Ask A Vet: My Cat Wakes Me Up At Night. What Can I Do?

| Published on September 5, 2015

People who live with cats know that their schedules are not 100% adapted to ours. Cats tend to ramp up activity in the early morning and at dusk because they are crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk). They inherited this tendency from their wild feline ancestors and scientists believe it is an adaption that makes cats most active when other dangerous predators (who are nocturnal) are not.

Just because it is a tendency of cats, however, does not mean that we cat owners will never sleep a full night again. Schedules can be adapted and new tendencies developed. Before you attempt to train your cat to choose a new schedule, it is absolutely imperative that you make certain that her disturbing you is not due to pain or illness on her part.

Remember that your tiny hunter is left at home with little to do while you are off doing human things. Your cat is wired to stalk and hunt and now that his food needs are met with no effort on his part, he is apt to lack mental and physical stimulation.

Prioritize your cat or kitten’s need to think and move. Make a daily habit of play time that involves stalking and apprehending. There are a variety of toys that make cats chase and pounce. This is an ideal time to work on any training goals you might have for your cat. It is a myth that cats cannot be trained. If you keep the actions simple at first and make sure your cat knows you will reward her for the right action, the sky is the limit. Cats can learn to sit, wear a harness and walk on a leash.

You must make your goal very clear and reward the right action consistently every time she gets it right.  Be patient. Most importantly, cats have to be taught that yowling is not ever going to get the reward from you.  If she is disturbing you with meowing, make sure she is always quiet before you give her any food reward.

When training and play is done, feed your cat her regular meal, so she is no longer feeling driven to seek food from you. Then, help your cat gear down with some relaxing grooming and quiet time. When it is time for bed, you might need to restrain her away from you so that you do not inadvertently reward her disruption. Even if all you do is grumble when your cat wakes you, he gets a reaction from you and that reaction might be enough to reward his behavior. Whatever you do, if you want to adjust your cat’s wake time, do NOT get up to dump food in his bowl to quiet him. If you do, you are training him to continue the undesirable actions.

The most imperative thing to consider is that sometimes a cat’s waking you or crying at night is due to illness or pain. Senior cats suffering from dementia, kidney disease and hyperthyroidism have all been reported to increase nighttime activity. Any cat that suddenly develops this habit must be evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible. All of your efforts to retrain bad habits will fail if an underlying medical condition exists and frustration will undermine your bond with your cat.


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About The Author: Dr. Kathryn Primm is a practicing small animal veterinarian and practice owner at Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, TN.  She has consulted on articles for national magazines, done numerous radio interviews and appeared on local television. She has contributed to articles for Prevention magazine (April 2015) and Woman’s Day (Feb 2014 and June 2015). Her radio segment Chattanooga Pet Talk airs each week on all the local iHeart Media affiliates. She has a social media presence on TwitterFacebook and Google+ and enjoys interaction with others about her passions, animals and communication.  She has written a book, Tennessee Tails:Pets and Their People. The book received recognition as Runner Up in the Memoirs category at a national book festival. You can read more about Dr. Primm and how to get the best value for your pet care dollar at her website,

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