Health & Wellness
Despite what you might believe, your cat’s nighttime and early-morning energy bursts aren’t plotted to test your patience. It’s actually in your pet’s nature to pep up during these hours. What’s not-so-normal is when a cat constantly bounces off the walls all night long and then sleeps all day.
In more sophisticated terms, scenario one describes behaviors of crepuscular animals, and scenario two describes how a nocturnal animal acts — here’s what applies to cats.
First things first: What does the word “crepuscular” even mean? According to Fetch by The Dodo’s on-staff veterinarian Dr. Aliya McCullough, crepuscular is a term for animals that are most active during twilight hours (before sunrise and sunset, to be specific). And, yes, cats are included in this category — it’s why they’re really good at seeing in darker lighting.
“Cats are more active at dusk and dawn because these are the times they'd be hunting small prey in the wild,” Dr. McCullough says.
Since we’ve established that cats are crepuscular, we can rule out the possibility of them being nocturnal pets — aka animals that are active at night. When a cat is unusually active at night, it can actually be a health red flag.
“Cat restlessness at night may be a sign of a medical problem such as hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, side effects from medications, cognitive decline, hearing or sight loss, heart disease, kidney disease, pain, arthritis or gastrointestinal illness,” Dr. McCullough says.
Cats typically sleep more during the day, but that doesn’t mean they don’t also sleep at night, too. “Cats have a different sleep pattern than humans and often cycle between wake and sleep frequently throughout the night,” Dr. McCullough says.
Every cat is different, but if your cat is especially active at night (and it’s interrupting your sleep), there are ways you can calm them down. Dr. McCullough suggests getting your cat comfortable and ready to rest with a night light and safe heating source. Giving them a small nighttime meal using a timed feeder or food puzzle should satisfy their needs, too, so they don’t have to go to you directly (aka, wake you up).
If you want to help your cat get a restful night’s sleep, start prepping them during the day by making sure they have enough playtime – this will hopefully tire them out. It helps to play outside of the bedroom so that your pet associates the space with rest, not fun.
Melatonin, a supplement that can help restless or anxious pets relax, might be able to chill your cat out come bedtime, Dr. McCullough says. Just make sure to talk to your vet before introducing your cat to new substances.
Offering your cat a safe designated space at night can help them relax — and prevent them from waking you up, too. “Crate training a cat, yes, a cat, to sleep and rest in the crate at night may be helpful but does take time and patience,” Dr. McCullough says.
If your vet thinks crate training could benefit your cat, it’s important to find them the right space. From enclosed cat condominiums to exercise pens to metal crates and more, your cat has several options, Dr. McCullough says. Even a closed-off room in your home that includes toys, water and litter boxes could keep them calm and happy through the night.
When opting for a crate, there are some design aspects you should look for. “The crate should be large enough for the cat to lay down fully stretched out and hold a litter box,” Dr. McCullough explains. “Crates for travel can be smaller with enough room for the cat to comfortably stand, turn around and lie down.”
Once you have the crate picked out, it’s important to help your cat get comfortable in their new space. “Make the crate available at all times, for example, leave the door open in a quiet, calm area the cat can access,” Dr. McCullough says.
Be sure to reward your cat for going near or entering the crate, too. You can even hide treats in and around the space to encourage their natural foraging behavior and make the introduction a positive experience, Dr. McCullough continues.
The next time you hear the pitter-patter of your cat’s paws in the wee hours of the morning, you’ll know how to keep them occupied so you can go back to sleep.
Photo by Anton Darius on Unsplash