I'm dealing with an overly vocal cat - almost all literature states to completely ignore a cat when the behavior is not as desired. This means not feeding, not giving attention, not giving into demands, and then when the cat is quiet, give him what he wants.

What's the timeline on this? The longest this cat will be quiet for is 30 seconds. I am making an effort to reward the brief pauses in screaming, but I'm concerned I'm rewarding too soon and still reinforcing that yelling and then briefly pausing works to get what he wants, in fact, it's getting to the point where my other cat, who has never in her life been vocal, is starting to meow for attention/food/etc.

I am making a strong effort to avoid negative reinforcement, but it is becoming increasingly difficult as glasses are knocked off of tables and smashed, things are intentionally broken, and computer screens are getting teeth marks as this cat continues to make bids for attention.

How long does my cat have to have good behavior before I can reward it?

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    i just want you to know i love the conversations i have had with all of my cats over the last 54 years and i have never seen comunication as a problem. Commented Jun 21, 2022 at 13:15
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    @trondhansen I would love to have conversations with my cat. However, over the last 24 hours, there have been about 15 minutes that were not screaming. I don't sleep anymore, I can't get any work done, and my things are being broken. Vocalization is not my problem, screaming until his voice is hoarse is Commented Jun 21, 2022 at 13:36
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    you need to take your cat to the vet as a change in behaviour might be a sign of medical problems,the cat i have now started to get more vocal and after a visit to my vet i found that she has kidney failiure. Commented Jun 21, 2022 at 14:07
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    @trondhansen Should we call you Petterson from now on? ;) Commented Jun 21, 2022 at 15:21

2 Answers 2


It may be time for a completely chaotic reset.

You write that as soon as you go to get the treats, the screaming starts again. Have you ever heard of Ivan Pavlov's dogs? Pavlov rang a bell every time before feeding a dog and the dog started salivating when hearing the bell, even if no food was provided. You do the same, but instead of ringing a bell, you stand up and walk to where the treats are stored. Your standing up is already a reward for your cat. That means the can is actually reinforcing the screaming before you can reinforce silence.

I propose breaking the connection between standing up to get treats and actually feeding treats. You should get up and get some treats at completely random times during the day, but never feed any cat any treat. Just get a treat, go back to what you were doing while holding the treat for a while, then get up again and put the treat back. No matter what your cats do, they never get the treat. This will take several days and many repititions each day to break the mental connection between you getting up and the cats getting treats.

Apart from that, the amount of destructive energy of your vocal cat worries me somewhat. Could he be bored out of his mind? If the only entertainment he gets is getting on your nerves until you finally react, this is also a positive reinforcement from your cats point of view.

We see the same thing in neglected children. If the only time they get any attention from their parents is when they get scolded for whatever they did wrong, they will deliberately do wrong only to get attention, even if it's negative attention. That is not to say that you neglect your cat, but the mechanism is similar.

I would try entertaining your cat more. For example, you could feed them by hiding the food all over the place instead of presenting it all in a bowl. Putting up random cardboard boxes with some cat-sized holes makes a great cat adventure playground (that can also involve hidden food). You can redirect the destructive energy by making DIY food dispenser toys like this example. There are mechanical ball toys that move around on their own. A toy on a fishingrod-like stick works great.

Usually cats are less active than dogs, so you should be able to exhaust him this way. Try it out and see if the screaming improves.

And lastly, if you manage even the slightest improvement, I would introdice negative reinforcement (aka punishment), but never in a physical way. You must never hurt your cats or they lose trust in you, which can take years to repair.

Instead, I would shut the cat out of the room as soon as it starts screaming. I know you write that it's screaming constantly right now, so this method cannot work right now. Your cat needs to calm down enough for you to reward it and as soon as it starts vocalizing again, you move it out of the room and shut the door.

To get anywhere in the training, I suggest talking with your vet about admionistering a mild, slow acting tranquilizer. There are special products for cats that take 5 - 10 days to start taking effect and are designed for stressful events like moving houses or fireworks. I think it's worth a try in your case.

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    Excellent points, I'd add that in order to break cycles like this one, one of the most powerful tools available to us is the cats love for routine, ritual and reliability. Having play sessions at set times during the day, using the same ritual to reinforce them, and reliably having them without ever missing a day works wonders for preventing the cat pestering you constantly for attention. Since it doesn't have to if its part of a reliable daily routine.
    – bgse
    Commented Jun 22, 2022 at 0:10
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    Excellent points and I will definitely try some of them out. Re: boredom - this cat is insatiable, He spends 6-8 hours outside murdering chipmunks, climbing trees, chasing/watching the chickens, and the rest of the time (that isn't spent screaming) is in boxes, on scratching posts, or collecting spiderwebs in the drop ceiling. There's no way I can provide more entertainment Commented Jun 22, 2022 at 12:26
  • Also - re: the locking the cat out of the room, it seems he knows he's being an ass. He will be destructive, and has learned when he's about to be locked out, and will run away so as not to be picked up and locked out of a room. I'm starting to genuinely believe this cat is the incarnation of chaotic evil Commented Jun 22, 2022 at 12:30
  • @BrydonGibson how many chipmunks are we talking about? One or two kills now and then are okay because cats are insatiable murderers but you are responsible for limiting your cats bloodlust.
    – ck1987pd
    Commented Jun 22, 2022 at 13:14
  • I am limiting bloodlust. It's one/two a week plus the same in mice when it gets cold outside. He's dropping them on my chest as a morning gift but I'm well aware that's not a behavior I can change. Commented Jun 22, 2022 at 14:45

This sounds like a tricky situation.

While it is important to avoid negative reinforcement, it's still worthwhile making sure your cat knows it when he does something you don't agree with, especially when you're losing sleep and having things damaged. You can still reward for positive behaviour. Unfortunately, if your cat is naturally very vocal, it may not matter how long you do this for.

Like the previous comment mentioned, if your cat has had a change in behaviour then its best he sees a vet.

As for your other cat, it makes sense that he's become more vocal as he's seen how being vocal will get him treats (as he is not aware that you're rewarding for silence, as far as he knows you are rewarding for being vocal). It's worthwhile noting here that some species of cat are more vocal than others.

I wish you all the best.

  • This behavior is not new, it's just been a slow build as it's increasingly impossible to continue to positively reinforce. A vet visit may be in order for a checkup anyways, but I don't believe that's the issue. The other issue is that as soon as I go to get treats to positively reinforce, the screaming starts again Commented Jun 21, 2022 at 15:08
  • With repetition and time he should adjust. Out of experience I would say reward for all good behaviour whether it be treats or simply patting him where he likes it. Of course if you're rewarding with treats then these should be spaced out. Some ideas may be to keep treats in different places in the home, regularly move the stash, or keep them in your pocket. Commented Jun 21, 2022 at 19:37

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