Katz Tales: Why cats caterwaul and go crazy

  • Animals
  • Monday, 10 Sep 2018

Cats tend to be quiet but, when they caterwaul, it is very loud and shrill - enough to set your hair on ends. Photo: 123rf.com

We were fast asleep when a howl pierced the night. It was a sound that went straight through me.

Cats tend to be quiet but when they do make a noise, it’s a humdinger. The caterwaul is a loud wail that sets your hair on end. It doesn’t just shatter sleep; I swear it can go through a foot of stonewall. I wouldn’t be surprised if they could hear it in the Space Station.

The caterwaul is the cat version of the bat signal. It can be a sign of pain, the kind that means you need to rush to the emergency vet straight away. Or it can mean your kitty is terrified of something – perhaps a dog, snake, rising floodwater or other terror.

But aside from the doom and disaster, it also doubles up as an announcement that says, “I am here.” Cats who haven’t been spayed or neutered use the caterwaul to signal they’re in the mood for a bit of romance.

In our home, we’ve had our share of messages. Two years ago, Target spotted a cobra in the living room. His cry of warning gave us time to corral it and call the bomba.

Then there was the time that Guido fell into the storm drain. Our poor boy emerged from that looking like The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

He refused to even try to clean himself, and we responded to his call for help with a bath. Although he was grateful, he caterwauled all the way through that, too.

Other occasions have been cat emergencies but not human emergencies. Like, two weeks ago, Target howled me out of bed because that “terror” – Charlie, the cat from across the street – was peeing in our garden.

When Scoop got old, he would wail for the slightest reason: if his bowl was empty, if his cushion wasn’t plumped up or simply because he was bored. He was old and rickety, and because of it, he’d become a little delicate in his emotions. If it wasn’t right, he howled until it was set straight.

So, hearing that wail, I was sitting up and starting to panic when my brain kicked in: it wasn’t some hideous disaster, it was just Swooner, singing.

Swooner looking sweet. Occasionally, he has a case of the zoomies. That's when he goes absolutely berserk and wails frightfully. Photo: Ellen Whyte

Our kitten enjoys the occasional midnight howl. It’s not a signal of anything in particular; it’s just a loud call for attention. A kind of, “I’m up and having fun. Want to join me?”

As if that’s not enough, our one-cat marching band also rushes up and down the stairs, claws scrabbling away as he corners like an F1 race car.

But forget elegant, in control, graceful speed; our miniature Lewis Hamilton crashes frequently.

Most often, he runs into the walls but, on Saturday night, he managed to smash up a row of picture frames.

Despite appearances, Swooner hasn’t gone insane. What we have is a happy kitty. Frankie Swooner is feeling good and so we get singing and the “zoomies”.

It amazes me because our kitten is busy all day long, climbing trees, chasing bugs and running after his hero, Guido. For added sport, he wrestles with his pal, Target. He is so active, that he should be totally sacked out by nine.

I’m happy that he’s super fit and full of the joys of life, and I can stand the odd musical act. However, when Swooner sang three nights in a row, it did get to me.

As you may remember, we had that glorious full moon last week. As it rose in the sky, Swooner was standing on the roof and howling. It didn’t help that the dogs in the neighbourhood were at it as well.

I was okay the first night, tolerant the second, but on the third, it was a close run as to who yelled louder: me or my egocentric kitten. Target and Guido were equally frustrated. On the night I broke down, Target was trying to hide under our pillow and Guido gave Swooner a clip around the ear.

The next morning, Target could barely get himself out of bed, Guido was yawning over his breakfast tuna, and I was mainlining coffee in the hope it would jumpstart my day. The only creature bursting with energy was the architect of our insomnia.

While I was grumpy, I reminded myself that it is most likely temporary. Guido and Target did it, as has every other cat I’ve known. The zoomies and the howling are an integral part of happy, fit kitty life but as time goes on, Swooner will adapt more to our sleeping pattern.

Mind you, while in the depths of sleep deprivation, I was considering that Swooner might not live that long. Luckily, the neighbourhood ironmonger provided an excellent fix. No, not a chainsaw or other weapon of destruction. I’m talking earplugs.

An inch of delicately shaped foam blocks out both caterwauling and barking. I also can’t hear my alarm but that’s a price I’m willing to pay. Come the next full moon, let the pets howl because I will be enjoying delicious slumber.

As for the destruction, that was a blessing in disguise. Our old picture frames had been over-loved. After Swooner trashed them beyond repair, I was forced to replace them. Our new ones are very pretty and I’m enjoying looking at them. Every cloud...

A Case Of The Zoomies

We call it “the zoomies”, some of our cat friends refer to it as “the thundering herd of elephants”, and the fancier cat manuals refer to it as Frenetic Random Activity Periods (FRAPs) but it’s all describing the same thing.

Basically, your cat turns from a sleek, serene creature into a wildly dashing beast that charges up and down the room, the stairs, and possibly the curtains, the sofa, the table – and even you.

Normally, it means your pet is just having fun. Or it can mean that they don’t have enough outlet for their energy during the day. House pets, for example, can be too inactive.

If it’s just fun, let them have their mad moments and enjoy them. It’s sometimes destructive but, then again, pets will break stuff. And shed fur everywhere.

If you think it means they’re too inactive, set up some games to play during the day. Balls, feather-fishing, and other games will help.

Kittens and pups will have FRAPs at night but they do tend to grow out of it as they adapt to your schedule.

Be patient. Buy earplugs.

One note of caution: If your pet appears to be frightened, stressed or upset, it’s worth talking to your vet. Sometimes, the zoomies are linked to health issues like upset tummies, impacted anal glands, and so on. So, if you think there’s more to it than fun, get some advice and a check-up.

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