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Why Is My Elderly Cat Yowling At Night?

Has this scenario ever happened to you? You’ve come home from a long day of work and are greeted by your beloved elderly cat, Butterscotch, who rubs up against you warmly. After decompressing and spending quality time with Butterscotch, it’s bedtime for the both of you. You’re absolutely exhausted. The lights turn off, you get under the covers and wish Butterscotch a “good night”. Before you know it, you’re counting sheep and whisked off into dreamland… or so you think. It’s not long after you start dozing off that suddenly, you’ve been woken up by a shockingly loud, mournful wail. Startled and a bit disoriented, you open your eyes to realize this loud cry is coming from your sweet angel, Butterscotch. They can’t sleep and seem to be roaming around the room howling for no reason. 

But there has to be a reason why Butterscotch is howling at night. Cats can be pretty random and they can sometimes be odd and a little quirky, but there’s always a reason why they do what they do. So, why is your elderly cat yowling at night and how do you help them stop? Let’s dive into potential causes.

Howls v. Yowls v. Caterwauls

Cats make tons of different noises, from meows to purrs and even growls… but when it comes to middle-of-the-night cries of distress or excessive vocalization what’s the difference between a howl, a yowl, and a caterwaul? Honestly… they are pretty interchangeable and mean basically the same thing only with slight, more specific differences. 

A howl is defined as a “protracted, loud, mournful cry of an animal; a wail”, while a yowl is a “prolonged, loud, mournful cry of an animal, a wail”, and a caterwaul is defined as “a shrill, melodic howling or wailing noise like that of a cat”. A cat owner may describe it as a cross between a yowl, howl, and a meow. No matter what type of wailing it is, the cat is obviously in distress, and you need to figure out why.

Why Cats Wail at Night

Why is my cat meowing non stop? These long meows, yowls, and howls are often due to underlying distress, pain, or grief. While young cats often cry out for attention, an older cat may cry out due to a medical problem. The University of Edinburgh says that the older a cat gets the more likely they are to develop a feline form of Alzheimer's Disease over time. Knowing the signs your cat is getting older is key for early detection of this condition.

If cat health isn’t the reason for the wailing, it’s possible they may have cat mouth problems such as a dental disease and are crying out due to the pain. However, in a worst-case scenario, all this crying in the middle of the night might mean it's time to say goodbye. Elderly cats are known to develop strange, restless behaviors when they get closer to their final days with us. 

Of course, there are other reasons why your elderly cat is crying out at all hours of the night if you don’t think any of the above suggestions quite fit the bill.

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According to the “Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery”, 10% of cats will develop hyperthyroidism. This condition affects their thyroid glands and causes them to produce excess thyroxine hormone. This endocrine disorder is very common among elderly cats. If you think this could be why your cat is crying out at night, other symptoms to look out for are:

  • Irritability
  • Sweating
  • Irregular heartbeat


Cats who experience hyperthyroidism are more likely to develop hypertension. If your cat has hypertension (also known as high blood pressure) that could be why they’re wailing. Geriatric cats with this condition tend to cry out a lot.

Sensory Decline

Sadly as cats get older, they inevitably will lose some of their senses. The decline and loss of their senses will also cause them a great deal of confusion and distress which, in turn, may be why your cat has been yowling throughout the night.

Constant Pain

As our cats age, they become more susceptible to conditions that affect their body physically. Arthritis, even though already mentioned, is a very common condition among geriatric cats and if left untreated can have a cat in so much pain they’ll be yowling day and night. This might also be one of the reasons why an old cat is not eating.

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

As your cat’s senses begin to decline, they are more likely to experience cognitive decline like feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome. Cat dementia causes great distress in a senior cat. If your elderly cat is not only yowling, but showing signs of confusion, pacing back and forth, and forgetting to eat, then this may be the reason why.

Central Nervous System Disorders

Some cats may develop brain and spinal cord tumors or neurological disorders as they get older. When this happens, changes in the cat’s behavior (cat yowling, howling, and caterwauling) are soon to follow. 

Here are some signs of central nervous system disorders:

  • Numbness
  • Seizures
  • Lack of coordination
  • Chronic pain
  • Paralysis

Remember, cats never yowl, howl, or caterwaul for no reason. There’s always a reason and the best thing you can do for you and your cat is to find out what it could be. Seeking advice from a cat professional such as a veterinarian is always the best option if you’re still not sure why your cat is keeping you up at night.


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