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Cats That Go Bump in the Night

Imagine having an insensitive housemate that makes a racket all night but then sleeps all day.  Unfortunately for some cat owners, this is exactly what they have since cats are naturally nocturnal creatures that love to prowl, stalk and play all night and then sleep during the day oblivious to the red and puffy eyes of their tormented housemates.  Unlike some housemates though, cats can be taught house rules and can have their body clock reset.

A cat is always going to need an active time within a 24 hour period but being nocturnal, this usually occurs in the middle of the night.  Aiming to change this behaviour so that it will be active in the middle of the day takes patience but it is possible to shift its active phase to a more suitable time of the day so that at least the cat won’t use the bed as a bouncy castle and feet as prey.

As with all behaviour problems, the first thing to do is not to make matters worse by reinforcing the behaviour.  For example, if you interpret the cat meowing madly and catapulting itself (excuse the pun) around the kitchen as meaning that it is hungry, your response of getting out of bed to feed it will just about guarantee that the cat will do exactly the same thing the next night as its bad behaviour has been rewarded.  Or, if the cat is tapping you with its paws in bed or chasing your feet under the covers and your response is to talk to it and give it a pat or a hug, it will enjoy the fact that you are awake and sure enough, the next night you will be woken again.

Whilst it is important to be aware of the cat’s needs, try to ignore this behaviour in the middle of the night and instead play with it, feed it or hug it earlier in the evening.

Most cats will sleep all day and by the middle of the evening will start to wake up, have a stretch and be ready for play.  It will be ready to go back to sleep at about the time that the family wakes up in the morning.

As simple as it seems, not allowing the cat to sleep all day will make it more tired at night time so spend a week or two pestering it to wake up to play during the day like it does you at night.  Gently wake the cat when it’s sleeping and coax it into a game with string, ping pong balls, wands or toys.  Teach it a new trick such as climbing a scratch pole or walking on a lead.  Eventually, the cat will sleep at night simply because it is tired from its busy day.

If the cat is left on its own during the day, try some of the new interactive toys that are available such as crinkle bags, the ‘egg ball’ or ‘mouse fur on a spring’ which all use perpetual motion to entice the cat to play but remember to put these away at night so that it can’t continue to play with them.  Alternatively, make sure that everyone in the household makes a concerted effort to get the cat playing as soon as they get home in the afternoon to try to tire it out for the evening.

Cats love to sit in the window and watch the birds in the trees or the activity of the neighbours, all the time staying alert and awake during the day.  Encourage this by putting a tall scratch pole which has a ledge or box at the top near the window for the cat to sit on whilst everyone else is at work.

For ‘only cats’, consider getting it another cat as a playmate so they will both play together and reduce the focus on you.  However, be warned, although this might work, if both cats get into the cycle of sleeping during the day, it might also cause double trouble since two cats can make a lot more noise at night than one!

Most cats sleep after a big meal so adjust the feeding time to just before bed time.  If the cat usually has a bowl of biscuits available all the time, take this away throughout the day and put it back out at night time.  Consider purchasing a timed feeder that can be set to dispense biscuits once or twice throughout the night so that if the cat is hungry, it will wait by the feeder instead of annoying everyone in the household.  Remember to take into account any extra food the cat receives at night by reducing the amount that it gets during the day.

Many owners close their door at night to stop the cat from getting into the bedroom and using the bed as a playing field but quite often the result is a cat that sits at the door crying or clawing at the timber.  To keep some distance between the cat and the door, place something in front of it that the cat won’t want to walk on such as a PVC chairmat that goes under office chairs on carpet.  If this is placed upside down, the cat won’t want to walk on the tiny little bumps that point upwards.

Some people try the ‘surprise attack’ by using a squirt bottle of fresh water to shock the cat so that it runs away but there are actually cats that enjoy this game and who will happily come back for more.  Cans of compressed air, the type used to dust cameras, can be effective also and often just the hissing sound that they make is enough to make a cat run away.

However, using the surprise attack or just closing the door to the bedroom at night will not work in isolation and could actually make the problem worse by causing the cat to become frustrated and grumpy.  It may begin to play more aggressively and display destructive behaviours such as urinating around the house or scratching furniture.  These are only useful in the very short term but must always be backed up with fun and exhausting playtime at more appropriate times of the day.

Cats are animals of routine.  They will usually eat at the same time every day and spend their daylight hours sleeping in the same places or  watching from the same vantage points so its new timetable of playing earlier in the evening, eating just before bed and then sleeping all night must become the new routine for the cat as well as the family.

Whilst establishing the routine, the cat is still going to want to play in the middle of the night but instead of getting out of bed and reinforcing this behaviour, wait it out and soon, out of tiredness, the cat should go back to sleep of its own volition.  And, over the period of two or three weeks, its own body clock should adjust to sleeping at night and playing during the day.

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