It’s a common enough scenario: Suddenly, it seems as if your senior kitty is constantly meowing – especially at night. She’s always been vocal, you say to yourself, but this is crazy! You’re now missing out on sleep and, what’s worse, you’ve realized that she might be in some kind of distress.
It’s time to make an appointment to see your veterinarian, of course. Whenever I see geriatric patients who suddenly want to have long conversations with their owners (seemingly about nothing in particular) I feel pretty certain they’re telling somebody something. A medical reason is likely in these circumstances.
Here are the medical scenarios I tend to think about when faced with these feline conversationalists:
Hyperthyroidism: An overactive, overgrown thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone. An excess of this hormone can interfere with various organs, including the brain. It makes cats hungry, for one, which means she may be begging for food … constantly. Or uncharacteristically licking her bowl clean. It can also lead to heat-seeking behavior, increased activity, and a dazed mental state, which some cats interpret as a reason to vocalize for no particular reason. Thyroid testing is very simple.
Hypertension: As some of you already know, cats get high blood pressure too. Kidney disease and thyroid disease are the most common causes of this issue. High blood pressure can lead to changes in the brain that might cause the vocalization behavior you’re observing. Your veterinarian can take a blood pressure reading to help rule this out.
Cognitive dysfunction syndrome: Incessant meowing is also possible because of cognitive dysfunction (AKA, dementia). Pacing, vocalizing, staring at walls, and otherwise acting a bit lost are all part of this gradual process. If it happens more at night, this possibility is even more likely. It’s hard to definitively diagnose though. Your veterinarian will take a lengthy history to help determine whether this may be the case.
Deafness: Deaf cats don’t know their own volume. This can factor into the dementia, much like it does with older people who tend to become more disoriented when auditory cues in the environment become less perceptible to them.
Pain: It’s really hard to identify pain in cats since most cats don’t carry on like we humans do when they’re uncomfortable. Most choose to hide their discomfort as a survival mechanism (not that it serves them well in a loving, attentive home environment). Older cats, especially those who suffer from any dementia, may lose this ability. Pain, therefore, is always a possibility in cases where meowing seems to be increasing in frequency.
Brain tumors: These bad tumors are always a scary prospect. They can lead to seizures and collapse, but all kinds of sudden abnormal behavior are suspect too. Since older cats are more likely to suffer these, we always consider them in cases where acute onset of signs like these are in play. However, diagnosis of brain tumors can be an expensive prospect since MRIs and CT scans are pricey (though more affordable now that insurance coverage is more prevalent).
To summarize: Lots of feline problems seem to come on suddenly. Think back to honestly assess whether you might’ve missed some early signs. This can help your veterinarian come to a diagnosis. And see your veterinarian, of course. Most talkers are highly treatable and, as such, need not suffer – or interfere with your sleep!