Why Is My Elderly Cat Crying at Night? The Reasons Behind Your Senior Cat’s Nocturnal Distress

A Senior Cat’s Mysterious Midnight Cries

In the middle of the night, your once quiet cat starts howling loudly and incessantly. You try to comfort her, but the cries continue. A tinge of sadness hits you as you realize your aging feline’s health may be declining. Though her caterwauling keeps you awake, you want to understand what’s troubling her and help her feel better.

In this article, we’ll explore the common reasons senior cats cry out during the night. By learning what causes these midnight vocalizations, cat owners can identify any underlying issues and find the right solutions to help their elderly cats.

Physical Causes

As cats age, they often develop physical conditions that can cause discomfort or pain, especially at night. Two common conditions are arthritis and cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), which can lead to crying or meowing at night according to this article.

Arthritis causes inflammation in the joints, resulting in stiffness and pain that gets worse at night when the cat is less active. The discomfort of arthritis can cause crying or meowing when the cat moves around. Managing arthritis with medication, joint supplements, gentle exercise, and soft bedding can help reduce nighttime meowing.

CDS, sometimes referred to as feline dementia, affects memory, learning, perception, and awareness in senior cats. Disorientation from CDS can cause anxiety, restlessness, and vocalization at night according to this source. Medication, mental stimulation, and keeping routines consistent can help manage CDS.

Hearing loss, common in elderly cats, can also contribute to nighttime meowing. Cats with diminished hearing may cry out due to disorientation. Checking your cat’s hearing and using hand signals along with verbal cues can help accommodate hearing loss.

Medical Issues

As cats age, they become more prone to medical conditions that can cause increased vocalization and crying, especially at night. Two common age-related feline health problems are hyperthyroidism and chronic kidney disease (CKD). According to the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, hyperthyroidism affects 10% of geriatric cats and can lead to yowling.

Hyperthyroidism is characterized by an overactive thyroid gland that secretes excessive amounts of thyroid hormone. This speeds up the cat’s metabolism, causing weight loss, increased appetite, restlessness, and vocalization. The elevated thyroid hormone levels also put stress on the kidneys over time.

CKD involves gradual kidney damage that reduces the organ’s ability to filter waste from the bloodstream. Toxins build up in the body, causing nausea, discomfort, and changes in behavior. Research shows 49% of cats over 15 years old have CKD, which can worsen crying and vocalizations at night when kidney function is lowest.

Feline cancers, such as kidney, thyroid or lymph node cancer, also become more common with age. Cancerous growths place pressure on surrounding tissues and internal organs, leading to pain and distress. Nighttime yowling or crying can signal discomfort from cancer.

Senses Decline

As cats age, their senses often deteriorate, which can lead to nighttime vocalizations and restlessness. Two key senses that commonly decline are vision and smell.

Failing vision is common in senior cats. Conditions like cataracts, glaucoma, and retinal disease can impair cats’ eyesight, especially in low light. With limited vision at night, cats may feel disoriented and anxious, causing them to meow and wander (source). Cats also rely heavily on scent and may become more vocal when they can’t smell familiar odors. Loss of smell is linked to cognitive dysfunction in older cats as well (source).


As cats age, they can become disoriented, especially in low light conditions. According to an article on Purina UK website, one of the first signs of dementia in senior cats is difficulty navigating familiar places and forgetting where things like their food bowl or litter box are located. The Metro East Home Vet Care notes that disoriented senior cats may wander into a room then promptly leave, or lay in odd spots.

This confusion and inability to orient themselves, particularly at night, leads to senior cats crying out. As explained in an ASPCA article, older cats may vocalize excessively due to disorientation and loss of hearing. Their cries are them calling out for reassurance about their surroundings.


Older cats can develop anxiety, especially at night, for a variety of reasons1. One common cause is separation anxiety when the owner goes to sleep. Cats are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk. When a cat’s owner goes to bed while the cat is still awake and active, this can cause anxiety from being separated2.

Another source of anxiety in senior cats is general worry about their declining health and physical abilities3. Cats are masters at hiding illness, so owners may not realize their cat is in pain or discomfort. But the cat feels it, and this can contribute to increased anxiety and restlessness at night.


There are several things you can try to help comfort your senior cat and ease nighttime yowling:

  • Take your cat to the veterinarian for a full checkup to identify any underlying medical issues that may be causing discomfort or pain at night (https://figopetinsurance.com/blog/many-ways-help-senior-cats-yowl-night).
  • Make sure your cat has a warm, comfortable sleeping area, away from drafts. Consider using a heated pet bed or heating pad on low to soothe sore joints (https://amherstvethospital.com/2017/03/16/night-time-waking-senior-cats/).
  • Leave some lights on at night to minimize disorientation from failing vision (https://www.prettylitter.com/blog/why-is-my-elderly-cat-yowling-at-night).
  • Play with your cat before bedtime to tire him out and make him more likely to sleep through the night.

Comforting your senior cat and addressing any medical issues can help reduce anxiety and noisy nighttime vocalizations. Check with your veterinarian if your cat’s crying persists or worsens.

When to Worry

As cats age, it’s normal for their behavior to change, including increased vocalization. However, excessive crying, especially at night, can be a sign of distress requiring veterinary attention. Here are some signs that your elderly cat’s nighttime crying may indicate an underlying issue:

Excessive vocalization that is persistent, loud, and disruptive is not normal, even for an older cat. Frequent and elongated episodes of crying, yowling, meowing, or howling at night may signify physical or cognitive issues causing your cat distress. If your once quiet cat is suddenly very loud and vocal at night, consult your veterinarian.

Pay attention to any other behavior changes along with the increased nighttime crying. Things like litter box avoidance, changes in eating habits, difficulty jumping or grooming, irritability, or other signs of discomfort are red flags. Senior cats can develop medical issues leading to altered behaviors, so it’s important to watch for multiple changes in your cat’s normal routine.

While some meowing is normal for an elderly cat, excessive vocalization combined with other behavior changes warrants a veterinary exam. Your vet can check for conditions like arthritis, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, disorientation and more than may be causing your cat to cry out. With treatment for any underlying issue, your cat’s restless nights and distress calls can likely be reduced.


It’s common for elderly cats to cry or meow more at night, but this behavior is often manageable. While concerning for cat owners, nighttime vocalizations don’t necessarily mean a cat is unhappy or unhealthy. With some adjustments to their routine and environment, many senior cats can continue to enjoy a good quality of life.

Simple solutions like keeping litter boxes clean, making sure food and water are easily accessible, providing cozy beds in quiet areas, and scheduling playtime before bed can help an older cat feel more comfortable and settled at night. Medications or supplements may also be options if the cat is in pain or has cognitive issues. If the cat’s behavior worsens or causes significant sleep disruptions, consulting a vet is recommended. They can check for underlying medical problems and provide guidance on next steps.

Overall, nighttime meowing is a common senior cat issue that can be addressed with patience, care, and a few lifestyle adaptations. While challenging, many cat owners find the vocalizations manageable. With some adjustments and veterinary guidance if needed, senior cats can continue to live happily and comfortably through their golden years.


In summary, an aging cat crying at night can stem from several causes. Physical problems like medical conditions, deteriorating senses, and disorientation often lead to nighttime vocalizing. Anxiety, stress, and cognitive decline may also prompt night cries. While hearing your senior cat’s plaintive meows at night can be worrying and disruptive, remember that help is available.

The most important step is to schedule a veterinarian visit to rule out any underlying medical issues that could be causing your cat’s behavior. Cats are masters at hiding illness, so a full senior wellness check is essential. With your vet’s guidance, you can explore options to make your cat more comfortable and content at night.

Although aging comes with challenges, you and your cat can still enjoy their twilight years together. Patience, routine, comforting spaces, and cat-friendly solutions can help ease this transition. Don’t lose hope – with some adaptations and detective work, those midnight cries can become a rare occurrence once again.

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