Training a Cat to Be Quiet: My Cat Meows Too Much, What Do I Do?

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By Dr Sophia Yin

Teaching QuietYou think YOUR cat meows too much?! Is he a Bengal or Siamese? 

Believe it or not, yelling at him or hurling (soft) objects usually doesn’t work. And even though it may make your feel better, in fact doing so may make the cat worse! Yelling and tossing things at them make it clear to the cats that meowing works to get them what they want… your attention! And if it’s food that they want, they know that getting your attention is the first step!

So how DO you quiet a cacophonous cryer? You follow the golden rule of changing behavior—reward the behavior you want, such as sitting quietly, and remove the reward for unwanted behavior—your attention. So when your cat yowls at you to give him what he wants, wait him out patiently and then only pet and provide attention when he sits quietly.

Sounds great, right?  At least it does on paper. Realistically taking those steps in that order can take forever. To speed up the process first train the cat to sit for treats and once he’s got that down, then wait him out when he’s noisy.

Teaching Cats to Sit

Training cats to sit is simple. Just take a yummy treat such as greenies, canned food on a spoon or in a syringe with the tip cut off, pieces of cheese, tuna, or, if it’s mealtime, a portion of his meal. When he knows you have it and is looking at you like “How do I get THAT,” just wait until he sits and when he does, deliver the treat right up to his face. Make sure you hold it in a way that he can eat it while he’s still sitting. Once he’s done, repeat. Also, once he’s sitting, you can give him a series of treats for remaining seated. Note this is way easier for cats than dogs because cats love to sit and remain seated whereas dogs love to sit and then pop right up! Next, walk a few steps away and repeat. The goal is that every time you walk away and  stop and the cat follows to catch up, when the cat catches up she quickly sits to earn a treat. Now, sit is starting to become a very rewarding behavior.

If you couldn’t get your cat to sit this way, you can also use the food as a lure to get your cat to raise her head and move her weight back to her rear. Place the treat right up to her face, then raise it and move it back so she shifts her weight back into a sit. Then hurry and reward her before she gets up. If needed, you can first reward her for just almost sitting and when she readily goes into this position then start rewarding her only when she sits all the way.

What if She’s Meowing When You’re Training Sit?

If your cat was meowing while your were working on sit, there are two options. You can wait until she’s quiet to reward her for sit or you can just reward her while she’s meowing now and then work in the rewarding quiet later. Generally it’s easiest to train one behavior at a time and she’ll learn to sit pretty quickly anyway—usually in a couple of 5 minutes sessions if she’s hungry, so if she doesn’t get quiet pretty quickly on her own just wait for the next step.

Training Quiet Behavior

Now that the cat has learned a calm stationary position, you can start rewarding for quiet behavior. Here’s an example with my cat Dante. Dante can vocalize longer than the most diligently trained singer but he’s learned that he doesn’t need to meow and scream whenever he wants something, instead we’ve rewarded sitting quietly. However, when something changes, such as when we have dogs visiting for a few days and he has to lay low, he seems to revert back to his meowing ways afterwards. So here’s the routine I use  for a couple of days to retrain him to be quiet.

Basically I wait out the long string of meows and when he’s quiet for a few seconds hurry up and reward. Dante’s a quick meower which makes it difficult to get a treat to him while he’s still quiet and before the next meow. As a result, I use a clicker and click to let him know when he’s being good and has earned a treat. At first I can have to reward him for just a 1-2 seconds of silence. But he quickly learns to be quiet for longer periods of time. In fact in the video you can see him looking around to see if it’s the head position that’s earning a reward because different head positions have worked in these training sessions in the past (link to lion head turn). He even gets confused at one point and thinks, maybe meowing does work. So he tries some quiet, tentative meows. But because I avoid rewarding the meows and then reward him when he’s quiet, he gets the message, that it’s the quiet, not the head turns or the meowing.

What happened the next day

Expect to have to wait out the meowing and reward quiet behavior many times during the day if you have a Herculean Howlers like Dante. But if you’re consistent and reward the quiet behavior with enough sequential treats for longer and longer silence, you can fix the meowing in just a few days. Because Dante’s had this training before, it took just 2 sessions of rewarding quiet behavior for him to remember to be quiet all day and the quiet, not shouting works to get him what he wants.


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29 responses to “Training a Cat to Be Quiet: My Cat Meows Too Much, What Do I Do?

  1. I never realized you could actually train a cat. I’m going to put my cat to the test. Thanks for this enlightening info!

  2. I have tried to clicker train my cat, but the problem is she is not interested in eating any of the treats I’ve offered to her… not even tuna. She is not at all food-motivated and is a very light eater. Is there something else I can offer as a reward?

  3. Diane – have you tried a favourite toy as a reward? My cat loves one of those fishing rod type toys so I bring it out as a reward after the behaviour I am teaching! The reward is in the eyes of the cat …what are her favourite things?

    1. I have the same question! Please help! I don’t want to surrender my cat but we’ve lost so much sleep. I’ve trained her to sit and wait for her food, but it’s a different matter at 3:30am.

      1. Haha. I’m also having the same issue. Don’t know if it’s spring and being a Bengal. But it’s now terrifying our 2 year old daughter. He has always liked to meow at night. But the last few weeks it’s a bit out of control.

  4. I didn’t have to train my cat, KC, to avoid negative behavior, as she was the best cat ever!
    But she was trainable and a quick learner.

  5. This doesn’t work for my cat .. It sounds weird but he doesn’t care for treats and eats very little throughout the day .. He’s healthy, young and a very friendly happy cat and I know there’s nothing wrong with him health wise. Is there any other suggestions please before I get his voice removed

  6. My cat starts waking at 04:00 and wakes the entire household with her constant meowing. I have to g lock her in the kitchen … if I can catch her, as she already knows this. I know what she wants, and that is outside. We have relocated and she now needs to stay indoors, I started letting them out a month after we got here, but she ends up in everyone else’s gardens and walks around our immediate neighbour’s house (who do not have pets themselves) and lies around on their beds! This meowing now continues throughout the entire day and is most annoying. Tried to ignore it at first, and now use a spray bottle, but she just licks herself dry and starts the moaning again. I cannot let her out, we have a large house so she is also not cooped up. Our other cat is quite happy inside (they used to be inside for their first 3 years of life, we moved for 2 years where they could go outside and we are back where they need to be kept inside. What is there to do. EVERY morning at 04:00, or earlier!

    1. Can you make some kind of screened area out a window or something similar that will take her outside, but keep her safely confined? Like enclosing a patio?

    2. Same/simliar problem, trying to transition the cat from indoors to outdoors. She is completely spoilt but is not clueless outside, our other two cats live outside and are rarely indoors so she is not alone when out there but she decides to meow all day and night to get inside when we put her out. Its becoming quite troublesome for us and the neighbours. Did you have any luck?

  7. I have 2 cats reach the age of 15 and develop feline demetia. One lived to 20,the other tp almost 19. We bought a large dog cage and they were locked up at night in a separate room. It was tough but bearable. Now I have a third cat that has reached 15 and the same thing has happened but on a much larger scale. He’s always been a talker but know he never shuts up, day or night. i hate the thought of putting a healthy cat to sleep but I have zero tolerance for him and can’t stand the sound of his voice. I have had 2 absolutely wonderful cats die young in the past few years and found myself wishing it would have been him instead both times. We still have 2 others and they are no problem. He is so annoying I am getting to the point where I can’t stand him. At his age there is no training that will work and I’m not even sure he has dementia yet, he’s just a dick. Anyone have any ideas before I get him put down?

    1. I have the exact same problem. Day in and day out its all I hear. I do sympathize although putting a healthy cat down to end an inconvience is something I would never consider. Everyone that shares a home with a cat knows that meowing is the only way cats can communicate to us. Clearly he’s trying to tell you something. Have you had your cat checked out by a vet for arthritis or other ailments that might be causing him pain? My cat has arthritis which she gets treated for but mainly her meowing stems from hyperthyroidism which is very common in older cats. She’s being treated for that and doing very well. Now I think she’s spoiled from me fussing over her so much because her meowing instantly turns to purrs if I pay attention to her. This one is 16. My other cat was doing the same thing! She’s 17. My vet tried hard to convince me she had dementia, she was deaf etc etc… I didn’t believe a word of it. I think this “feline dementia” is a big cop out by lazy vets. What was actually wrong with her was such a simple fix. She wasn’t pooping enough. She was going so I didn’t realize she was constipated but after a naturalpath vet spent some actual time with us and came up with that, all I did was give her some canned pumpkin for a few days and the problem was solved!
      I suggest natural vets. Both my cats have been helped a lot by them. How’s his bathroom habits? Sometimes a uti causes mine to meow too. I have had a lot of cats growing up and I pet sit as a job. I know cats. It sounds like you do too. I think you can help the situation if you try. Maybe he can pick up on the fact you “can’t stand him” and you pretty much wished his death. Have patience and try and understand his situation. Do you ignore him and give attention to the other ones? Maybe he feels left out? I hope things get better for you!

      1. I am a senior and wanted a cat for company and a snuggly cat who would sleep with me. OMG I can not believe that this 2 yr old cat I rescued would be so annoying. Yowl, yowl and yowl some more…day and night. She is slim, sleek and has a pointed face. Very cute but when I look carefully she does look like she has traits of a siamese cat. I am sorry and am struggling but feel the need to put her down. I have never ever known a cat to be so noisy, demanding and independent.

          1. I’ve typically observed that when you are asking someone to do something, calling them a terrible person beforehand makes them significantly less likely to comply with your request. I know it is easy to get upset at the idea of an innocent pet being put down, but we should try not to throw insults, but rather offer suggestions– which you did also 🙂 And they are great suggestions for an alternative to putting the kitty down. There are no terrible people. Sometimes people make terrible choices, but we’re all born good and we all have many opportunities to make good choices, no matter what choices we’ve made in the past.

        1. That is certainly a hard choice you are faced with right now. I would encourage you to try to give her away first, even to a pet adoption center, rather than resorting to euthanizing what sounds like a perfectly healthy cat. 🙂
          There are many places, such as Petsmart and Petco. I’m sure there are local places near you as well. There’s surely someone out there who can handle a noisy cat, maybe someone who could benefit from it. Please consider all your options, with putting her down as the last option!!
          Much love!

  8. Hi, your article is great. I don’t exactly think my cat is in dire need of training, because she isn’t necessarily hyperactive. Whenever we put her in her cage (along with other 2 cats) she often screams or cries in a non-meowing kind of way, like she’s screaming loudly for help. I thought she wanted to mate, but when I pet her lower back (above the anus) there was no response. We concluded that she only wanted attention. We decided to ignore her when she yowls and come to her when she’s quiet, but the yowling and screaming still wouldn’t stop. We put food and water in her cage 24/7, we also put her in a normal temperature where it’s not too hot or too cold. How do I get my cat to stop screaming for attention?

  9. Hi, I’ve made the mistake of letting our cat go outside in the apartment complex courtyard (with supervision). Now he’ll howl at the door incessantly in addition to just being overly chatty(half Arabian Mau). So far I’ve gotten him to sit quietly when treats are involved, but once they’re gone he’s back at his post or meowing around the apartment. Eventually he quiets down and gives up(at least until I start moving around or getting ready to leave). I’ve read that we ought to stop letting him out entirely or get him to associate outside as no longer fun. (via spray bottle for example)
    Will continuing training using treats and a clicker (and ignoring the howls) really help so I can let him outside occasionally? Or should we stop letting him out entirely and make him forget? (I should note, now that he’s gone outside, his regular toys, play things, and balcony aren’t enticing him anymore.)

  10. 4:30 AM. Every. Morning.
    My cat Echo is meowing, whether he’s inside or out, full bowl and water, access to the litter tray, you name it. I’ve lost so much sleep.
    It doesn’t matter what day it is, he walks around the apartment relentlessly like a disgruntled VFW member complaining about “how it used to be.” He only stops when he sees I’m up and awake, but scurries away from me when I am; he doesn’t want attention from me. Aggrivatingly confusing.

    Echo is an Arabian Mau/Persian who I found (quite literally) as a desert stray. He’s healthy as an ox now, neutered and about 1 year old. He’s as handsome as he is irritating.

    Help me Obi-Wan Katobi.

  11. We have a one year old cat, who meows, tells and groans like she’s dying, whenever it is meal time. Gives me a headache…each time. I never thought clicker training would work on cats. She is not a patient cat. I’m going to have to give this a try.

  12. My 2 year old male neutered cat started developing an annoying behaviour. He is noisy and meowing loudly especially when I let him go on the balcony. I am sure all the neighbours can hear his meows. I have to get him into the apartment fast so he is not heard anymore. And inside he whimpers around like he needs something or something is bothering him. That’s why I thought he was sick so the vet checked him. She doesn’t think it’s a physical thing. He is quiet when it is time for me to go sleep. He sleeps all night through, thank goodness.

    What do I do? I did buy that cat pheromone electric diffuser. But I think it’s not helping.

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