You're Ready for Bed. Your Cat's Not.
Just when you’re ready to drift off, comfortable in your bed, your furry feline is ready to tear around the house.
According to animal behavior experts, there is a biological reason kitty may be roaming around when you’re trying to sleep. But there are ways to help you both get your shut-eye.
“House cats are mostly crepuscular, meaning they’re most active at dawn and dusk, when their prey in a natural environment, like small rodents or mammals, would be most active,” explains Miranda K. Workman, a clinical assistant professor in the Departments of Animal Behavior, Ecology and Conservation and Anthrozoology at Canisius College. “Therefore, it’s most likely that you will find your cat has bursts of activity at sunup and sundown.”
According to Workman, a cat’s life is generally a routine of playing, hunting, eating, grooming and then sleeping, so timing is an important part of getting a good night’s sleep.
“Especially if you have a young cat, make sure you provide active playtime toward the end of your evening,” Workman recommends. Games like fetch or chasing a wand toy that you move around the room are good choices.
Veterinarian Carol Osborne, author of Naturally Healthy Cats, adds that walking your cats outside with a harness is a reward for curious kitties. “Not all cats enjoy being inside,” she says.
After a good playtime, Workman suggests giving your cat a nighttime meal or snack just prior to your own bedtime.
Workman recommends enrichment activities left out for your cat while you sleep. Treat-dispensing toys left out for a cat to hunt and find may help keep them occupied at night. A tissue box can be fun, or a plastic container filled with balls, then poked with holes just large enough to get a paws through to bat around the balls.
If your cat wakes before you do, don’t give in to (sometimes insistent) requests for interaction or food.
“Reinforcing that behavior will make it happen more often,” says Workman. If you can, try to ignore the cat. If you can’t ignore those persistent paw taps on your cheek over and over and over, then put the cat outside of the bedroom and close the door, Workman advises.
Far from thinking that isolating your cat in a different room is punishment, “cat therapist” Carole Wilbourn observes that cats need and like their own space. “If they wake you up in the middle of the night, talk to them in an inviting way—they’ll pick up on your tone of voice—and move them to another room, preferably a small space where they’ll feel secure.”
On the other hand, despite the assumption that felines aren’t social animals, your cat may be lonely. Consider getting another cat, Wilbourn suggests. Arrange play dates with other animals, or even other people if you’re spending long hours away from home, she says.
If you’ve tried everything and you’re still not getting a good night’s sleep, it may be time to call in an animal behavior expert like Wilbourn, who consults by Skype or makes house calls. Sometimes, she finds, the cat’s owner may be having a problem that is upsetting the household.
“Cats mirror their people’s feelings,” she says. “The happier you are, the happier your cat will be.”
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