While we humans may not yet be adept at holding conversations in cat-speak, cats use their language to communicate with us and other animals. Some cats “talk” more than others, but most cats do make noise some of the time, and they expect us to know what they’re saying. We’re all familiar with the meaning of hissing and growling, but there are many other sounds your cat is capable of making, and a variety of reasons for vocalizing.
Medical reasons: If your cat’s behaviour changes suddenly, the first thing you should do is to take her to your veterinarian for a thorough health examination. Cats often hide symptoms of illness until they’re seriously ill; any change in behaviour may be an early indication of a medical problem. A new vocalizing behaviour, in particular, may indicate physical discomfort stemming from an urgent need for medical attention. A normally vocal cat who stops talking is also in need of a medical checkup.
Breed tendency: Oriental breeds, such as the Siamese, are known to be very vocal. If your cat has a pointed face and a long, lean body, chances are she has some oriental heritage, so “talking” may be a part of her character. If your cat’s chatter bothers you, then avoid giving her any attention when she is vocal because this will only encourage the vocal behaviour. Instead, give her attention when she is quiet.
Attention-seeking behaviour: Some cats “talk” because they know they’ll get a reaction. People may talk back, put out some food, pick up and soothe the cat, or even pick the animal up and temporarily “lock” her in another room. All of these responses will encourage an attention-seeking cat. To discourage this behaviour, simply ignore your cat when she does this, and when she is quiet, pour on the love, feed her, or give her some treats. This will teach your cat, which behaviours you would like her to continue.
Your cat wants to go outside: If your cat was previously an outdoor cat and you plan to keep her safely inside, then good for you! Following are some suggestions to help make the transition easier on both of you:
- Spaying or neutering will rid your cat of those hormonal urges to go out and seek a mate. This will result in a calmer, friendlier cat.
- Schedule play times during the times your cat would normally be outside. This will distract her from her normal routine and establish another, safer routine.
- Be sure your cat has a view of the outdoors and a sunny place to lie. Cats like to watch birds, so putting a bird feeder outside a window is likely to make the window a favourite spot for your cat.
- Run a scavenger hunt. Give your cat a game to play by hiding bits of dry food around the house. Hide the food in paper bags, boxes, and behind open doors. This will give her exercise and keep her busy so she doesn’t think of going outside. This is especially good to do right before the family leaves the house for the day.
- Try to give your cat extra love and attention during this difficult transition.
- Try aversives. If your cat still won’t give up meowing by the door, try an “aversive.” For example, leave a strong citrus scent by the door to help make the area undesirable to your cat. Totally ignore her vocalizations. Whenever she is quiet, give her a food treat and encourage her to play or cuddle.
Grief: After the death or departure of a person or animal in your cat’s life, she may vocalize to express her grief. This can be a normal part of the grieving process. The best thing you can do for her is keep her schedule the same (or as close to it as possible) and spend some extra time cuddling and playing with her. With time, this problem should take care of itself. If your cat does not return to her normal self, consult your veterinarian.
Transition: If your cat is new to your home or has just gone through a change—such as a person or other animal moving into or out of the home—and she has just started her talkative behaviour, be patient. It may be happening due to the transition and will stop on its own if the behaviour is not encouraged. Remember, even scolding can be perceived by your cat as attention, and thus encourage the behaviour.
(Reprinted with permission from The Humane Society of the United States, www.humanesociety.org)