Me-OUCH! Devocalization Hurts! Humane Ways to Manage Your Chatty Cat
Sad but true, cats are devocalized too.
People with a financial interest in this cruelty want to keep it under the radar, so they say cats can't be devocalized--or they claim it's a benign "voice softening." Both are lies. Feline devocalization has been documented by adopters of these unfortunate animals and by vets, including Dr. Nicholas Dodman, author of The Cat Who Cried for Help.
"Cats have vocal cords that can be cut in the same manner as a dog's," says feline veterinary specialist Shelby Neely, VMD. "They face serious, potentially fatal risks as dogs do, such as choking on food and inhaling substance into their lungs."
Like dogs, cats' voices may be altered in very unpleasant ways that can't be predicted at the time of surgery, says Dr. Neely.Purrs remain the same as before devocalization, she points out, because they're not produced by the vocal cords.
Who Would Devocalize a Cat? The same types of people who have dogs' vocal cords cut subject cats to this dangerous, behavior-masking surgery: those who breed or hoard animals, and those who enjoy the companionship of pets but not providing the care and attention they require.
There's Always a Reason for Persistent Meowing--and Humane Solutions Here are reasons cats may vocalize often or at inappropriate times. All can be resolved humanely, Dr. Neely notes. She adds that to ignore the underlying cause and instead cut vocal cords is a double dose of cruelty.
Medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism, chronic pain or dementia can cause a cat to vocalize more and should be managed with medication.
Unaltered cats howl to express hormonal excitement. Yet another reason to spay/neuter!
Some breeds, like Siamese, are innately "talkative" or have unusual voices. The solution is simple: Don't want a chatty cat, don't get one of these breeds.
Cats kept with many others egg each other on. And because the collective voices of any breed are louder than one or two, people may devocalize when they don’t want to hear their many animals or to hide activities like hoarding or an illegal breeding operation.
Cats with impaired hearing or sight may feel insecure and express that by calling out for the people they trust. Simply talking to the cat, reassuring him you're nearby, can quell that.
Some people inadvertently reward and reinforce "nuisance" meowing as others do barking; they could benefit from a visit with a feline behavior specialist.
Dealing With Midnight Meows Does kitty have a knack for calling out to you just as you're entering dreamland? There are many possible reasons for nighttime vocalization, both behavioral and medical, says veterinary behaviorist Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM.
A medical work-up should always be your first step to rule out or treat conditions such as those mentioned above.
Healthy cats also may vocalize at night because they're not sufficiently stimulated during the day, Dr. Borns-Weil says. Here are her tips for a happier cat and a more rested you:
Enrich your indoor cat’s environment so she remains active, alert and engaged while the sun is up. Make your home cat-friendly with lots of vertical space. Cats love to jump and climb!
Most cats enjoy window seats with a view of wildlife ensured by the addition of a birdfeeder. Videos of birds and fish also can add interest to a cat’s day.
Set aside a specific time every day to interact with your cat in a way that he enjoys. Clicker training is fun and challenging for many cats; you may be amazed by what yours can do! For information on how to get started, check out this site: http://www.clickertraining.com/cat-training
Cats need daily exercise. Make time to play vigorously with yours for at least 15 minutes a day. A tired cat is more likely to sleep through the night. Fishing toys and lasers are great feline exercisers. Rotate toys so they don't become boring.
Put your cat to work for his food. Offer dry food in a food-dispensing toy like the Pipolino. Canned food can be served in a Kong Classic hollow toy.
If your cat continues to vocalize excessively during the night, consult your vet or a veterinary behaviorist. A behavior modification program and/or medication may be just what your cat needs.
What NOT to Do? Don't give in to your cat's persistent meowing in the wee hours by feeding or playing with her. You may get back to sleep quickly, but you'll only reinforce the behavior that will wake you the other 364 nights of the year
Above all, don't have your cat's vocal cords cut. "Devocalization will not solve the underlying problem," says Dr. Borns-Weil. "It will only add to an unhappy cat's suffering."
Shelby Neely, VMD, has been keeping cats healthy for 22 years as a feline veterinarian in private practice. She also educates the public about cat health issues through her award-winning website, and responds to questions on her live, call-in radio show every Sunday and Wednesday at 8 PM and Fridays at noon (EST). To join in and ask your questions, call toll free: (888) 342-0281.
Veterinary behaviorist Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM, provides the tools people need for happy relationships with their companion animals. As a staff member of the world-renowned Animal Behavior Clinic of Tufts Cummings Veterinary School, she evaluates, diagnoses and develops treatment plans to manage behavior humanely and effectively.