When you find yourself hiding out in your mercifully quiet car to do your taxes, you realize that it’s finally happened. Your cat has finally managed to meow you off the deep end.

It began nicely enough: Your cat would yowl now and again before coming in for a quick pat. Then, he began meowing before dinner; a few days later, after dinner. You thought it was normal – cute, even. You changed your mind once he started howling at the wall at three o’clock in the morning. Now, you’re hiding from your own feline best friend for some peace and quiet, wondering how the situation got to be this bad – and more importantly, how you can fix it.

All hope is not lost!

Cats vocalize for a variety of reasons, but they rarely do so out of sheer contrariness. Because so much of their communication with other felines is based in body language, full-grown cats don’t need to meow at each other; rather, they only do so if they want to convey something to their human. If your cat begins yowling out of the blue, you should go through the following basic checklist to narrow down the cause:

Food

Is it past feeding time? Cats will often meow to indicate their hunger or to express their interest in food you may be preparing for yourself. Don’t let your cat turn into a beggar! If they begin meowing for food even after they’ve been fed, try not to feed them scraps or give in to the howling. Otherwise, you might just reinforce the behavior!

Attention

Contrary to what popular opinion might hold, cats aren’t naturally aloof animals. Much like dogs or even humans, cats need plenty of stimulation and attention to feel secure and happy. If your cat meows when you come back from work, give them a quick pet or cuddle! A lack of attention can be especially difficult for indoor and solitary cats who lack the stimulation an outdoor cat might enjoy. If you think your cat’s meowing stems from loneliness or boredom and can’t be solved by you alone, consider getting another cat and investing in some new cat toys!

Outdoors

As I just mentioned, indoor environments can be hard on cats. The inside of a house only offers so much stimulation, and a cat can quickly get bored if it isn’t challenged or entertained on a daily basis. If you have a yard, try building a secure outdoor enclosure! This will provide your cat with a safe space to explore and play.

If none of these reasons seem to suit your situation, there might be a more serious problem at work. Older or disabled cats will sometimes meow from mental confusion or pain. If you have a young cat that hasn’t been spayed or neutered yet, you could be dealing with a cat in heat. The latter isn’t a big deal – although you should get your cat fixed to avoid any accidental litters!

When in doubt, you should always take your cat to the vet to ensure the health of your feline friend.