Why is my cat meowing at night? I just want to sleep!
- Cat Myth #1 Cats are nocturnal (most active at night).
- Cat Fact #2 Cats are crepuscular (most active at dusk and dawn)
“Even with your head buried under a pillow, that meow can sound like an airplane during takeoff. The cat will relentlessly try to pass himself off as a rooster until you show signs of waking up to give him attention or feed him. Why? Maybe his internal hunting clock has been set to go off around dawn.”
—excerpt from The Cat Whisperer
It’s not uncommon for my clients at The Cat Behavior Clinic to tell me that they have not had a good night’s sleep in several years. Their cats have been routinely waking them up all throughout their sleep by meowing at night, especially between the wee hours of 3 and 5 a.m. This common feline behaviour can occur because of a cat’s natural instincts, because of other factors at play, or both. Some cat breeds are chattier than others and breed disposition may also factor into night-time interruptions. A good night’s sleep has become a thing of the past for many cat owners and they are happy to get even four hours of sleep each night. Some of my clients have practically fallen asleep driving to work in the morning due to not getting enough sleep!
Common reasons for your cat’s nighttime vocalizations:
- Your cat’s internal hunting time clock is set for morning (between 3 and 5 a.m. to be exact) instead of in the evening time.
- Your cat is not active enough during the day and therefore is more awake at night.
- The last feeding of the day for your cat is too early and your cat’s body is waking him up early in the morning due to hunger.
- Change of environment (e.g. you’ve moved to a new home and there is more light coming through the windows in the morning than in your previous home, which is waking your cat up earlier).
- Change in schedule (yours or his).
- You’ve reinforced the meowing at night behaviour by giving your cat attention which can prolong the meowing behaviour once it starts.
- Health issues may be at play, especially if the behaviour has suddenly surfaced with no changes in the cat’s environment.
What you can do to get your cat to sleep through the night and past the wee hours of the morning.
Feed later in the evening. If you feed your cat on a schedule during the day, be sure to feed the last meal of the day a few hours later into the evening. Or, for example, it could be that you will need to divide your cat’s current last meal of the day into two servings—one being given at 5 p.m. and the last portion given at 10 p.m. This can help your cat feel more satiated throughout the night and into the morning.
Keep your cat awake more during the day. Enlist the help of a timed-feeder to feed your cat a few times a day. Spacing meals a few hours apart can help keep your cat awake more during daylight hours. No cat should go several hours in between meals during the day. There are timed-feeders available for both canned cat food and dry. Incorporating a food puzzle into the daily feeding—the Stimulo by Aikiou is my favourite—is also another option to help keep your cat stay awake more during the day. He will have to work at getting the food and this will take longer than simply eating it out of a bowl.
Simply put, if your cat is keeping busy and is awake more hours during the day, he naturally will sleep more hours during the night and even later into the morning. This means more sleep for you too!
Reset your cat’s internal hunting time clock. Getting your cat to “hunt” (aka: playing with cat toys) can be an important strategy to resetting the hunting time clock to evening instead of morning. To reset it to evening, use a wand toy (the Playful Panther is my favourite) to play with your cat in the evening before bedtime. It can take several days of this strategy before you start to notice any effect.
Ignore the behaviour. Once the meowing behaviour starts, it’s important to not reinforce the behaviour by giving any form of attention to your cat. If you do, you can end up training your cat to meow even more and create a real problem. If your cat is accustomed to getting a response from you when he meows, once you stop giving him attention for the meowing behaviour he will try twice as hard to get your attention. This is called an extinction burst or the “it gets worse before it gets better” phenomenon. Be patient. This can last a few weeks, but continue to ignore the behaviour no matter what and it should get better.
Medical Alert: Please have your cat checked out by your vet. Health issues that could cause cats to meow excessively include thyroid issues, kidney problems, diabetes, arthritis, tooth pain, or any other kind of pain.
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