Posted on: May 1st, 2015 by Dr. Dale Rubenstein

Our last blog post discussed the answer to the question, “Why does my cat talk so much?”, focusing on healthy cats. In those cases, modifying your cat’s environment may be all that’s needed to keep the peace. However, what if your cat is not young and healthy? In older or sick cats, it is important to rule out a medical problem or pain for any behavior change, such as increased vocalizing.

Medical conditions that might cause increased vocalizing include hyperthyroidism and hypertension. Also, any cause for pain such as arthritis (present in 90% of cats over age 12), dental disease, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and cancer can cause a quiet cat to become more vocal. Your veterinarian will examine your cat, and will likely need to perform some tests. If one of these problems is discovered, appropriate treatment may help correct the vocalizing, once your cat feels better.

If all testing is negative, “Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome” (CDS) has been recognized in cats. There is no simple test for this condition, but it is based on excluding other causes of vocalizing and/or disorientation in older cats. Cats with CDS have changes in the brain similar to people with Alzheimer’s disease. Common signs include disorientation, changes in sleep patterns, house-soiling and changes in activity.

For older cats, their “sleep/wake” cycles can be altered, so leaving on night-lights or radios can help. As with young kittens, more frequent feeding of smaller meals may work better in older cats, so leaving some food for free-choice feeding overnight may help.

Cats with CDS may also change their interactions with owners. Some cats become more “clingy”, whereas others may hide or become aggressive. Again, it is important to rule out and treat pain if that is causing any of these behavioral changes. Feliway ® diffusers can also help treat mild anxiety.

If your cat is having litter box problems, the first step is to rule out medical problems such as a urinary tract infection, parasites or problems such as constipation or Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Since arthritis can also be a factor, make sure your cat can enter and exit the litter box easily (without having to step over a high edge), and that the box is in an easy to reach location. If your cat has arthritis and the litter box is in the basement, adding a box upstairs where your cat spends most of his day can help. “Puppy pads” can be used if your cat cannot get into or out of a litter box.

If your cat is still night-vocalizing, discuss anti-anxiety medication with your veterinarian. Since no one medicine is “the answer” for all cats, you will need to work closely with your veterinarian to see what works best for your cat. But, with good nutrition, mental stimulation and companionship, along with some alterations in the environment, you can help your senior kitty, knowing he is comfortable – and you can get some sleep!