Q My dear friend has a 7-year-old rescue cat that never stops meowing. She tried using a collar for this purpose to no avail. She loves her cat, but the meowing is driving her crazy. Can you offer any advice to stop the constant meowing?
— Marilyn, via email
A Cats use "meow" and its many variations to communicate with people, not cats, so it's great her cat wants to "talk" to her. But too much feline vocalization can drive some cat parents crazy. Here are some reasons for the excessive vocalization and how to handle it.
If the vocalizations have increased over time, ask your friend to take her cat to the veterinarian to rule out health issues or hearing loss. Also, older cats sometimes develop cognitive issues (similar to Alzheimer's or dementia) that can make them more vocal — although 7 years old is still young for a cat to develop these problems. If anxiety is the suspected culprit, your veterinarian can recommend supplements or treatments to reduce the excessive vocalizations.
Next, some cat breeds, like Siamese, Burmese, Turkish Angora, Maine coon and Tonkinese, can be very vocal, and even downright "get yourself some coffee and sit a spell" chatty. And mixed-breed cats may have some of these breed traits, as well. These cats have opinions on such things as how long you have been gone from home and when and how often they should be fed. They are smart and love stimulating conversation but are easily bored. Tell your friend to buy toys that make a cat use its hunting behaviors, and rotate the toys every two days so the cat stays active. Simply put, keep the feline mind and body busy, and he or she won't chat as much.
Cats may also use vocalizations as attention-seeking behaviors. Just like dogs, cats can train their humans to feed them, pick them up and pet them on demand. Anyone who has ever had a cat meow to go outside knows it's tough to outlast a cat who is determined to get his or her way. But outlast her cat, she must. Tell your friend to schedule meal times to reduce demands, call the cat to her before the cat asks for attention, and wait for the moment when the cat stops meowing to pet or pick up. This basic training will help her cat learn that quietness equals attention and reduce the cat's need to constantly educate her owner about proper feline etiquette.
I am not sure what you mean by "using a collar," but please ask your friend to never scold or punish her cat. It's ineffective and only turns a sweet, good-natured, friendly feline into an ornery and annoyed companion.
Q We have a 9-year-old, 14-pound female dog named Bernie. We believe her parents were Bichons. We brought Bernie home when she was only 4 weeks old because of the desperate condition she and the rest of the litter and parents were in. Our recent concern is that Bernie has become a hoarder. On her bed in our bedroom, she keeps growing a collection of socks and other clothing items. We have also found various items such as Christmas ornaments, kitchen sponges, even measuring cups. There are no changes in her behavior or health. Is this a symptom of something more serious we should be aware of?
— Grace, North Massapequa
A While the behavior is not uncommon — many dogs like to grab and hide things near their beds — this is a new behavior for 9-year-old Bernie, so I encourage you to visit your veterinarian for a checkup. While she is not showing any other symptoms, pain is not something a pet owner can usually see, and new behaviors can be related to pain.
If she is physically healthy, then this could be a behavior issue related to anxiety or a newly developed compulsive disorder, and the veterinarian can recommend treatments that can help both. I am inclined to think this might be the problem.
In the meantime, keep things out of her reach — socks and clothes in hampers and Christmas ornaments on shelves she can't reach — to make sure she won't swallow anything that could block her intestines and require surgery. She could be protective of her treasures, so put her outside before gathering up the items and putting them away. Don't deny her comforts though. Be sure you have safe dog toys to replace these items, so she is not further stressed.