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Healthy Cats

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When Your Cat Wakes You Up

How to curb your kitty’s early morning antics.

Cats Gambling for Attention

By waking you up, your cat achieves certain goals:

  • It's made something exciting happen, even if it is only grumbling or movement.
  • It gets social interaction, no matter how you respond.
  • It gets fed.

"The cat meows for food," Johnson-Bennett says, "so you get up and throw some food in the bowl so you can go back to bed. What you’ve done, though, is cemented that behavior. Even if you wait as long as you possibly can, the cat thinks, ‘Well, that took a ridiculous amount of time, but she finally got up and fed me.'"

According to Katherine Miller, PhD, a certified applied animal behaviorist with the ASPCA, this process -- called intermittent reinforcement -- mirrors how slot machines work. "If you pull that handle 50 times, and the slot machine pays off," she says, "then next time you’re going to be willing to pull it at least 51 times, or 52, or 100 times before you start to think it isn’t paying off. So, the delayed gratification can actually reinforce the behavior more than immediate gratification."

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.

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