There is nothing quite like waking up to the jarring sound of your cat’s steady meows. In the corresponding groggy frustration, it’s important to remember that she’s not purposely torturing you. Cats use vocalized cues, such as hissing, yowling, and growling, to communicate with each other-- meows, on the other hand, are more commonly reserved for communicating with humans. If she has been waking you up in the middle of the night, or earlier than you’d like in the morning, consider what she is trying to communicate to you.
Not enough activity. If your cat isn’t stimulated enough during the day, she may be up all night, attempting to work out her pent-up energy. Remedy this problem by incorporating more enriching activities into your cat’s day, such as food puzzles, climbing frames, non-toxic cat grasses, and toys. You may also try creating several feeding stations around the home so she will have to search for her food. These tactics will keep her awake and stimulated for more of the day and help her sleep better throughout the night.
Early internal hunting alarm clock. A typical hunting time for cats is between 3 and 5am, but you can try to reset your cat’s hunting time clock to a more human-friendly time. Try triggering her prey drive later in the evening by maneuvering a wanded toy for her. Dishing out her last meal of the day after the play time will help her feel like she caught, killed, and ate her prey. You can then groom (brush) your cat, as she would normally do herself after a hunt, to help relax her.
Feeding needs adjusting. If your cat isn’t being fed late enough in the evening, it may be causing her to wake you up early. Try offering several smaller meals throughout the day (which will help keep her awake and stimulated), including a later evening meal. Timed feeders and food puzzles are great options for easily achieving multiple and prolonged meals.
Owner reinforcement is a secondary problem that often develops after the issue initially causes the meowing. Once you have pinpointed the problem and made the necessary changes to your cat’s environment, stop acknowledging her when she wakes you up. The meowing may temporarily worsen once you stop reacting, as she pulls out all the stops to regain your attention (perhaps even resorting to measures like knocking books off your nightstand). Standing your ground will pay off. Addressing the problems listed above, then refusing to reinforce her behavior, will have you on the sweet road to restful sleep (for both you and her) in no time.
Who is Mieshelle Nagelschneider?
Meet Mieshelle Nagelschneider, ACCBC, a cat behaviorist and author of the science-based cat behavior book, The Cat Whisperer (Random House Publishing). Her passion and curiosity about cats, along with her study in animal behavior, has enabled her to help thousands of cat owners solve their cats' behavior issues for over two decades.
Learn more at The Cat Behavior Clinic, and look for her book later in 2013!