Beast Mode is Slate’s pet advice column. Have a question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Beast Mode,
My deaf cat screams all night. Like, I have to warn houseguests and am considering never having another person sleep over until this cat is dead. His appetite is fine. He’s fine. He’s been like this since I adopted him. It’s hopeless.
—Sleepless Under a Hot Tin Roof
Dear Sleepless Under a Hot Tin Roof,
When bleak thoughts fill my head and things feel grim, I’ve found that nothing hits the reset button like a good night’s sleep. Then again, I’ve never tried to do that while a cat screeches inside my house, so this genius cure-all might not be an appropriate remedy. In fact, my advice might aggravate what I can only assume is your fragile and frazzled state. But things are not hopeless. You just need patience. In the meantime, try to be mad at me and not your cat. It’s not his fault.
First, let’s look on the bright side. Your cat’s consistent screaming is a good sign, as a change in volume or frequency could mean a change in medical condition. If he amps up those moonlight sonatas, take him to the vet to get checked out for ailments like hyperthyroidism or high blood pressure. (The best ballads are sung with a metaphorical broken heart, not a literal one.)
Excessive vocalization is pretty common for deaf cats, and people should be prepared for this if they adopt a furry friend who is hard of hearing. But a deaf cat’s behavior can be treated like any other feline’s—the only difference is that he doesn’t know he’s being loud. Start by getting him on a routine that encourages rest at night. The way to do this is by tapping into his most primal instincts. You or I may prepare for bed by brushing our teeth and doing a crossword, but a cat winds down with murder and some light torture.
“The sequence for a cat throughout life, throughout every day, is to hunt, stalk, catch, and kill,” certified feline behavior consultant Ingrid Johnson tells me. For a house cat, this takes the form of batting around a toy for a while, followed by his normal food. “They then eat their prey and groom the blood—aka canned food juice and crunchy crumbs—off of their coat so that they don’t leave any traces behind,” Johnson adds. “Then, they sleep.”
Throughout this scenario, the cat thinks he is hunting, and he won’t be fully satisfied until he eats his kill. (Johnson points out that the toy has to be something real and not a laser pointer, which “leads to frustration because they don’t get anything to tangibly catch and kill.”)
Your goal, according to Johnson, should be to get him on a schedule with “one of his play sessions immediately before bed, [so he] can get a lot of negative energy out.” Once all those boxes are checked, the cat can finally hit the hay and dream about doing it again tomorrow.
This routine should result in quieter nights, but don’t be discouraged if he’s still screaming bloody murder after his postprandial grooming sessions. The screeching could be attention-seeking behavior, and any reaction from you—even a scolding—will work to encourage him. Help him live out his bloody fantasies to your heart’s content, but do draw the line at whiny neediness.
A comfortable cat is a quiet cat, and offering him a heating pad can facilitate longer slumbers. Again, this is all about instinct. “Cats are a desert species,” Johnson says. “They have a high body temperature and like it warm.” With kitty basking after a successful hunt, you should finally be able to get some sleep and have people stay the night once again. Hopefully they’ll enjoy some Serengeti role-play before bed.