Nighttime Kitties: How to live with a cat and still get a good night’s sleep


If you snooze, you lose.
~English proverb

Whoever thinks of going to bed before twelve o’clock is a scoundrel.
~Samuel Johnson

Whoever thinks of going to bed before twelve o’clock is fair game.
~Lester, the cat

Cats tend to be most active at dusk and dawn, although the dusk activity may extend well into the night. That’s fine for the cat, but not so fine for you if he wants you to be part of his nocturnal activities. Of course if you’re a nighttime animal like Paris Hilton or Justin Bieber, then the sensible cat may be happier and safer in bed on his own.

Why can’t you just sleep through the night

Play and the desire for social interaction are common reasons for a young cat to run about your bed and dance on your head at night – especially if the cat has been home alone all day. Hunger or thirst may cause the your pet to wail, pace and possibly bite you on the nose. If you wake to strange noises in the night, it could be because kitty is just exploring his world, knocking things about as he does. If he wails besides windows or doors he may be stating his displeasure about some neighbor cat who has the gall to poke about in his yard or visit the garbage can buffet. Thumping, pouncing and rapid foot work about the home may suggest you have mousies in the house or fat bugs to chase. If you have an outdoor light, you may occasionally hear him bounce off a window in futile attempts to capture moths or other nighttime creatures. If your cat is a girl about six months old who is rolling about, moaning and screaming like she is dying, you’ll probably need to make an appointment to have her spayed.  Doctor, please help me.

……signed Sleepless in Seattle


Dear Sleepless,

There are a number of ways to address these nighttime dynamos, depending on what the underlying cause might be.

Provide for the cat’s needs

Make sure your cat has food and water available. If he is protesting his lean diet provisions, consider switching over to a high fiber/low calorie diet. You also can try using an automatic food dispenser to periodically provide small meals during the night. Feeding and heavy play sessions just prior to bedtime might help. Set aside more time throughout the day for vigorous play sessions and social interaction. If you don’t have the time to give your kitty all the attention he needs, you can consider adding a second cat of the same age and temperament to keep your the pet busy and entertained. Although there is always the possibility that you could end up with double the trouble.

Environmental enrichment

Provide mental stimulation and keep him busy with food puzzle toys and catnip dispensers [For puzzle toy tips, check out ]. Perches, kitty condos, bags and boxes to explore should keep him out of your face during the night. Occasionally hide treats in them to encourage him to explore. A secured fish tank or a video of birds and other interesting animals might fit the bill for less active cats. Kitty scavenger hunts at bedtime are great for keeping cats busy. Simply hide a dozen small cat treats about the home. Begin in easy to find locations and gradually make them more challenging to find.

Don’t make things worse

Don’t make the mistake of reinforcing the behavior. Feeding the pet, playing with him or giving him any kind of attention when he is performing his repertoire of rude behaviors will only serve to make him more likely to repeat them in the future.

Interrupting the behavior

Some cats are not easily distracted and are so persistent that special tactics must be employed to interrupt the behavior. Very importantly, when choosing something to interrupt the behavior you must be sure that you do nothing that will cause any anxiety. Depending on the pet’s temperament, you might try a squeak toy, whistle, dog whistle, spray bottle or the hissing noise made by a can of compressed air. For cats that get on counters and knock things about, you might consider buying a motion-activated compressed air can to teach him to avoid those areas.


The simplest solution for some situations is to close the bedroom door and allow the pet to entertain himself in the rest of the home during the night. Or confine the pet to an enriched room with toys, perching places, etc. as I mentioned above. Soft paws(TM) can be applied to the cat’s nails to prevent scratching at the bedroom door. You also might consider temporarily using ear plugs, a white-noise machine or a sleep aid to help you get through the night until he learns to quietly remain in the other part of the home while you sleep.

Don’t even think about it

Punishment, yelling at the cat, throwing books at him or thumping him on the nose are not well tolerated and can readily bruise your relationship with the pet. Avoid these or be prepared to lose your pet’s trust and see more serious behavior problems evolve.


Take the time to understand why your pet is bothering you during the night, devise a plan to provide for his needs, manage the environment, interrupt the behavior in an appropriate manner, separate yourself from the cat if necessary and you should soon be counting sheep instead of cursing cats.

Dog Park Preparation and Etiquette

Dogs have been selectively bred over thousand of years for high energy work, such as hunting, guarding, hauling, tracking, controlling pests and other activities. These jobs require intelligence, large amounts of energy and varying degrees of social interaction.  Unfortunately, many modern dogs lack Dog Parka satisfying way to engage in activities for which they have been bred. Inactive dogs can become fat. Bored dogs become problem dogs. Idle paws are certainly the “Devil’s workshop.” Providing physical exercise and mental stimulation is not only healthy for pets, it can also keep them out of trouble. Families living in urban environments may have limited options for satisfying a young dog’s needs. Dog parks  provide a way to exercise mind and body, as well as social interaction. They can also be a lot of fun for their human friends. But dog parks are not for every dog or all family members. Dogs that are fearful, frail, tiny, aggressive or who play too rough are not good candidates. I’ve outlined below some important issues and tips you should take into consideration before taking your dog to a dog park.

Before you consider taking your dog to a dog park:

  • Realize that there is always some risk in allowing your dog to interact with unfamiliar dogs, such as infections, injuries, worms and fleas
  • Decide if your dog a “Dog Park Dog”
    • Dogs that are aggressive are not suitable to visit dog parks.Dog-dominates
    • Is he a bully at play? Watch your dog interact with other dogs to determine his sociability. Does his play make other dogs anxious or elicit defensive aggression? Does he back off when the other dog is giving submissive or fear signals?
    • Is he unruly and likely to jump all over people?
    • Is he in good health?
    • Is his age appropriate? Dog parks are not the place for young pups or frail older dogs.
    • Is he big enough? Small dogs should only be taken to parks designated for small dogs.

Preparing your dog:

  • Socialize your pet to other dogs frequently, especially during the first four months of life.
  • Teach your dog to Come’, ‘Sit’, ‘Stay’ and ‘Leave it’ on command.
  • Be sure all vaccinations are up to date, a flea preventive has been applied and he has been tested for intestinal worms. Frequent visits to dog parks warrant more frequent fecal exams for intestinal parasites.
  • Observe your dog’s behavior around unfamiliar dogs to get an idea if he is a candidate for a dog park visit. (See below)
  • Understand dog body language. Read a good book or internet article that describes how to interpret facial expressions, body postures and social behavior of dogs. You want to be able to recognize signs of play, fear, stress and overt, as well as subtle, signals of aggression.

Choose a dog park that has:

  • Enough area for the pets to run about without being too congested.
  • Secure fences and double gates. Clean, safe environment.
  • Separate areas for large and small dogs.
  • Sheltered areas and water for drinking.
  • Posted rules.

Don’t Take:

  • Young children or babies in strollers
  • Highly valuable toys
  • A small dog to a park with large dogs running loose. Small dogs can trigger predatory behavior from other dogs in some situations.
  • A dog that has not been fully vaccinated
  • A dog to the park to treat aggression to other dogs or fear of other dogs

Do Take:

  • Bags for clean up, water, treats, leash, cell phone, something to break up fights (see below)

At the Dog Park:Dog-Chase

  • Before entering, watch the behavior of other dogs in the park. Avoid entering if any dogs are showing behaviors suggesting aggression or inappropriate play behavior.
  • Observe the behavior of owners. Are they supervising?
  • If possible, wait until no dogs are near the gates before entering.
  • Take the leash off your dog before allowing him to enter through the second gate into the park. A leashed dog may lunge excitedly, sending a message that he could be challenging nearby dogs.  Keeping him on a leash might also make your dog feel vulnerable and the need to defend himself since he can’t escape a barrage of rushing dogs.
  • Leave the gate area quickly so the pet is not rushed by a gang of dogs.
  • Don’t forget about your dog. Pay attention to him, the other dogs and the other dog owners (Are they paying attention to their dogs, yelling at dogs or each other?). Be vigilant for potential problems.  Keep your dog safe.
  • Be careful about giving treats or playing with toys near other dogs.

Addressing problems:

  • If a group of dogs seems to be getting too excited, call your dog to another area of the park.
  • If your dog becomes aggressive, plays too rough or is overwhelmed by more assertive dogs, remove him from the area or the park.
  • If another dog is aggressive to dogs in the park, the owner and the pet should be asked to leave. If the dog appears dangerous and the owner will not remove it, remove your dog and call animal control.
  • An occasional light growl can be an appropriate way of telling another dog it is too close or playing too rough. If the behavior appears to be mild and appropriate for the situation, don’t yell or scold as this can create more tension. Use an upbeat recall, “Come”, to call your pet out of the situation.
  • If a fight breaks out:
    • Stay calm. Fights often end up being less serious than they seem.Dog-Fight
    • Yelling and screaming often make the situation worse
    • Grabbing a dog by the collar should be avoided, since you’re likely to be bitten. Dog bites are serious and can result in a deep puncture, laceration or the loss of a finger.
    • Spray Shield is a safe effective product that will break up most fights. It is a small canister containing citronella (non-toxic, non-irritating, exceptionally safe) under pressure. Triggering the product releases a strong stream. The effect is similar to tossing a small bucket of cold water in the dog’s face. A compressed air horn will also occasionally work to interrupt a fight, as may a water hose.
    • There can be some very serious danger in physically pulling the dogs apart. If you are willing to accept the danger, then:
      • Both pet owners should approach their dogs from the rear to separate the dogs at the same time.
      • From behind, grab the front of the upper thighs where they connect to the body (Grabbing the lower legs can cause an injury.
      • Lift the rear legs off the ground and pull the dogs away from each other.
      • Turn your dog, put his leash on and move away from the situation.

A Dog Shouldn’t Bite the Hand That Feeds It


        As a child I was taught to never bother a dog while he’s eating. Certainly good advice since messing with a dog at dinner time can be asking for trouble. Food-related aggression problems are not uncommon. The success rate for treating them is relatively high, but can entail a significant time commitment and some risk. On the other hand, prevention can be safe and relatively easy.  Here are some tips to insure that your puppy will be relaxed and safe around his food:

Things to do:

  • Make dinner time family time – Don’t ignore the pup when he eats.  Sit on the floor with him.  Feed dry food from your hand.  Occasionally hold the bowl in your lap and allow him to eat.
  • Teach the pup to look forward to having people nearby – Every now and then, drop a small chunk of canned food or lean chicken in his bowl as you stand near or walk by.
  • Associate food with gentle touch and handling – During a few dinners each week, practice getting the pet used to being touched while he’s eating. Gently touch him, then promptly hand a few pieces of food.  Repeat, gradually touching him all over.  The pup learns that touch means food is coming, not being taken away.
  • Feed the pup enough – If you have a healthy pup that has plenty of energy and no health problems, but is thin and acts like he’s starved – then he probably is. Feed him more. Hungry dogs are more likely to guard their food.
  • Socialize frequently – Have friends of all ages visit as often as possible. Ask them to hand feed small amounts of dry food or small treats, piece by piece. Do the same thing when you meet people on walks. When the pup learns to sit, request a sit before they give the food. Poorly socialized dogs are usually anxious around unfamiliar people and the anxiety can be manifested as aggression near food.
  • Start obedience early – Teach the puppy to respond to obedience cues as soon as possible. Enroll in a puppy class at eight to ten weeks of age. Take it through a basic obedience class at six to twelve months of age. Obedient dogs are less likely to be aggressive.
  • Establish a relationship in which the family is in control – Remind the pup that you are in charge by asking him to sit before he gets anything he wants or needs (food, toys, play access to outdoors, social attention). Frequently reinforcing deferential behavior is a safe, effective and humane way of accomplishing this.

Things to avoid:

  • Frequently snatching the food away from the pup while he is eating to show him “you own the food  – This will just irritate the puppy and can actually cause food bowl guarding and aggression. I’d think about biting someone who did that to me!
  • Physical “leadership exercises” – Don’t try to teach the pup you are the boss by rolling him on his back, shaking him by the scruff or by using any other rough techniques. This can cause distrust of people, make the pup hand-shy and lead to defensive aggression.
  • Punishment – Physical corrections and harsh training techniques weaken the bond, cause distrust and can lead to aggression. If your pup growls, do not physically discipline him or harshly scold him. Immediately contact a pet behaviorist for instruction on how to handle the problem.

These techniques should only be used with friendly, young puppies.  They should not be attempted with adult dogs or any dogs that are already showing signs of aggression.  If your pet is already exhibiting aggressive behavior, seek the help of a professional.

Housesoiling Kitties: Tips for protecting soiled areas

CatCats with certain diseases (e.g. bladder infections, diarrhea, constipation) will avoid the litter box due to the discomfort associated with eliminating. Once the medical problems are successfully treated the cat may continue to eliminate away from the box due to the emergence of unacceptable surface or location preferences.

In some cases, you can break the habit and prevent further soiling by cleaning up the odor and changing the behavioral function of the soiled areas. You simply set the areas up so the pet uses them for behaviors that aren’t compatible with eliminating, such as feeding, play, resting, etc. Place food and water bowls, scratching posts, ‘kitty condos’, toys or bedding in the areas. You should also take the pet there for play, to receive treats, massages or to be groomed (assuming he likes to be groomed). After two to eight weeks, depending on the duration of the problem, you can begin removing food bowls and moving the the other objects back to their original places.

Cats and Punishment

Cats don’t do well with punishment, especially interactive social punishment. Swatting, thumping, grabbing and spanking are more likely to cause the pet to be fearful of you and, perhaps aggressive, than to learn your rules.


Yelling isn’t even a good idea. Cat’s often begin exhibiting avoidance behaviors after being yelled at a few times. For example, if you repeatedly yell at your cat for scratching furniture, it won’t be long before you notice that the pet is leaving the room whenever you enter.

Another downside to interactive social punishment is that smart cats quickly learn to be sneaky and only engage in the behavior when family members are not around.

Think positive
You really need to take a positive approach when it comes to shaping a cat’s behavior. If the pet scratches furniture, provide a scratching post and toss a treat to it every time it makes contact. If it gets on counters, provide climbing areas, perches and “kitty condos” for the pet to climb around on. Boxes and paper grocery bags also provide exploration areas to substitute for counter tops. Hide treats in those areas to encourage the pet to explore them.

If using distractions and rewarding desirable behavior doesn’t get the job done, then you may need to consider using something aversive to stop the behavior. But is is very important that you do this in a way so that the cat doesn’t associate anything he dislikes with you.

Stopping behaviors
Cat on furniture
A squirt from a water gun may be helpful to stop unwanted behavior but you should use it without saying anything or looking directly at the cat. If the he doesn’t realize the interruption is coming from you, you are less likely to bruise your relationship with him.

Scraminal - Motion-activated alarm to keep pets off furniture, counters, plants, etc.


There are also products available, like the “Scraminal”, that make a loud noise when a pet gets on a counter top, sofa or Christmas tree. The Scraminal is very effective, and applies a correction without anyone being near the pet. It is one of our more popular behavior products.

Doorknob alarm

Doorknob alarm

Door knob alarms which can be purchased at travel stores, electronic stores and home security stores can also be used to keep cats away from problem areas. They can be hung on trash cans, plants, drapes and pantry door handles.

Alarms should not be used with pets that are extremely sound sensitive or nervous. The volume can easily be reduced, though, by taping gauze over the front surface of the product where the sound comes out.

Still another way to keep a cat off the sofa is to take a section of vinyl carpet protector and turn it upside down so the knubs (which are normally are used to keep it from sliding around on the surface of the carpet) are facing up.

Pet Stores, Puppy Mills and Breeders Who Don’t Care

Puppy Mill Pup - ASPCA

Puppy Mill Pup – ASPCA

Do you want to support puppy mills?  If your answer is no, then don’t buy a puppy from a pet store. According to the ASPCA, HSUS and other humane organizations, the main suppliers for pet store pups are puppy mills.  If you need a refresher about how bad puppy mills are, then visit the  ASPCA site,, for more information.

What if the owners claim that their puppies come from humane, respected breeders.  My answer is no conscientious breeder who has the best interest of his puppies in mind would ever sell to a store. Puppies are just cash crops for any breeder who routinely ships puppies off to pet stores. The ideal situation for the puppy is to go directly from the breeder’s home to the adopting family’s home. Placing a store in between creates inevitable risks for the puppy:

:  Stress depresses the immune system. Suddenly changing the pup’s physical and social environments causes significant stress.  Bringing individual puppies in from a variety of environments increases the likelihood that dangerous viruses or bacteria will be brought into the store. High stress, young animals and viruses – a risky combination. If the breeders are truly interested in a young puppy’s welfare, why would they take the risk?

Socialization issues:  The critical period for socialization for dogs is between four and twelve weeks of age.  Smack in the middle of this period is when most pups are shipped off to stores. This is the period when the pup should be in a calm environment, learning to trust humans. Not the time to be repeatedly picked by a series of strangers in a strange environment, who may not even know how to properly handle the pup. Puppies not sold immediately may end up spending most of the sensitive socialization period in a cage throughout the day and night with limited human contact.  Pups that don’t receive adequate social exposure in the early months of life may never recover and remain cautious, non-trusting and socially fearful throughout their lives.

Housetraining failures: Puppies that are forced to eliminate on their bedding in a small enclosure for weeks or months at a time can be a real challenge to train.  Housetraining is basically surface and location discrimination training. The strategy is to control the puppy’s feeding schedule and manage the pup in the environment at home, so that it only has the opportunity to eliminate in the yard on grass until that is naturally where the pet wants to go.  Puppies that start eliminating on fabric surfaces may always want to eliminate on fabric, carpets, etc. Dogs that don’t get housetrained run the risk of being mistreated or taken to shelters.  Shouldn’t the breeder care about that?

Genetic problems:  Reputable breeders are knowledgeable about potential genetic problems in the breed. They follow the dogs they adopt out and request feedback on any problems so they do not rebreed dogs that have genetic problems. That is unlikely to happen with pups sold through pet stores.

Please take this important information into consideration the next time you’re ready to adopt, and educate your friends who are not knowledgeable about the perils of puppy mills and pups that are sold in stores. Adopt from a shelter or directly from a breeder because buying from a store supports the puppy mill trade.

ASPCA’s Locator Map for Stores That Sell Puppies

Kansas City area purebred and mixed breed rescue groups

Kansas City area shelters

Socialization Tips for Puppies

Study Shows Pet Store Puppies Have More Behavioral Problems

Teaching Your Puppy To Come To You On Cue

Hunthausen (c)Teaching your puppy to reliably come when you call her is the most important cued-response your pet needs to learn. Besides getting her to come to you when you want to share a little loving, it will help get her away dead things she finds in the yard and out of the street if she gets loose – a real lifesaver. The best time to begin teaching this is when the pup is young. It doesn’t take much time, just repetition, and can be done at the pet’s dinner time. 

To call the pet, you first need the pup across the room from you. Toss a piece of kibble five to six feet so the pup chases after it.  After the pet munches the food, say the pet’s name in an upbeat, excited tone, show her a second piece of kibble and wave your hand toward you so the pet runs back to you. Give the kibble, and then repeat. Do this ten or more times at each meal and the pet will be coming on cue in no time. To really strengthen the response, every once in a while give a tiny piece of lean meat or cheese instead of the kibble. As training progresses, gradually phase out the food, but continue exuberant praise.

Next, you will want to proof the pet in different environments and in the presence of gradually more distracting situations. Practice in all rooms of the home, and then in the yard. Once the pup’s vaccinations are up to date begin practicing away from home in parks and other open areas. Attach 50 feet of training line to the collar as a safety measure in case the pup gets distracted and decides to take off after a rabbit.

Avoid weakening the cue
Returning to you on cue should always be a pleasant experience. Never call the pet to scold her or call her in a harsh tone of voice. Young pups are easily distracted, so you don’t want to make the mistake of repeatedly calling them when they are not completely trained and too distracted to respond. Always say the pet’s name before giving the cue. If you say the name loudly in an upbeat tone and are unable to get the pet’s attention, don’t ask her to come. The pup will be unlikely to come on cue if she won’t even look at you. If you need the pup, go get her, but don’t say “Come” over and over again and allow the pet to fail to respond. Just go back to more practice repetitions until the pet is dependable.

Start early, train frequently and proof in gradually more difficult situations. That’s all you need to do to teach your pet to come to you every time you ask.