Behaviour

How To Stop Pesky Night-Time Meowing


In case you've had enough of your furry alarm clock

Cat Myth Cats are nocturnal (most active at night)

Cat Fact 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 the night and 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. 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!

No cat should go several hours in between meals during the day. Cats are designed to eat frequently, not just twice a day.

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.

• Your cat’s last feeding of the day 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 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. Cats are designed to eat frequently, not just twice a 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.

Check out Mieshelle Nagelschnider’s clinic here!

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6 Comments

  • Tracey

    I’ve tried all of this with no luck. My Siamese seems to be suffering separation anxiety when we go to bed. I also think he has cabin fever, he’s not like this when I can keep the window open at night. He meows constantly and when he finally stops, he starts all over again within 2 hrs….Every. Night. Needless to say, I can no longer function on only 3 hrs sleep a night. He’s going to the vet tomorrow and hopefully we’ll find a resolution.

  • Tony

    Tracey I have the same issue. What happened after your Vet visit?

  • Kerry

    I have adopted a 11/2 year old stray who was living outside in a storage closet. I have had her for 3 months have not had a good nights sleep. I started giving her 3 meals and the last one later in the evening after playtime and she is still up anywhere from as early as 2 am! She scratches at the bedroom door something terrible. I have had her to the Vet and she is fine. I understand you are supposed to ignore the cat but it is hard to do if you live in a apartment and are surrounded on 4 sided by other tenants who hear the cat. At this point, it will break my heart but I am going to have to give her back to the cat rescue I got her from because I can’t function not getting a decent nights sleep.

  • Aly

    Tracey, did your vet have anything to say about your cat? We’ve tried everything too, I’m worried our apartment neighbors can hear him yelling at night! Our cat just wants to play constantly. He won’t tire out. He hasn’t trained well to silent treatments. In fact those just encourage him more :/ I’m considering calming fragrances for cats as well. I hope we find something that works

  • Katie

    I have a kitten (7 months old) who we adopted a month ago. He grew up on wet food but I have been weening him off of it. Each morning before I can even move, he comes in meowing to be fed but has not even finished his meal from the night before. I live in an apartment complex and am not sure who to quiet his meows. This is also the 2nd type of dry food we have tried, both he has done the same with. Please, please let me know of any tips or tricks. Do you think this sounds like a medical issue?

  • Daniel s

    Same here , only had her two days and I’m thinking of giving her to the society for animals , she recently had a kitten or more not sure and she’s in a new environment ( my house ) it’s not bad bad but constant and only when we go to bed never when we are up, we are caring pet owners already have a cat who is a dream never a problem but this one we pretty much rescued her from abuse and she’s so sweet and calm to us but somehow is trying to make herself feel better by meowing or something tops and trick for making it less frequent/loud

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