Cat waking you up at 4am? You’re not alone. For many cat parents, alarm clocks are completely unnecessary because they can depend on their cat waking them up, demanding to be fed. This routine is made even more frustrating when there is already food in the bowl.
If you can count on your cat waking you up at dawn, I am here to help you sleep in.
Why do so many cats perform this pre-dawn routine? Because nature hardwired them that way to survive. Cats are crepuscular hunters. That means they are innately motivated to hunt when their prey is most available—dawn and dusk. Your cat did not get the memo that this survival instinct is not necessary in your condo where the food bowl is never empty. With food in the bowl, why does your cat feel the need to wake you to add more?
For a cat, a meal is not just about the food, it’s about the hunt. To survive in nature, one cat has to hunt, catch, kill, and eat eight to12 mice or small prey every single day. This predatory sequence of hunt, catch, play/kill, and eat a tiny meal is required for satisfaction. So, when the predawn call to the hunt comes, the kibble in the bowl holds no appeal. Your cat satisfies the predatory sequence by waking you and getting you to top off the dish. Only then is the meal worth eating.
Watch: Dr. Liz Bales explains why your cat is meowing—and how to stop it!
Others have recommended playing with your cat and feeding them before bed, and then ignoring any attempts your cat makes to get you up. How is that working out for you? You can not un-cat a cat. What you can do is provide them with a way to fulfil their instincts that lets you fulfil yours!
Teach your cat how to use a hunting feeder.* Then, hide the feeders around your house before turning in for the night. Now, your cat can spend the night the way nature intended—hunting, catching, and playing with small portions of food before eating them, and you get to spend the night the way nature intended for humans—sleeping! Finally, your cat can hunt for its feeders, instead of you!!!!
One more thing. Cats eight years old and older can develop hyperthyroidism. This condition can cause cats to be more active, hungry, and vocalize at night. Take your cat to the vet for an examination and possibly some bloodwork to rule out any medical causes, just to be sure!
Dr. Liz Bales, VMD, is a graduate of The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and is Modern Cat’s Chief Veterinary Adisor. She has a special interest in the unique behavioural and wellness needs of cats. She is also the founder of Doc and Phoebe’s Cat Company and the inventor of The Indoor Hunting Feeder* for cats.
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