Sleep is a most precious commodity for most of us but somehow our cats don’t see it that way, certainly not in the same way we do. When we’re at work, they’re asleep; when we’re desperate for that last hour of deep sleep before the alarm sounds, they’re at their most active.
Cat owners have all experienced the pre-dawn paw on the face, the indignant dawn meow, the mighty mattress leap, the crockery crash, the lip nip and the frustrated feline yowl. They’re impossible to ignore. So we drag ourselves out of bed and attend to our darlings’ demands.
Sleep eludes them
Essentially nature has not synchronised our schedules. Cats like to ramp up activity in the early morning and at dusk because they are crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk). This tendency is inherited from their wild feline ancestors and is thought to be an adaption that makes cats most active when other dangerous predators (who are nocturnal) are not.
However, just because it’s in your cat’s genes doesn’t mean you’ll never sleep a full night again. Schedules can be adapted and new habits developed. But before you attempt to train your cat to choose a new schedule, it is absolutely imperative that you make certain that her disturbing you is not due to pain or illness on her part.
Be sure to take your cat for regular vet checkups, regardless of whether or not she ‘seems’ ill. Cats are masters at hiding disease because they instinctively avoid showing illness/weakness to avoid predation. It’s that instinct kicking in again. All cats need to have a full veterinary exam at least once a year.
If you work all day and your cat is left at home with little to do he is apt to lack mental and physical stimulation. Yet, his genes are wired to stalk and hunt. Now that his foods need are met with that full bowl in the kitchen, there’s nothing for him to do. Prioritise your cat or kitten’s need to think and move. Make a daily habit of play time that involves stalking and apprehending.
Toys are a great start
There are a variety of toys that make cats chase and pounce. A busy cat is more likely to sleep well and a happy cat is more likely to be calm, especially if you are (like when you are sleeping). EberVet Vetshops stock a wide variety of toys – from feathered birds tethered to sticks and string to catnip mice and flash balls.
When play is done, feed your cat her regular meal, so she is not feeling driven to seek food from you. Then, help her gear down with some relaxing grooming and quiet time. When it is time for bed, you might need to restrain her away from you so that you do not inadvertently reward her disruption. Even if all you do is grumble when your cat wakes you, she gets a reaction from you and that reaction might be enough to reward her behaviour. Whatever you do, if you want to adjust your cat’s wake time, do not get up to dump food in her bowl to quiet her. If you do, you are training her to continue this undesirable action.
The most important thing to consider is that sometimes a cat’s waking you or crying at night is due to illness or pain. Senior cats suffering from dementia, kidney disease and hyper-thyroidism have all been reported to increase night-time activity. Any cat that suddenly develops this habit must be seen by a vet as soon as possible. All of your efforts to re-train bad habits will fail if an underlying medical condition exists and frustration will undermine your bond with your cat.
Source: Kathryn Primm, DVm