Excessive nocturnal activity in cats

Over the years we have all kinds of concerns from loving cat owners who are at their wit's end because their favourite feline keeps them awake all night long. Typical complaints include cats that nibble or even attack the owner's ears or toes in bed, time vocalisation, or explosive, uncontrollable play sessions across the furniture and/or owners during the night or early morning. If you count yourself as one of these unfortunate pet owners, here's a few tips to help settle your cat at night.

So why are some cats more active at night time?

Since many owners are out at work or school during the day a cat may spend most of the daytime resting and relaxing, especially if they are the only pet in the household. The cat's day then begins when their family arrives home to provide the food, companionship, play and social interaction.

How can I stop my cat from keeping me up at night?

The first thing you can do is encourage play and feeding during the daytime and evening hours, so your cat's schedule more closely matches that of your family. Here's a few tips to get you started:-

  • Keep your cat awake and active by playing, feeding and interacting with him/her throughout the afternoon and evening.
  • Discourage evening catnaps.
  • Do not provide food through the night as this can encourage a cat to stay awake.

If your cat continues to disturb you during the night, consider confining your cat away from the bedroom. Making sure he/she has access to a comfortable sleeping area, water and a litter tray. If your cat remains awake and continues to keep you awake, provide ample opportunity for scratching, climbing and play. Eventually he/she will become tired and fall asleep.

You have confined your cat, but he/she is still vocal?

Cats that are vocal when locked out of the bedroom must be ignored. Going to your cat or giving attention in any way will only serve to reward the demanding behaviour. If your cat is overly vocal, you can attempt to relocate him/her in a sound proof area such as a bathroom or laundry.

Your cat continues to scratch at your bedroom door

Cats that scratch or bat at the bedroom door can be kept away by the use of an upside down carpet runner, or you can also try a motion detector to startle your cat if it approaches your bedroom door (although it could disturb you too).

Sleeping outside of the bedroom is not an option, what now?

You must remember that any attention whatsoever will further reinforce your cat's behaviour. It is absolutely essential you do not provide your cat with affection, attention or try to calm him/her.

If your cat persists or the behaviour escalates to a point where it cannot be ignored, you can try using a deterrent. Use a water sprayer, air horn or loud sudden noise to startle and quickly deter your cat as soon as they display inappropriate behaviour. We suggest trying this as an absolute last resort.

We do not endorse punishment as it is generally contraindicated in cats. Punishment that is too mild is likely to be ineffective and may actually serve to provide enough play or attention to reward the behaviour. Punishment that is too harsh on the other hand could lead to an increase in anxiety, fear of the owner and even aggression.

Is there medication that might help?

If all else fails and your cat does not sleep through the night with behavioural techniques alone, we may be able to provide some medication to help your cat fall asleep for the first few nights to help create a routine. Please contact our healthcare team if you are concerned about your cat, we are more than happy to assist you and make further suggestions based on your cat's individual breed, age and environment.

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Pet library topic(s): 
Behaviour

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