By Sophia Yin, DVM, MS
Q) I have two one-year old male cats Sergeant and Figaro. Sergeant had been waking me up every night …due to his noisy midnight explorations. Sergeant’s latest discovery has been the spiral door stopper which makes a lovely Boinng sound. I have had to remove all of them in my apartment. I have tried keeping them up all day by playing games with toys, hoping they will sleep through the night. However, that is impossible when I have to be away in the daytime and it is time consuming. I now close them both in the bathroom where the litter box is at the first awakening. Figaro is an angel but scratches the rug and door of the bathroom to get back in my bed. He would sleep all night if only Sergeant would let us. This has never happened before. Can you help?
A) While cats are known to be nocturnal, this pattern of play and activity isn’t set in stone, even for free-roaming domestic cats. In fact, one reason cats have a reputation for coming out at night is that nighttime is when their predators are asleep and their rodent prey is out. When living in environments with fewer day dangers and where food scurries around in full light or when prey isn’t abundant enough during the night, cats adjust their schedules accordingly. Given their flexible time schedules and the fact that Sergeant used to play during the day and actually sleep at night, you have several options for getting a good night’s sleep.
The easiest option is to put Sergeant in the bathroom as soon as you go to sleep and let Figaro stay in bed with you. That means you should have a separate litter box in your room for Figaro. A similar alternative requiring few modifications is to leave both in the bathroom at night with a comfortable spot for sleeping, but wear earplugs the first few nights so you can’t hear Figaro’s signaling that he wants out. After several nights of ignoring Figaro’s demands, he’ll learn his noisy escape attempts can’t make you open the door and he’ll give up, unless the reason he wants out is to get away from Sergeant.
The second option is to find a simple way of giving Sergeant and Figaro their exercise during the day so that they both sleep through the night. As with feral cats who hunt out of necessity during the day, you can first start by making food-hunting opportunities available only during the day—two times, to be precise. Get a treat ball designed to deliver portions of your cat’s regular kibble whenever he rolls the ball around. In the morning fill the ball with Sergeant’s morning meal and then let him bat it around in order to retrieve his food. This is his new way for earning all food.
If you can’t stand searching for these emptied balls around your apartment, take a cardboard box that’s just a little taller than the ball and make paw-sized holes in the top and the sides so that Sergeant can bat the ball around causing food to fall out and then bat the fallen food out the holes on the side of the box. Alternatively you can just pour the food in the box and let Sergeant bat it out, or your can purchase Peek a Prize toy box (www.catsplay.com) a wooden version and pour food or his favorite toys in for him to fish out.
Of course, out in the wild, some cats spend many hours searching for their food, so we’ll need to find more things to keep your kitties occupied. Since Sergeant likes toys on springs, purchase or fashion similar toys that are silent such as a Cat Dancer or two or three that you can hang around the house. Also consider purchasing KittyShow—a two hour interactive DVD for cats featuring either birds or bugs for your cat to stalk but not catch. Even try paper bags or the cool, inexpensive, cartoon-like playhouses sold by Catsplay.
If you want to change the sleep habits, make all of these available at random times during the day so he’s tired through the night. You can even train him to sleep in his crate so that you can crate him through the night until you’ve switched his day-night cycle. Last but not least, consider getting the Through a Dog’s Ear CDs (http://www.throughadogsear.com). These CDs are based on the idea of entrainment—that external environmental rhythms can change a pet’s internal rhythms. We know entrainment exists. It’s why scary movies are scarier with the right music. Although the CDs were designed for dogs, I’m pretty sure they worked on my Bengal cat to get him to calm down and fall asleep at night when he was yowling to get out of his crate. At worst you’re stuck with nice music that will be calming for you.
All in all, the combination of techniques you use depends on what you decide. Choose the right combination or use them all and you’ll soon get a good night’s sleep.
Check out these websites for cat toys and other kitty creations:
Cat Dancer: ((920) 426-4330 http://www.catdancer.com/others.htm
Kittyshow: http://www.kittyshow.com/ (843) 524-7928
CatsPlay toys and playhouses for cats: http://www.catsplay.com (323) 964-9597
Funkitty™ Egg-Cersizer™: (Premier) http://www.premier.com/
For more information on breaking bad cat habits, please read these other blogs:
Learn more about cat behavior and training with Kitty Kindergarten, on DVD! Purchase in our store and on Amazon.com
Adapted from an article originally appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2005.