Does Your Cat Go Nuts at Night?

It’s the middle of the night and the “Kitty 500” has begun – the cats are running top-speed through the house, bringing toys to the bedroom, jumping on the bed, and possibly even attacking your ears or toes.

What is going on??

Some cats seem to be most active at night or very early in the morning. But when you think about their schedule – and yours – it’s not that surprising.

When people go off to work or school during the day, their cats may happily snooze the day away, waking up when their people return. That’s when their day begins: an evening of feeding, social interaction, and play. Cats are crepuscular hunters – that is, they explore and hunt at dusk and dawn when their prey is most active – so this fits well.

But then they’re wide awake when you want to be asleep. Some people attempt to quiet their cats in the night by giving a little food or affection, or even chasing them out of the bedroom. All of these reinforce the behavior because they’re being rewarded with snacks or attention.

So how do you turn it around?

  • Since nighttime play can be attention-seeking behavior, make sure you are meeting your cat’s needs for attention at other times of the day.
  • Play with your cat during the day or evening – social play with chase toys is especially important.
  • Reward-based training is a fun way to interact with your cat, since it stimulates her mind and gives her the attention she craves.
  • Discourage naps in the evening – if you find your cat comfortably sleeping, try to catch her attention with a chase toy or other activity.
  • Provide fun things to do during the day, like a foraging toy with some of her food, and other toys that she loves to play with on her own.
  • Take her noisy independent toys away at night.
  • If she routinely bothers you for food early in the morning, you could get a timed-feeding device and set it to dispense some breakfast at 5 am.
  • If you lock her out of the bedroom but she scratches at the door, you can put an upside-down carpet runner – the kind with the hard plastic projections that are meant to grip carpet – outside the door to make it an uncomfortable place to be, but take care not to step on it if you get up in the night!
  • It’s okay to confine your cat to another room in the house as long as all of her needs are met. This includes food, water, litter, comfy sleeping surfaces, and a climbing tree – but it also includes meeting her needs for socialization during the day and evening!

Whatever you do, don’t give her attention in the night. Don’t call to her if she is vocal, and don’t respond to her requests for affection. In most cases, once she learns the household sleeping schedule and doesn’t get attention in the night, she will adjust her sleeping schedule and be more settled in the night.