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Cat Constantly Meows and Drive Owner Crazy

9 | Posted 8/17/09

Cat Constantly Meows and Drive Owner Crazy

Question

My cat has always been a talkative animal, but her insistent meowing has been worse recently than ever before. Sami has always been much quieter when living in a household with another cat, but now Sami cries constantly, anytime my boyfriend or I are home. It's not a talkative friendly cry, it's a desperate sounding cry for attention. She follows us around and cries at our feet until we pay attention to her. She cannot handle not being held or petted and always needs to be sitting on my lap. I've tried so many different things….I've tried giving her attention first thing in the morning, playing with her, cuddling with her, but even if I play with her for 30 minutes I have to get ready for work and she cries the whole time I'm getting ready. As soon as I come home from work it starts again. I have tried to give her tons of attention and when she cries I pick her up and talk to her…but it's always continues, she always wants more and more….and I just don't have time!!! Now I'm trying to ignore her when she is crying, I'm not making eye contact, not talking to her, and I walk away when she is crying. When she is being quiet then I try to give her attention….but it's so hard! She will be sitting there quiet and I'll walk toward her or say one word to her and she will start crying!! So then I have to walk away again. It's so frustrating, I just don't even know what to do anymore.

Erin

Answer

Erin, the problem is that by giving Sami attention to get her to be quite, you've actually spent months rewarding her for meowing! It's even worse if you ignore her for a little while and then finally give in because then she learns that she has to meow longer and harder to get your attention. Now that you're ignoring the meowing and trying to reward quiet behavior, you're on the right track, but you'll need to tweak it to get it to actually work.

First, you'll have to find a better way to give her the message that sitting quietly is what earns her your attention. The quickest way to do this in cats is to teach them to sit using food. Use her regular kibble instead of giving it to her for free in a bowl, or use canned food on a spoon, or small treats. Getting her to work for her kibble or regular food is best since if you can reward quiet behavior 100x in a day, you'll change the behavior much faster than if you used treats which can only make up about 10% of her diet. Also make sure the treats or kibble are small enough so she finishes each one in just one or two bites.

To train sit, as soon as Sami sits, get the food reward up to her face in a manner that allows her to remain seated. Once she eats it give her one or two more for remaining seated. At first if she's meowing, it's ok. But after she gets the idea that she should be sitting, then only reward the sit if she's also quiet. She should be on this step by the end of day 1 or 2.

Once she can sit quietly for several seconds to receive a treat, then work on giving her treats for remaining seated and quiet. The goal is to always give treats before she starts meowing or getting up. For instance you may start by giving treats every 3-5 seconds for 5-10 treats, and then increasing the interval to 7 seconds and then 10 seconds and then 15 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds. If you increase in this systematic manner and have her earn a large portion of her meal this way, then within several days you'll have longer bouts of quiet.

It's also a good idea to teach her that the word "quiet" means she gets no attention. You can do this once she is starting to understand that sitting quietly gets treats and can hold still and quiet for at least 5-10 seconds. Then, when she meows at you, say "quiet" in a calm but clear voice and immediately turn your head away from her. Once she's quiet for a second or two, reward her with a treat and then give several more frequently enough so that she remains quiet for another 30 seconds but gradually space the treats further and further apart.

You can also then train her to follow you when you walk around the house, when she catches up so that it's easier to reward quiet sit behavior, or you can train her to sit quietly and stay in one spot away from you. To train her to follow you, take a few steps. When she follows and sits then reward the quiet, polite behavior. To train her to stay, give her a treat for sitting on a chair or stool. Give her a "halt" signal with your hand. Then back up one step but hurry and return to her and reward her with a treat before she gets up. When you can do this 5 times, then switch to taking 2, then 3 and then more steps away.

By approaching this problem in a systematic manner so Sami can understand that quiet behavior is what earns attention, you'll be able to turn the meowing noise off in just several days.

Comments Leave a Comment

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08/26 at 01:04 PM

One other thing to consider, an increase of meowing and crying behaviour can also be due to a condition called hyperthyroidism. A visit to your veterinarian and a bloodtest can rule this out as a contributing factor.

Posted by Sophia Yin, DVM on 08/28 at 08:42 PM

Good point! Although it appears that this cats meowing has probably been reinforced, when animals show a major and sudden change in behavior, medical conditions should be considered.
Sophia Yin, DVM
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Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 10/30 at 08:29 AM

Dr. Yin,

How can this technique apply to a cat who meows and claws at our bedroom door for food and attention at 6am - 7am in the morning while we're still in bed?

Background: Zoe is 2 years old and gets 3 meals a day (one before nighttime) and a good amount of day exercise

We ignore her and have been using ear plugs, but have not been consistent with getting up after she stops meowing to feed her and get ready for work.

Posted by Sophia Yin, DVM on 10/30 at 11:02 AM

The trick is that you must be consistent. Every time you give in, especially if you do so on a variable schedule, you strengthen the behavior exponentially. That is, if you rewarded her every time she meowed, and pretty quickly, and then stopped rewarding, that meow behavior might stop pretty fast. but of sometimes you get up quickly and other times you wait a long time, she learns that sometimes she might have to meow and meow a long time to get you to get up. And if you get up sometimes and not others you put her on a sort of a gambling rate of reward which makes it more exciting and makes the behavior really strong. Now she knows, even though she doesn't get rewarded some times, if she tries really hard, she'll get rewarded at other times.

If you want to train her to be quiet, first reward a lot of quiet sits, meaning like 20-50 over the course of several days. And once she's sitting continue to reward quiet sitting before she starts meowing again. Now she has an acceptable behavior that works for getting food (and attention--e.g. pet her if that's what she wants as the reward). Now what I do at night is I use the MannersMinder, remote controlled food reward-dispenser (http://www.petexpertise.com). I train her that she can get food rewards that I dispense if she sits quietly. Then, when she starts meowing in the morning, wait until she's quiet and reward her via remote control. Dispense treats frequently at first to be sure she remains quiet. Then slow the treat rate down so she has to be quiet for longer and longer periods in order to get the reward. You can even teach her this patience ahead of time by having her eat out of the MannersMinder bowl during the day but with her kibble coming quickly at first but slowing down more and more such that her meal takes her a long time.

Sophia Yin

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 11/01 at 09:01 PM

Thank you Dr. Yin,

I have started feeding her wet food (3x20 spoonfuls) doing quiet sit. She starts to pay attention and be more patient after a couple spoonfuls.

I am also going to look at Manner's Minder for the morning!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 12/03 at 09:55 PM

Hi Dr. Yin,

As a follow-up on the progress I have been making with my cat Zoe. She does quiet sits no problem for lengthy durations. But, sometimes she would make a small "mrrr" noise and I am not sure whether I should count this as not being "quiet". This is much softer than her incessant meowing.

While I am preparing her meal (wet food) for training, she would meow incessantly and quite loud pacing around all excited and in a demanding demeanor.

I am not sure in this scenario, what I should be doing in order to avoid reinforcing this behavior every night, where she would meow like crazy in the kitchen while i am preparing her food.

Should I feed her a couple dry kibbles to get her to be quiet to start?

Also, saying "quiet" now while I prepare for food has lost it's effectiveness! She would be relatively quiet while I feed her! I guess I would have to get her to be loud in order to train quiet.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 12/10 at 01:17 PM

Thanks for the update. The next step depends on what you want. If the soft mrr is ok, you can go ahead and reward only the soft mrr. Or you can wait until she's completely quiet and then reward frequently when she's completely quiet.

And, as you suggested, you can also give her treats before she has a chance to "mrrr."
Sophia

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 07/04 at 08:14 PM

sir im so happy from your information.i am student of Bv.sc.&A.H. and also wants to be a good veterinaryan,i need ur sugestation please help me.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 10/21 at 01:34 PM

This issue can be one of the hardest to break and most annoying for cat owners. I know that these great tips will help many cat owners to improve their relationships and interactions with each others.

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