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

WhiteCat

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 http://www.vetstreet.com/learning-food-puzzles#1_ytpzeppp ]. 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.

Management

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.

Summary

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.

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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.