Dr. Ciribassi welcomes behavior questions from veterinarians and veterinary technicians.
Q. How do you advise clients who complain that their kittens or young adult cats wake them up at 3 a.m. to eat, play, or be petted, but who refuse to keep their bedroom door closed?
A. This can be a frustrating issue for many new cat owners, and a difficult management issue for new kittens, especially single kittens in the home. The motivations for this behavior can be either a desire to be fed or to initiate play. Single kittens can be especially problematic because they focus on the owner as a play object.
Closing the door to the bedroom can be effective, if it were an option. I typically suggest placing upside down carpet runners (with the points sticking up) outside the door to deter the cats from getting to the door, if the owners are able to do this.
They can also place a motion-activated citronella product called SSScat (available through Amazon) outside the door to reduce the cat’s ability to scratch at or jump at the door.
These approaches can also be used outside an open door if desired.Of course, it is better to manage the behavior directly, rather than focusing on remote punishment.
Here are a few additional ideas that may prove beneficial:
- If the owners are prepared for it, getting a second kitten can help. Often the kittens will use each other for play instead of the owners. If the owners already have a young cat and are open to adding a second cat, getting a young active cat as an addition can reduce the activity level directed toward the owners.
- Ignore attention-demanding behavior. Advise owners that it would be a mistake to get up and feed the cats or give them attention—this just reinforces the problem.
- It’s best not to feed cats in the morning. Feeding in the afternoon or at dinnertime can be a better choice. It might also be a good idea to offer another feeding at bedtime to give the cats opportunities to eat overnight. This way, they’re less likely to demand food in the morning. Also, placing small caches of food in various hiding places away from the bedroom can keep the cats occupied overnight, as could using a timed feeder a few times during the night.
- Kitty Kongs placed around the home can also minimize the need to bug the owners in the morning.
- Owners can set an alarm clock for a morning wake-up, starting at a time before the cat typically wakes them up. When the alarm goes off, they can feed the cat or give it some attention. They can repeat this for a few mornings and then gradually move the alarm’s timing later and later (30-minutes increments would be a good goal) until they reach the time they actually want to get up. This way, the cats are associating getting up with the sound of the alarm and not random activities by the owners as a possible indicator of their waking.
John Ciribassi DVM, DACVB
Chicagoland Veterinary Behavior Consultants
Carol Stream, IL 60188