It is natural for a cat to be active in the evening and early morning hours, and this pattern can fit very well into the lifestyle of a guardian who works full time. Early in the morning, your furry companion is happy to see you finally awake, to chat over breakfast, and to help you choose a pair of socks or earrings to match your outfit. While you are at work, he or she whiles the hours away, dozing or looking out the window. Then, as soon as you come home, the furry one is ready for action again, eager to supervise dinner preparations, leap for a feather, chase a ball, read your email over your shoulder, enjoy a brushing or a belly rub, and generally remind you of why you decided to share your life with a cat in the first place.
Most cats also wake up occasionally during the night. My own cat Akashi is a classic night squawker, hallway racer, and racket maker. I personally find such indications of her vigor reassuring.
But what if you’d rather have a cat who is awake by day and who sleeps at night? What if evening and morning activity is fine, but nighttime athletics or meowing interferes with your preferred rhythms or a baby’s sleep?
If you haven’t yet adopted a cat, consider welcoming an older individual, who is likely to be more sedentary at all times of day and night. If you are adopting from a rescue where the cats are in foster care, be sure to ask the foster mom whether the cat that interests you is especially active at night. One of the most valuable services a rescue like PPCR can provide is help in choosing a cat whose personality is a good match for your own. Consider adopting two cats as a pair, so they can keep each other company at times when you would rather not be disturbed.
If, however, the cat in question is already a part of your life, do not despair! There are numerous articles, on various websites, with suggestions for dealing with nocturnal behaviors.
Most articles on nocturnal activity in cats include suggestions like the following:
- (Most Important) If you want your cat to sleep through the night or most of it, try to ensure that the cat is as active as possible by day. Make a point of scheduling a lively play session before you go to sleep, so that your cat is actually tired at bedtime, and discourage evening naps.
- If your cat wakes you in order to be fed, consider serving dinner late or leaving food out for midnight snacking.
- If your cat thinks 2am is a splendid time for conversation, play dead or otherwise desist from responding. Lavish attention and affection on your cat during the evening hours, so that he or she is less likely to regard the wee hours of the morning as the only time you are not “otherwise occupied.”
- If necessary, do not allow your cat into your room at night, and create a buffer area to prevent your cat from knocking on your bedroom door. Some people create a comfy nest area for the cat somewhere away from the bedroom, and certain manufacturers sell soft, luminous toys for quiet nighttime play.
A few articles also suggest spritzing the cat with water by way of connecting an unwanted behavior with an unpleasant consequence, but remember that any action that the cat construes as punishment—any action that increases the cat’s anxiety–might result in other behaviors such as inappropriate elimination, which most cat guardians appreciate even less than a midnight serenade!
Of course, it is important to consider whether the behavior is new for your cat and, if so, what recent change in the environment might account for it. Is there a neighborhood cat or raccoon on the prowl outside? Are there mice scampering in the area? Does the cat show any signs of physical discomfort (an especially important consideration if the cat seems unsettled not only at night but also during the day)? You might need to take steps like closing the drapes, in the case of night prowlers, or scheduling a visit to the veterinarian to rule out illness.
Most importantly, try to be patient. Remember that your cat is not being naughty; he or she is being asked to make a challenging accommodation to your preferences. Every step toward the goal—for that first meow of the morning to sound at 4am instead of 2am, for example–is reason to feel encouraged.