What was that noise?
A crash in the night, the sound of a door opening and your cupboards being raided. No, there is no burglar in your house; your cat just has a case of the nighttime crazies again!
I get letters all the time from people who don’t know how to tame nighttime antics of their feline friends. It’s really as simple as understanding why your cat has these tendencies, then learning what you can do to solve the problem before it gets out of control.
Why Cats Are Active at Night
Cats are actually at their most active during dusk and dawn; in the wild this is the time of day when they would be out hunting for food. The term for this is crepuscular – it is actually a myth that cats are nocturnal.
When cats do not get what they need during the day, it kicks their antics into overdrive at night. They are not ready to settle into blissful slumber at night if they have unspent energy leftover, and/or needs left unmet.
So, what is your cat trying to tell you he needs in order to be ready to sleep at night?
- Play with Me: a cat that is home alone all day long tends to sleep. So, when you come home from work, he is ready to be alive and vibrant. He wants to run around and play, and of course he will focus all of that energy on you. If your cat still doesn’t get to run out all his pent-up energy, he will try to engage you when you are a “sitting duck”, when you are lying in bed at night trying to get some rest. Have some self-play activities and toys for your cat so he isn’t at home sleeping all day. When you get home from work, take a few minutes to play with him, give him love and attention, and maybe a special treat that he gets only at that one time of the day.
- Feed Me: A hungry cat can be an annoying cat. It’s true! If you have a hungry cat on your hands, there will be no peace until he is fed. Soon he will be batting at your toes, acting as if they are prey and he is looking forward to the kill. Remember a cat’s natural rhythm is wake, hunt, eat, groom, sleep. So, if you play with him and then feed him just before bedtime, he will likely have used his pent-up energy PLUS he will have a full tummy. He will surely drift off the sleep, and stay asleep through the night (just like a baby!)
- His Pay Off: You’ve played with him, you’ve fed him, you’ve spent all kinds of money on fancy toys. Still, your cat insists on being active in the middle of the night. Now what? Congratulations, your cat has successfully trained you to give him what he wants: attention. My friend Linda has been trained by her recent adoptee, Kizzy. Kizzy was left outside before he was rescued, and was very much in need of extra love and affection. He’s in the habit now of waking Linda up in the middle of the night for purrs and snuggles, and he gets his payoff every time. So now Linda can’t sleep! What to do about a habit like this? It won’t be easy, but you have to ignore your kitty. Cats can be real buttheads when they want something, and they can be absolutely relentless until they win. But if you can resist giving in and give him zero attention for his antics, he will learn there is no payoff coming, and the behavior will stop. This is very hard to do, may take a while, and is not for the tender hearted! But it works.
- Spay/Neuter Me: Cats who are not spayed or neutered will most definitely become restless at nighttime. Unaltered males will do almost anything to get outside when they sense a female in heat is nearby, and the females stand outside yowling to announce themselves. I’ve heard of male cats breaking out screen doors to get outside to a female, that’s how strong the mating drive is for them. One of the best ways to curtail feline nighttime noise and activity is to spay and neuter.
- I Don’t Feel Good: If your cat seems to be more restless than playful at night, it may be time to see your veterinarian. It’s when your house is quiet that you will notice his discomfort more. There are certain illnesses, such as hyperthyroid and diabetes, that will increase restlessness as their hunger and thirst is heightened. Your cat may also roam around because he is in pain. Getting your cat to the veterinarian and on proper treatment will quell his nighttime restless behavior.
These small changes in your cat’s routine and environment will pay off in a big way. A quiet house at night and a purring kitty by your side will soon lull you to sleep, too.
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