Why Do Cats Meow at Night?

Tabby kitten meowing

As a cat owner and lover, you've probably become accustomed to many of the hissing, yowling and growling sounds that cats can make. But why do cats meow at night when you’d rather be sleeping? Many people don’t realize that cats meow only to humans; it's a learned attention-seeking behaviour. That means that if your cat is meowing, they’re trying to communicate something to you. 

If your kitty's been a longtime part of your home but the late-night meowing is a fairly recent development, it may be an indicator that your cat needs something, in which case it’s important to know how to help them. There are a variety of potential reasons your feline companion might be meowing at all hours of the evening.

Your cat might be bored or have too much energy 

If your cat has spent too much time lounging or sleeping during the day, they may have too much energy to sleep at night. Your cat may be lacking mental engagement or play during the day. If your cat is mostly the indoor type, then they may be especially prone to boredom or daytime sedentary behaviour. Making sure your kitty has some simple toys to bat around when you're not home can help.

Your cat might be unhappy indoors

This is the flip side of the previous issue. If your cat is accustomed to spending most of their time outdoors, being locked indoors at night might make them feel trapped. The same can happen if your cat doesn't have access to a room that they can usually reach during the daytime. If it’s safe to do so, you might consider leaving interior doors open at night and installing a cat door so that your cat is free to venture outside whenever they wish.

Your cat might be responding to light levels

Although many people think that cats are nocturnal, they are actually crepuscular animals; that is, they're most active at the hours around dusk and dawn. For many animals, including cats, crepuscular activity reflects their natural instinct to hunt during those hours. This instinct means that sometimes cats may be highly active around twilight and sunrise when other household members are usually asleep. This behaviour, although cute, can quickly become problematic when it continues all night. Fortunately, it's most common among young cats who are in the process of adapting to a new household.

Your cat might be showing signs of age

As cats age into seniors, they can develop mental disabilities such as cognitive dysfunction syndrome. CDS may lead to cats feeling disoriented and expressing such confusion in a variety of ways, including excessive nighttime meowing. Ask your vet about CDS if you think it may be affecting your cat.

Your cat might be experiencing health problems

Cats sometimes meow as an indication of stress, which can include physical or health issues. Your cat might be meowing excessively as a sign of overactive thyroid or kidney disease, for example. Cats often can hide their symptoms, which means it's not always clear when they're in serious pain or discomfort. If you think your cat might be suffering from health issues, consult your vet for a proper diagnosis. 

Your cat might be mating

Cats that are intact or unneutered might end up mating during the night. Although cats don’t necessarily meow during mating, the yowls and screeches that they make otherwise can be disruptive to sleep. Consider spaying your kitty to reduce the risk of a surprise pregnancy.

Your cat might want attention or food

Sometimes, your cat may be meowing simply because they want attention or food from you, or because they just noticed you and they’re greeting you. They might want affection or play, or they might want a meal or treats. While it can be tough to turn down a cute kitty who wants to play, giving in during the night might reinforce this behaviour to the point of chronically disrupting your sleep.

How to Stop Cats From Meowing at Night

If you suspect your cat might be meowing due to a health issue, immediately contact your vet to ensure your cat’s health and get them on the mend. A medical professional may be able to tell if your cat is overly stressed and offer suggestions on how to relieve that stress.

Cats are naturally more active during dusk and dawn, but you can teach them to adapt to your schedule. During the day, try to play with and mentally stimulate your cat more often. You can find special games for cats to help mentally stimulate them, such as homemade cat puzzles that simulate hunting by rewarding cats with treats. This approach will help to tire them out for the evening, as well as teach them that daytime is for play and attention while nighttime is for sleeping. 

In addition to teaching your cat to understand their play schedule, make sure that they are also on a regular food schedule with consistent mealtimes. If your cat tends to excessively meow when they’re hungry, wait until they stop vocalizing to give them food and treats during the day. Otherwise, they might infer that excessive meowing is an effective way to get what they want, and you'll find it harder to stop the behaviour in the future. Be careful not to overfeed your cat treats just because they’re not meowing, though. 

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