When Your Cat Keeps You Up at Night

There May Be a Good Reason for the Folly

Does your cat regularly meow or yowl while you are sleeping? Does he play with your feet, use your nightstand as a batting cage, or run down the hallway and up stairs throughout the night? Is his nocturnal activity keeping you awake?

Most people, especially those who are sleep-deprived, believe cats are creatures of the night. But most kitties are actually more awake during the day, says Ilana Reisner, DVM, director of the Behavior Clinic at the Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Housecats gradually adapt themselves to the sleeping patterns of others in their household, she says.

But some cats never adjust. A variety of physical or medical problems can be the cause, such as hyperthyroidism or elderly cognitive impairment. Both can keep your kitty awake, and he, in turn, will probably prevent you from sleeping.

If your cat prowls your house at night, begin your investigation into the problem with a good physical examination by your cats veterinarian.

Behaviorally based overnight activity
If a medical problem is not found, three types of behavioral problems may explain his behavior. First, young healthy cats have a compelling desire to play, often resulting from a lack of play during the day. Such a cat needs more social or physical stimulation. The best solutions usually include more interactive contact with you and more for him to do when hes awake at night. Interaction should include some vigorous play in the evening, such as running and jumping games as well as grooming and petting. Your cat will probably enjoy chasing a crumpled piece of paper or a rolled up sock, and quiet toys (no bells or squeakers) and hidden snacks left for him can enrich his nighttime environment. You might even try feeding his main meal just before you go to bed, leaving dry food for him to free-feed for the rest of the night, says Reisner, who is board certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.

A second reason for nighttime disruption involves a response to the presence of other cats. This may occur with a cat that appears lonely, perhaps yowling during the night, but it rarely involves loneliness, as we understand the condition. In fact, your cats yowl is likely a social call, following his realization, via airborne pheromones, of another cat in his area. This most commonly occurs during breeding season from mid or late winter through late summer.

The third general problem involves social anxieties, related to conflicts with other cats in the home. A socially subordinate cat, for example, may fear crossing the core territory of a dominant housemate, a problem if there is no other access to food or litter boxes. A consultation with a veterinary behaviorist may help you devise a solution to social anxiety.

Immediate solutions
Of course, more immediate action is needed if you cannot sleep because of your cats activity. You may need to lock your cat out of your bedroom temporarily or put him in another room but never behind a closed door. Cats respond better to a barrier through which they can see, such as two toddler gates stacked vertically. Do not leave your kitty in a dark, empty room, either. Hell need a litter box, food and water, toys, and perhaps some light. A low volume radio program may also help. If necessary for the short term, you can place your cat in a large crate, along with food, water, and a litter box.