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When Your Cat Wakes You Up

How to curb your kitty’s early morning antics.

Training Kittens

You can prevent nighttime activity in kittens if you understand that kittens go all out, then crash. "With kittens," Johnson-Bennett says, "it’s bursts of energy. They go 90 miles per hour, and then they fall asleep."

Johnson-Bennett suggests creating a routine based on a "cycle of four," in which kittens get everything they need before bedtime:

  1. Hunt: Let the cats pretend to hunt by playing with interactive toys.
  2. Feast: Let the cats eat the final portion of their meal, either in a bowl or from an activity feeder.
  3. Groom: Grooming helps the cats unwind
  4. Sleep: At the end of the routine when it's bedtime, the cats fall into a nice slumber.

You might also consider crate training,  a mainstay of puppy training that Terri A. Derr, DVM, recommends for kittens as well. Crates can prevent mischief and help kittens learn that nighttime is quiet time.

"If you’ve got a laid-back cat or one whose behavioral needs are being met, then I wouldn’t be quite so concerned [that] the kitten continues to sleep in the crate once you’ve established the pattern," Derr, who runs Veterinary Behavior Options in Minneapolis, says.

Training Adult Cats

Annoying as nighttime and early wake-ups are, try seeing them as your cat’s cry for more. When you do, you can offer more of what the cat wants:

  • Social contact
  • Interactive playtime -- try interacting with fishing pole toys
  • Interesting meal delivery -- look into using food puzzle toys
  • Environmental enrichment -- create opportunities for more sights, sounds, smells, and things to do

Johnson-Bennett says her cycle of four - hunt, feast, groom, sleep - also works on adult cats, but it may take longer and require more patience. In fact, it’ll get worse before it gets better. Called an extinction burst, cats ramp up behaviors that have worked in the past. So, even if you up the ante on daytime activity and play, you’ll likely have a tough week or two where your cat ups the ante as well.

Tynes suggests confining your cat to another room at night until the cycle of attention-seeking behavior subsides.

Save Your Sanity

Miller recommends these strategies to help you cope during the time you're training your kitten or cat:

  • Ear plugs or white noise machine
  • A box fan placed outside the bedroom door (blowing outward as a deterrent)
  • An automatic feeder set to release food at certain times
  • Room-darkening shades because sunlight at dawn or even street lights in urban areas can trigger activity

"You can ignore [your cat's] attention-seeking behaviors at night, and you should ignore it once you’ve set up other options," Johnston Bennett says. "But you cannot just ignore it and leave that vacuum there because he’ll end up doing something else out of frustration. Animals generally do not repeat behaviors unless they serve a purpose. So ask, ‘What does my cat need? How can I supply it in a way that satisfies us both?’ If you just keep shooing him off the bed, it’s never going to change."

One caveat: If your cat suddenly develops annoying nighttime habits, it could be a sign of a medical problem, including pain, infection, or hyperthyroidism. Check with your veterinarian right away.

Reviewed on April 13, 2011

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