By Sally Salopek
Q: We have a 17-year-old cat. She is eating good, using her box, and even plays at times. She sleeps a lot, but we contribute this to her age. The problem is during the day and especially at night she wanders around making a very loud, strange howling noise. Could she have some sort of kitty dementia?
A: Howling in elderly cats, especially at night is not uncommon. There are a number of reasons that may cause this behavior. At times an elderly cat simply becomes confused and howls for no particular reason. This could be the onset of dementia-like behavior in your senior, called Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS). This behavior is more common at night, often waking up the household.
Older cats may howl as they become more needy and desire more of your attention. She may be distressed at being separated from you.
Cats that are hard of hearing or deaf may cry louder because they can’t hear themselves, just as a human who cannot hear well will talk louder.
If her eyesight is failing, she may be getting frustrated trying to maneuver around her home. It would be a good idea to leave some nightlights on for her.
Chronic pain, such as arthritis or dental disease, may be causing your feline to vocalize more.
Feline hyperthyroidism is another possibility. It is a very common disease of middle-aged and older cats. It is caused by an increase in the production of thyroid hormones resulting in an increased metabolism and may cause excessive vocalization.
The only way to know for sure why your cat is howling is to have her thoroughly evaluated by her veterinarian. Aging felines go through so many physical changes and a vet checkup will pinpoint possible illnesses. The right medical treatment may diminish her loud vocalizing.
After all medical problems are addressed or ruled out, the howling can be approached as a symptom of dementia.
Whatever your elderly cat is dealing with, keeping her comfortable is one of the kindest things you can do for her.
Sally Salopek is the owner and operator of Attend-A-Pet pet sitting services in northern Door County. She has also worked professionally with animals in health care, pet grooming, training, wildlife rehab and rescue. Send your pet-related questions to her at [email protected].