Feline Nighttime Vocalization(FNV) is an infrequently-occurring but serious disorder. The resulting sleep loss is
not only a problem for your kitty, but sleep loss in humans is known to be linked to many health disorders, some of which can lead to death.
The most bothersome Feline Nighttime Vocalization reported is crying. Some felines may caterwaul on and on for hours. Some FNV is less intrusive, such as simple meowing. FNV rises to the level of “problem” when it disturbs co-inhabitants of the household, regardless of the style an individual cat chooses.
There is no one-size-fits-all diagnosis or even treatment for FNV, as the possible causes are myriad, and the treatments even more-so.
Cases can be divided into medical and behavioral categories. Medical workup is always the first step after the physical examination and the laboratory tests ordered are routine: CBC, Chemistry Profile, Urinalysis and thyroid hormone level. Some cases may require medical attention as well as behavioral intervention.
Hyperthyroidism in cats has been discussed in detail, click here to read those posts. Because overproduction of thyroid hormone, acting like the “accelerator pedal” of the body, speeds up every aspect of body function, affected cats can be hyperactive, irritable and anxious. They may experience difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Treatment can be medicine- and/or diet-based. Early diagnosis is essential, as hyperthyroidism can destroy kidneys and eyes, as well as damaging other organs.
Some cats with FNV may be experiencing pain, usually orthopedic pain. Arthritic joints and collapsed intervertebral discs are leading suspects. Other sources of pain may include recent injuries, scar tissue from old injuries, dental pain and ingrown toenails, to name but a few.
Cats experiencing pain from arthritis may benefit from neutraceuticals, such as Cosequin and Dasuquin, in feline-specific formulas. Other medications may also be prescribed for the kitty with arthritis, and your cat’s specific needs and limitations must to be taken into consideration. Arthritic cats, like arthritic people, are less mobile and less agile. Providing help for them to reach their preferred resting places can not only help them reduce their pain, but also help them to be happy residing there. Perches and pet beds may need to be lowered. Ramps may be required to reach your bed or couch in order for your kitty to share your company.
Of course, arthritis is not the only source of pain for cats. Dental diseases are common feline maladies, and their incidence increases with age.
Other, less common causes of pain should be addressed according to an individual cat’s needs.
Cognitive disorder is a broad term for mental decline, usually diagnosed in older patients, but also in those who have suffered brain injury due to blunt trauma or toxicity. S-adenosylmethionine may be prescribed to help cats who suffer from age-related cognitive disorder.
Some cats exhibiting FNV are also helped by pheromone diffusers. Feliway, as well as other brand names, plug into an electrical outlet and generate analogs to natural pheromones which can aid in reducing anxiety by having a calming effect. Cats so-helped will often be found close to the unit, recognizing that the source of their feeling better is associated with a certain area of the home.
In addition to medical causes, behavioral problems can lead some cats to “talk too much” at night.
Some behavioral problems are easy to fix, such as socialization of a new cat into a family. With time, new family members usually either fit in or establish their own territories and stay out of the other cats’ way.
Sometimes, however, socialization failure can turn mean, such as younger cats bullying a senior member of the household. This is especially troublesome when a gang mentality develops and leads to aggressive fighting that causes wounds.
If the problem is boredom, most commonly seen in young cats, providing toys to occupy him during the night can help. Setting his automatic feeder to dispense food once or twice during the night can also give the hungry cat something satisfying to do. Just be careful to limit feeding amounts to not exceed the total daily allowance. Also avoid feeding(s) coinciding with the time he cries. Avoid reinforcement of the behavior by withholding rewards when the vocalizations occur, and delivering rewards when he is quiet.
If your local veterinarian has a special interest in behavioral problems he may be able to help your kitty directly, or he may refer you to a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, a specialist trained in solving problems of behavior.
Most cases of Feline Nighttime Vocalization can be resolved. While it may be a long and slow road in some cases, the situation is not hopeless.
See you next week, Dr. Randolph