Q: Pugsly, our 14-year-old Burmese cat has been driving me crazy for the last 13 years: He cries much of every day. And I think he is getting worse. For the last couple of days, when he’s crying, I’ve tried giving him a swat underneath the chin each time he lets out a cry for attention, with the hope that he’ll associate the unpleasantness with his crying. Then I stop myself, because I feel that perhaps I’m being cruel to him, even though the swat under the chin is not hard enough to hurt him. We have also tried playing with him, cuddling him, yelling at him, and swatting him on the rear end, walking outside with him, etc. Nothing stops him for long. The noise absolutely drives me crazy. I feel like I’m living with a perpetual toddler.
Pugsly is also a very needy cat, and requires constant attention. He sleeps with me, though when we’re gone overnight, it’s nice to be able to turn over and move around without him pacing or licking my chin before he settles down. We tried shutting him out of the bedroom at night, but talk about howling! We just gave in.
When Pugsly first began this howling behavior, it annoyed me a lot. We discussed getting rid of him, but my husband said, “If you had a difficult child, would you just get rid of him?” I know my husband well enough to know that he would never forgive me for getting rid of the cat. I believe he thinks that I am the problem more than the cat. By the way, Pugsly goes to the vet on a regular basis
A: Pugsly’s vocalizing behavior may be escalating because of medical issues. It isn’t clear if you’ve taken him to his veterinarian for a geriatric exam. I highly recommend you take him in for a geriatric exam since diseases as well as senility can cause and escalate excessive vocalizing.
Certain breeds of cats are known for talking and vocalizing. The Burmese breed is one of those. Along with being talkative, Burmese are very active, intelligent cats who love company and will do everything they can to be with their people. It’s always important to thoroughly research the breeds of interest, learning about their health and behavior characteristics, in order to find a cat breed that is a life style match.
Punishing Pugsly for his vocalizing is unnecessary and will not resolve the problem. Along with natural breed disposition and medical problems, Pugsly may be vocalizing because he has been accidentally reinforced for it. Pugsly’s initial vocalization may have been his way of asking for more attention from you and your husband. Initially, when he was younger, the behavior may have been reinforced through attention.
Instead of punishing him, increase his environmental enrichment. Give him interactive toys to play with. Turbo Scratchers and puzzle toys are usually good choices. Cat trees located next to secure windows he can look out of should also help entertain him. If you free feed, instead of leaving bowls of food around for him to graze out of, make him work a little for his food by putting his food in puzzle toys and treat balls.
Clicker training is also a very effective way of helping to stop his unwanted vocalization. It will give him alternative activities to do and it will help him feel more secure because he’s interacting with his favorite people. Clicker training also challenges him and it is fun.
Observe if there are particular times of the day when Pugsly is more vocal then others. You may find that mornings and evenings are the times he is most apt to make his needs known through vocalizing. Those are perfect times to play with him, using a fishing pole toy. Immediately after each play session give him a delicious meal. You may find that playing before bed will also help curb the vocalizing. When playing with him, be mindful of his age limitations and don’t play too intensely with him.