Domestic cats are master trainers of their people, quickly establishing a routine and fixed behaviour patterns.
For those of us who have experienced our cat’s middle of the night antics, or an early morning wake-up call, exhaustion is familiar! Thankfully, there are reasons your cat wakes you up so early and ways to retrain your feline friend.
Why does my cat wake me up at the same time every day?
If your cat wakes you at the same time each morning without fail, you may be wondering where you’ve gone wrong in training your feline friend. Exhausting as it can be, the good news is that once you understand why your cat is waking you up, there are practical solutions for the behaviour. Let's take a look at the reasons your cat won't let you sleep through the night.
Your cat knows it works
The first time your tiny kitten or newly adopted cat wakes you for a snack or some attention in the middle of the night, it seems adorable. Let’s face it… we’ve all been there. And, at first, it really is adorable. The problem is that cats love routine, and if something worked once, they’re likely to try it again.
When you’re tired, and desperately trying to get back to sleep, it’s easier to get up and give in, and so the cycle continues. Your cat learns that by waking you, they get the company they crave. Breaking this is possible, it just takes time, consistency and an understanding of any underlying issues that may be at play.
Your cat may be feeling unsettled
As lovers of regular routine, your cat can become unsettled by changes in said routine. If you’re wondering why your cat wakes you so early, it’s worth considering whether they’ve had a recent change in environment. Has the furniture moved, somebody gone away, or a new person joined the household?
These factors may all cause stress to your cat, resulting in a change in behaviour or an increased need for attention. Routine can help reduce stress levels, so offering fixed meal times, established resting spaces and regular company will help.
Your cat may need more exercise
Cats need regular exercise and enrichment. If your cat is meowing in the mornings and using wake up calls to get your attention, it may be they’re not receiving enough mental and physical stimulation throughout the day.
Whilst they may be crepuscular animals, cats do tend to adapt their activity cycles to align with their humans. If your cat isn’t settling when you do, you may need to look at preventing boredom by introducing more toys and play times throughout the day.
How do I stop my cat from waking me up so early?
Breaking the habit of getting up for your cat takes a bit of advance planning. It’s not enough to simply ignore your cat, as the meowing may well turn into howling if they don’t get the attention they’re used to. Positive reinforcement usually offers the best long-term results for training your cat, combined with offering an alternative outlet for their needs.
Investing in an automatic feeder
Imagine the tranquillity of your cat taking themselves to their own food bowl, all without you lifting a finger… Does it sound like a dream? It may be time to invest in an automatic feeder.
If you feed your cat when they wake you, they’re learning that this behaviour results in a positive outcome. Automatic feeders are brilliant for cats that wake their owners up early, because they recondition the expectation of food.
At first, set the feeder to dispense cat food just before your cat would normally wake you. This will satisfy any hunger and allow you to keep sleeping.
After some time, set it a bit later in the day. Build on this gradually over time and eventually your cat will adapt to the new routine of their feeding time.
Enrichment before bed
If your cat is waking you in the middle of the night, it may be that they’re bored and in need of burning some energy. Cats are capable of roaming long distances, and because of this, indoor cats get bored easily.
Cat puzzles around the house can provide great mental stimulation for your feline friend, and help to tire them out before bedtime. In addition, use interactive toys, such as cat wands, to play with your cat and encourage a full hunting sequence, with lots of stalking and pouncing. Finally, make sure there's a lot of variety in your play so you're always keeping your feline on their toes. A tired cat equals a good night’s sleep for you!
If you’ve tried the above and your cat still can’t settle, it’s important that you visit your veterinarian. They will make sure no medical factors are at play.
Training your cat to respect bedtime boundaries requires consistency, patience and for every member of the household to be on the same page.
By providing lots of opportunity for exercise and play, and with gentle retraining, you’ll find your cat is not only calmer, but also more contented and balanced in the long run. You may even find they snore the night away next to you!