If I had four dollars for every time someone asked. . .why is my old cat so loud?

There are a lot of things I am asked on a fairly regular basis. Some questions are especially common in and away from work – people call and ask at the clinic, and people who find out I’m a vet ask me in everyday life. Sometimes it’s a common question because it’s a common problem, sometimes it’s a common question because it’s a common occurrence that nobody understands. . . Either way, I’m keeping track! And I’ll be sharing some of the questions, and my answers, here.

DISCLAIMER: PLEASE DO NOT EVER USE THIS BLOG AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR CALLING OR SEEING YOUR OWN VETERINARIAN.WE DON’T MIND GETTING A DOZEN CALLS A DAY ABOUT CRAZY OLD CATS. SERIOUSLY.

Several years back, Fluff started this DELIGHTFUL habit of caterwauling at about 3am, while bringing every cat toy in the house from the living room to the bedroom.  He was very, very loud about it. So this is a topic near and dear to my heart . . . why does my aging cat have so much to say, and why does he say it so loudly?

First things first, if your cat has always been a talker . . . well then, this is nothing new and you shouldn’t be asking this question. Sorry he didn’t grow out of it.

However, if you feel your cat was never vocal and is now a chatty cathy, or if you’re occasional chirper now never shuts up, then this information is for you.

With any aging pet, the key thing to look out for is always CHANGE. Change in any behaviour in any direction can be your first clue that something is amiss, and you don’t want to miss your chance to nip a problem in the bud.

So, we’ve established that you have noticed a change, an increase, in vocalization. Now what?

Well, first things first: make an appointment with your vet. I know, pretty shocking I’d recommend that. Your senior pets should have annual physical exams so your veterinarian can check things over and keep a close eye on changes you might miss – changes in weight, muscle mass, dental  health, and so on. Often as part of this senior pet exam, routine blood work is recommended. Any time you notice a change in your senior cat, which may otherwise appear healthy, routine blood work should be repeated.

The big thing I’m thinking of with a vocalizing cat? Hyperthyroidism. This is easily diagnosed, generallyneasily treated (there is actually now an option to go on a specific diet to manage the disease without needing medication!), and if left undiagnosed will eventually lead to other symptoms such as weight loss, ravenous appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.

So, first things first with your vocalizing cat? See your vet about getting a senior pet blood test done. Your standard “feline geriatric profile” should be checking glucose (for diabetes), thyroid hormone (for hyperthyroidism), and a handful of other blood parameters that give insight into kidney and liver function.

So, you do that, and everything is normal. What else? Well, in that same appointment your veterinarian should be performing a full physical exam. This will check for lumps and bumps that might be causing discomfort. This will include a full oral exam that may reveal a potentially painful tooth. Maybe your cat is trying to let you know they hurt.

Now let’s say when all is said and done, you’re crazy old cat is the picture of senior health. No explanation for an increase in vocalization. Now what?

Well, there are two options. We can’t really ‘diagnose’ either one, but they both make sense and you can discuss the possible therapies with your vet. .

Option the first: senility. Your cat’s cognitive function has aged along with him and is no longer the brightest crayon in the box. So he forgets where he is, or what he was doing, and he’s confused, and lost, and he wants the world to know it. Solution? Well, there are supplements you can try to improve cognitive function. There’s a drug, Novifit, that I’ve used in Fluff and it did make a huge difference for him. But, ultimately, there’s no cure. And there likely never will be, because a cat with Alzheimer’s may be annoying, but he’s still a cat and he’s still living his life.

Second option: loss of sensory function. Your cat’s eyesight and/or hearing has begun to fail, and similar to the senile cat he is confused and lost and scared. He’s crying because he can’t hear well, or he can’t see well, and it’s frustrating when he doesn’t understand his surroundings.  We can’t reverse the hearing and vision loss that may come with old age . . . but some people have tried using anti anxiety medication in these vocal older cats, and it seems to help. At least takes the edge of the stress of living in a muted and fuzzy world.

Fluff, originally, had a broken canine. He got a root canal and had some teeth extracted that had kitty cavities. It didn’t stop the vocalization. He later turned out to be hyperthyroid. He’s been cured, but the vocalization still happens at times. He definitely has a bit of senility, and he’s 21 years old and no longer hates the vacuum cleaner so I’m pretty sure the hearing is not there anymore. He also now makes these god awful loud screams, because he’s trying to poop and his arthritis makes it a very painful process. I have him on two different pain medss, and special food, and a stool softener. . . but still, the cries. And it breaks my heart. And I do full blood work and xrays every 6 months to make sure I know if anything else changes for my crippled old man. He’s coming to work with me sometime soon, actually, for one such check.

So, shockingly, I have no actual answer for you and your particularly noisy cat, except the usual: go see your vet. This is one of those problems we will not be able to answer over the phone, because before we can say “You’re cat is just getting loopy in his old age” we need to make sure there is not medical reason for the sudden desire to be heard.

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About dottiemaggie

A veterinarian living and working in St John's, Newfoundland. I love my job, and I love my home. Professionally I am passionate about critical care and client education. Away from work I am passionate about enjoying life, spending time with friends, enjoying hobbies of all sorts, and exploring this wonderful province I call home.
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16 Responses to If I had four dollars for every time someone asked. . .why is my old cat so loud?

  1. JaniceP says:

    My cat screamed at the top of his lungs all night for three years. I darned near flushed him down the toilet on numerous occasions. Numerous vet visits later, I fell upon the solution – I stopped crating the dog at night. When the dog stopped sleeping in a crate, and moved to the bed, the cat joined us and settled right in.

  2. Susan says:

    Thanks for the intel, darling.

  3. Jen says:

    Thank you for this! My old cat has been driving me crazy. He’s always been really vocal but these days he goes through periods in the day where he won’t shut up. It’s usually in the afternoon when he expects his wet food. But, then I feed him and he starts crying again after he’s eaten. I’m not sure if he’s forgotten he’s eaten or just wants more. He gets dry food too so it’s not like he isn’t getting fed enough. I may take him in and have them do a blood test.

  4. linlah says:

    Chatty catty became chatty catty, but I don’t have a cat so it could either one.

  5. Rayya says:

    Brilliantly written educational post. Keep up the great work. We always crack an inside joke at our practice that says: ‘Sorry I left my crystal ball at home today, I can’t tell you exactly what’s wrong with your pet over the phone’. 🙂

  6. Rayya says:

    What is the name of the diet that manages hyperthyroidism? I would love to know, I haven’t heard about it until now.

    • dottiemaggie says:

      Hill’s has a new diet, y/d, that if fed as the only source of nutrition manages hyperthyroidism really well – so I’m told. Haven’t had a client go for it yet, but we’ve only been carrying it a couple months.

  7. NikkiB says:

    Awwww shitballs. Why do pets have to get old, too?

    • dottiemaggie says:

      I’m still working on that one 😦 They get old far too quickly. . . and I’m pretty sure my old man is on his last year, unless I figure out how to get cats to live as long as people. . .

  8. Pingback: Animal Health Week 2012 | Trust me, I'm a doctor.

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