot just let her go untreated. She looks so scrawny. What do you give your cat and has it helped?

      1. Cindy, that’s very concerning. I’m hoping by now you’ve re-visited the veterinarian, and described these signs. I wouldn’t be afraid of a different medication. Your cat can’t sustain such weight loss and needs medical treatment

    4. OMG yes!!! Ours too!! He also darts around after dropping a deuce, the fastest you’ll see unless he’s chasing a meal outside!!! He’s 14 and on med for hyperthyroidism

  9. Hilary WebleyParry

    My female cat is 15 yrs.old and for the past few weeks she has been making this awful caterwauling sound. She has an overactive thyroid for which she is on medication and I also believe her to be partially deaf. I am so concerned. HELP.

    1. Hi there,

      We suggest taking your cat to the vet. These articles might provide some insight, but please get a vet’s opinion:

  10. My 10 year old cat started caterwauling recently before getting in her basket. She started one day and I’m left scratching my head. She doesn’t always do it, but she often contemplates the basket for a while before getting in, and sometimes she yowls the same low-pitched, dragged and heartbroken meow she does when she wants my attention (i.e. waking me up, wanting the door open). I’m afraid her bed might be getting too small, (she chose it in the first place) but other than that i can’t understand what is going on.

    1. Hi Stella,

      Sorry you’re experiencing this. These articles might provide more insight:

  11. We moved in January and just recently, like 3 or 4 days ago my cat(she is 6) starts hollering, even when I am in the same room. Last night was the worse because she woke me at 3 am and wouldn’t stop for near 30 minutes. I went outside, nothing there. Opened the window and it didn’t help either.
    So I give her attention. I leave the room she does it as well. Which is difficult cause I work 5 days a week. We live in a 2 story farmhouse and the 2nd story is mine and my cats for the most part. She was allowed downstairs until about a month ago she got on my sister-in-law’s bed and our dog got on to Trixie because that is his territory.
    So she is upstairs all day. Now she was an outdoor/indoor cat but after moving she has been 100% indoor. Which hasn’t been a problem.
    Should I take her to a vet and pay 100 or morr dollars and she’s fine or what should I do?

  12. Pingback: Cat Sounds: What Do They Mean? |

  13. I have a senior cat with diarrhea issues. She’s under the frequent care of a vet and on medication that helps, but often after straining to use the litter box unsuccessfully, she will caterwaul and zoom about. In a few minutes she will go back and be successful. I feel sorry for her because I imagine she may be having the kind of abdominal pain I sometimes feel from gas, but the vet says there’s not anything more we can do for her. She’s otherwise a happy, affectionate 15 year old.

    1. Hi Linda,
      Sorry to hear your cat isn’t doing well! We suggest keeping in touch with your vet on this issue. These articles might provide some insight as well:

    2. If you feel cat is upset because of gas try simethicone. Gave to my babies . Was a life saver. Read safe for cats and dogs. Always check with vet before trying anything new. Hope this helps.

  14. Pingback: Caterwauling — What Is It and Why Do Cats Do It? | CAT DOG BLOG

  15. I understand this is not a veterinary/behavioral cat site but a forum. But working with cats as a vet tech and shelter worker and having a 19 year old cat that has always been extremely vocal (her nickname is meow-meow!) I’m not sure there is a clear understanding here of the difference between meowing, loud meowing and caterwauling which is think is very important to understand. Caterwauling sounds nothing like meowing but is a long, drawn out, extremely loud wail – it is so loud, drawn out, it is impossible to sound anywhere near meowing and due to its sound is actually typically startling. Also, it is a serious sign of distress that should be investigated – cats normally meow ( I know!!) but do not caterwaul and can indicate pain, stress, senior cat problems due to arthritis pain or cognitive dysfunction. It is a bit like a scream, again doesn’t sound like meowing at all -check out actual free sound samples

  16. Ellen Scordato

    Question: What exactly is up with kitties carrying their fave toys around and then caterwauling over them? I see a lot of readers in this comment thread have cats that do this. I see ours carry a toy into a room or hallway and then make those caterwauling noises on a regular schedule. Sometimes I go and thank them for bringing me prey (ahem) but I just don’t know what to make of this behavior. What is its function in the wild or in a colony? Is it a kitten behavior they got stuck in? It’s so distinctive!

  17. My one cat will caterwaul “Maaamaaa, maaaa, maam!” when she is upstairs and I am not. I will say, “Mama is downstairs!” and then I will hear her paws plodding down the steps. She will come over and say, “Mam.” Like…”There you are.”

  18. Oh yeah… I forgot about the hairball yowl. My other cat, O’Nyx, is a long hair and I always know when she is about to hark up a hairball.

  19. My kitty, Aylin, caterwauls – but she does it because she has found a toy and wants to play. If I am in another room and she doesn’t know where I am, I mimic her cry and she will make her way to me – toy in mouth. She drops the toy at my feet and the fetching game begins. (I’ve never had a kitty love to play fetch as much as Aylin does. Kittens usually drop this behavior when they reach a certain age.)

  20. I adopted a 4 1/2 year old male cat that nobody wanted bc he is older and was hit by a car. He acts like a kitten, and always wants attention. He cries a lot. Help!!!!

    1. Hi Karen,

      See if these articles might help! If giving your cat appropriate love and attention doesn’t seem to stop his constant vocalizing, he may be in pain and you may want to ask your vet.

  21. Quynn Sainte-Peters

    My female is caterwauling b/c she is in heat. Fortunately she is an indoor cat & the males who share the indoors with her are all fixed.
    Now before you jump on my case: I adopted her from the outside when she was 9 years old. I talked with the veterinarian about getting her fixed and the price would be over $400 b/c of her advanced age & the extra medical procedures they’d have to do. I could not justify that amount of money for one cat over the care of the 5 others I have [ She is the mama to 4 kittens & papa joined the group to make a complete family] They are all fixed and strictly indoor cats.
    So while she’s in heat if have to tolerate her caterwauling. It’s ok, having her here is worth that small inconvenience. I love all 6!

    1. Please look for a low-cost spay/neuter clinic. They usually cost approximately $50 to neuter your cat. It’s a lot better than tolerating a cat in heat, for sure.

  22. One of my cats caterwauls when he catches a ‘prey’. He walks around with the toy in his mouth making these noises. Could it be that he wants to inform us that the hunt was successful, or warbs other cats to stay away?

  23. My cat catawauls at sun up and sundown. He also wauls when he wants something like food or treats. He’s always done this. But more so since he’s older.

  24. Our cat Cairo, now deceased, used to caterwaul when left behind, eg, when our other cat Gibson was getting his walk, on a leash, with my husband. She’d start when on her window perch watching outside. She’d caterwaul when alone upstairs, too. Almost seemed like she needed to hear her own voice.

  25. My Walter does some caterwauling when he wants food and doesn’t like what’s in his dish. I pretty much ignore this as long as I know it’s just that he wants different food. I give him a little extra attention but I don’t want him to get into the habit of behaving with the caterwauling to get food.
    Last night though, after we were in bed, he began caterwauling after looking out the window and was restless and kept up this for about a half hour til I got him to come up on the bed with me and I cuddled with him. This morning my husband went out early to take out the trash and there were cat footprints in the yard, so I’m pretty sure that’s what he was caterwauling about. I’m closing the shade tonight!

  26. My senior kitty, Belle, starts caterwauling at night about 10 minutes after I turn the lights out. I have multiple cats , so first I wasn’t sure who it was, because when I’d get up to look or turn on the light, she’d stop! Is this because she’s afraid of the dark? She doesn’t do it every night.

    1. Hi Paula! This link might be helpful:

    2. My 17 year old does this also. I call out her name and tell her we’re still there & she immediately stops…until the next night.

    3. Is your senior cat yowling during the night? Could be because she can’t see as well as she used to and gets confused of where she is. Try plugging in a couple of night lights and see if it helps. That way she can see she’s in her familiar environment and there’s nothing for her to worry about.

  27. This is just the way my cat meows.. Never had a cat that sounded like this and it gets really bad when i leave him, ( he stand at the front to and yells for me). But he never has had a cute time meow

  28. My alpha cat has caterwauled (along with the zoonies) approximately 3 times a week for for over5 years – ever since I brought her & her sister home from the shelter. She usually does it after eating or using the litterbox. I always figured she was displeased with her dinner or the litter box that night.

    The Caterwauling last about 5 or 10 minutes accompanied by “the zoomies” – racing around the my apartment and ending up at the top of her cat condo or another high object.

    I have never known why she caterwauled or zoomed but she doesn’t seem to be the worse for it!

  29. When 15 year old cat got sick, he had several seizures. He caterwauled every time before a seizure. It was very disquieting. So were the seizures.

  30. My large smoke Egyptian Mau, Ramses, only caterwauls in one particular instance. We have a large cabin in the mountains where we spend several weeks at a time. Because we are gone so long, I drive up and bring the cats. This house has a third floor with a loft (as well a a couple of bedrooms and a bath). Ramses runs up the stairs to the loft (which overlooks the main living area) and then proceeds to caterwaul. It is a weird sound! Sort of a “rowrrrr” or raaaaarwor”. Sometimes he sounds like a baby, “waaaaahhh.” I often thinks he just likes the sound of his own voice! Or he runs up there and forgets how to get down. He will stick his head out through the bannisters that overlook the living room and holler. If I go upstairs and get him, he will stop.

    1. I love your comment and I want to vacation with you, sounds like a wonderful place. My Munchie cat will merrroowww when he gets lost, he is blind and sometimes forgets where he is I think, or else just wants some pets…cats are so cool. My other cat Tayler just says meh.

  31. My Bengal does this when he wants to play and everyone else is sleeping, only his voice gets deep and loud, like an alien has taken over his body.

  32. Really interesting read! My cat seems to caterwaul for a few different reasons…When he has a fur ball and is about to bring it up, at night when he gets a little burst of energy and wants to play and get everyone’s attention when they have gone to bed, and when he is carrying a toy to present as a gift. It’s a very odd sound – not like a meow at all.

    1. This is exactly what we experience with our 10 year old neutered male cat. While we watch TV, he goes in the other room and “caterwauls’ to his heart content playing with his toys. At times he brings them out to us and causes stress for my husband who then cannot hear the tv over all the catetwauling! I finds the whole situation very entertaining! I love my Leo and all of his unique habits!

    2. Our 6.5 buff tabby/tort has “caterwauled” since she was a kitten, most often at night and always when carrying a toy. We call it her old lady meow.

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