Alarm Kitties

Meow, it’s time to get up NOW!

Those poor people who spend their lives looking for the perfect alarm clock have obviously never owned a cat. Alarm kitties are tenacious, resourceful and irresistible. You will get up, you will when she bats your nose for the fifth or 25th time.

There are YouTube videos of cats loudly strumming doorstop springs and cartoon felines pummeling their sleeping owners, along with hilarious comments from people who have their own alarm kitties. Some folks get howled at, others drooled on, some licked awake and others get chomped back to life.

The stories and videos are funny, but nocturnal roaming and howling by cats can be a real problem for their owners. It may not be a big deal to get dragged out of bed in the morning to feed Fluffy, but if she’s been yowling or pouncing all night long, you’d probably love to change her habits – not an easy task.

First be sure there’s no medical problem. Older cats sometimes start to vocalize – the scientific term for howl their heads off – at night because of high blood pressure. They may have thyroid or kidney disease or they may be getting senile. Some cats talk a lot more when they lose their hearing. Any major change in behaviour should prompt a vet visit to rule out illness.

Reassured that your kitty is healthy, how do you stop her from driving you nuts at night? First you have to recognize that cats are nocturnal by nature. Given the opportunity, she will do most of her sleeping – as much as 18 hours out of 24 – during the daytime. So, if you want her to be tired at night, you need to make her more active during the day.

Playing chase games with toys throughout the day will help your cat be more relaxed at night. Some behaviourists recommend a vigourous session of play, followed by a high protein snack or meal at the end of the day. It mimics the natural hunt, eat, sleep cycle. What if your cat doesn’t do “vigourous” or play at all? Cats excel at being uncooperative with our brilliant plans. Sometimes getting a second cat companion helps, but it may just compound the problem – think tag team alarm kitties.

You may need to get tough and dedicate a room or part of the house to confine the cats at night. Move food, litter, toys and beds into the room and close the door. Most cat owners let their pets sleep with them, so this may be a major but necessary change in lifestyle. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to retrain a cat to not bat your nose awake if you give her access. You can try using aversive techniques like spraying her with water or making frightening noises, but if closing the door works…

If the problem is food-oriented and kitty is waking you at 5 a.m. because once long ago, you fed her breakfast at that time, try an automatic feeder. Set it for 4:45 and put it at the other end of the house.

The irony in all of this is that some people have put a lot of money and energy into finding effective alarm clocks that they can’t turn off without getting up. Someone should buy them a cat or two.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital
Trenton, Ontario – September 2012