My girlfriend has a shitty, shitty cat.
February 24, 2011 12:22 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend's cat has a tendency to become REALLY active at night, most often between the hours of 4 and 6 in the morning. Loudly running around the bedroom, knocking things off of tables, clawing furniture, whatever she can do to make noise. How can we curb this behavior?

I try not to anthropomorphize animals willy-nilly, but the worst part is that the cat seemingly only does it to be antagonistic. She'll briefly stop or run away if either of us even raise our head to look at her, and she's proven herself to be content to sleep quietly until morning if either of us happen to be awake. She honestly seems to take pleasure in disturbing us while we sleep.

Keeping her out of the bedroom isn't an option, as she'll just sit outside the door and cry, which is worse. And unfortunately, my girlfriend's apartment isn't large enough to keep her sequestered, out of earshot.

The only "solution" I've been able to find is picking her up and restraining her while I repeatedly smack her ass HARD. This usually gets her to run off into another room and chill out, but needless to say, I'm not down with hitting any animal that isn't directly attacking me, so I don't really consider this a solution... Unfortunately, having one's sleep cut short like this, repeatedly, has been enough to take its toll. Other of the more common solutions, like shooting her with a spray bottle of water, don't really deter her.

As you can imagine, our patience with the cat is wearing very, very thin, but my girlfriend would feel too guilty if we tried to find her a new home. Does anyone have any tips or solutions on how to stop this behavior, or know if it might be linked to something else? (I'm not considering changing our sleeping or living arrangements to be an option, as everything we've tried just results in the cat finding new, more creative ways to wake us up.)

Thanks so much!
posted by incomple to Pets & Animals (43 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
She's probably either (a) hungry or (b) lonely. You can often deal with (b) by getting another cat, though you run the risk of cat chases at all hours (I'm a devoted multi-cat owner, you just get used to it). If she's hungry, make sure she's getting enough food, and consider changing her feeding schedule, or get an automatic feeder that opens up around 4.

Don't spank your cat.
posted by mkultra at 12:26 PM on February 24, 2011

The cat isn't doing it to be antagonistic. She's probably bored. She wants you to wake up and play with her. This may seem counterintuitive, but what about getting another cat?
posted by something something at 12:27 PM on February 24, 2011

When my wife and I got our first cat, he would do this all hours of the night. A week after we got a second cat, all was (mostly) quiet and he would leave us alone where he would previously launch himself onto our faces in the early hours of the morning.

I also recommend another cat, if at all possible.
posted by ofcourseican at 12:29 PM on February 24, 2011

Earplugs. For you, not the cat.

You can try to minimize the noise she can make by keeping stuff put away so she doesn't have things to knock over. Try covering the areas she claws at with aluminum foil (cats don't really like the texture) or a blanket or something.

She's still going to make noise and you're probably going to just have to live with it. My cats partake in similar shenanigans and one will yowl when locked out of the bedroom, but earplugs block out enough so I can sleep through it.
posted by radioaction at 12:31 PM on February 24, 2011

Maybe you could get the cat super stoned on catnip before bed?
posted by twblalock at 12:31 PM on February 24, 2011

Suggesting another cat is a little irresponsible. Not to be a downer here, but I did a double take when I read this post, thinking my SO posted it. We have three cats ourselves. My current situation: two little buggers running around between 4 and 6 am, trying to push our trash cans over, meowing loud, digging through stuff, knocking shit over. Third cat sleeps in our room and growls loudly when the other two approach. Just because you have two cats in the house doesn't mean they'll get along and it doesn't mean one will stop being annoying. Cats are great (at least that's what I keep telling myself), but they're not silver bullets.
posted by johnnybeggs at 12:32 PM on February 24, 2011 [6 favorites]

Cats are generally healthier and happier if they have another cat to play with.
If a second cat isn't an option, maybe try a good half hour of play before bedtime - trail string through the house, flick a laser pointer around... this might work to tire/play her out and let you get some sleep. Reassure her that you will give her the attention she needs, use up her excess energy.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 12:33 PM on February 24, 2011

You're going to get a lot of "cats are weird" responses to this post.

Let me translate for those of us who don't love them as much:

Cats are assholes.

Have your girlfriend get another cat to wear out the one she has. Or sleep at your place. But don't spank the cat. The only thing that'll come of it is the cat will hate you and you'll confuse yourself into thinking that rage is an appropriate emotion to take out on a beloved pet.
posted by citywolf at 12:33 PM on February 24, 2011 [13 favorites]

Try playing really actively with her right before bed -- get a laser pointer and a catnip-filled sock to drag on a string, walk her all around the apartment and wear her out a bit--our young cat seems to get worn out by twenty minutes of active play right before bed.

If the choice is between hitting her hard and finding her a new home, you should find her a new home. Honestly, if your girlfriend is at the point where she can handle seeing you hit the cat hard, she may not be as emotionally attached to the cat as she thinks. For a lot of people, including me, hitting an animal in anger is a pretty big dealbreaker.
posted by Frowner at 12:36 PM on February 24, 2011 [15 favorites]

Previously. And Also. FWIW, you're not alone.

My own personal cure for this is a shut bedroom door and good foam earplugs.
posted by jamaro at 12:39 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I remember complaining about this to a coworker shortly after getting my cats. My coworker asked me if I knew that cats were nocturnal. It is in their nature.

Cats don't give a shit about what time it is. When they're bored, they'll go do stuff. They're cats.

Don't hit the cat. Some cats actually get off on getting their ass smacked. I'm not joking. Google it. Hence, you could be training the cat to expect a spanking.

What you do is

a) make sure there's food in the bowl so they won't wake you for that;
b) ignore the noise and the cat. it will get easier over time. by "playing" with them every night, you're reinforcing the bad behavior. eventually (and remember cats don't have watches or calendars) the cat will pipe down or at least not expect waking you up will result in a playmate.
posted by birdherder at 12:45 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Let me be the first to tell you that spanking a cat is shitty. Cut it out. Their body parts are smaller than yours and it takes less impact to damage them.

Solutions that would work better, in order of price:

Play with her more during the day and in the evening so she's more tired at night (laser pointer runs down the hallway usually work pretty well)

Water pistol (more annoying to a cat than a spray bottle)

Keep her busier- hide her food around the house in small portions, so she has to go looking for it, or use a treat ball for her food, so she has to work harder all day- this will tire her out more.

Close the bedroom door and put a small, sturdy, impossible-to-knock-over fan outside the door, so when the fan is on it blows on the cat when she stands there meowing. The breeze will deter her from sitting there, and the white noise of the fan will also drown out some of her noise. Make sure you create a few equally nice places to sleep out in the rest of the house since you're keeping her out of the soft bedroom.

Feed her a tiny can of wet food as late as you humanly can, so the extra will be out all night for her to munch on. Eating will make her groom then sleep, so do it late so she sleeps all night.

Feliway diffuser? I've never tried it, but apparently it makes cats calm?

Get an automatic feeder that feeds her around 3am so she's full+sleepy by 4am

Get a blow-collar meant for a small dog. You press a button on a remote control and a little jet of gas blows onto the animal's chin and deters it from that behaviour. Don't use the citronella kind, but the plain air kind works for a friend's crazy night cat. She just puts it on him at night, and when the cat bugs her, she presses a button and the cat runs away.

Good luck!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:45 PM on February 24, 2011 [13 favorites]

Ditto what others have said about getting another cat. Sometimes they just want attention.

I have also found that if I feed my two later in the evening they tend to sleep later in the morning, and then they don't do the psycho, "You need to get up now! We're starving to death!" stuff. You might try adjusting the timing of when you feed your cat.
posted by fuse theorem at 12:46 PM on February 24, 2011

Backing up twblalock's suggestion of catnip before bed. Maybe not immediately before bed, because some cats get kind of hyper for a while right after they've had the 'nip. In that case, maybe she'll tear around and play THEN and wear herself out. On the other hand, some cats do pretty much get stoned and zonk out immediately--your cat's mileage may vary, so it'd be worth trying out a couple times if one doesn't work immediately.

That said, I was advised to try the catnip thing by a cat-lady buddy of mine when I complained about our cat running across our pillows and/or throwing things off the entertainment center in the middle of the night. I did and it worked--she slept through the night after a good hearty dose.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:46 PM on February 24, 2011

Oh boy, I've shared a small studio with a cat, so I know what this is like.

Don't hit the cat. You're only making it more anxious. It's not being antagonistic, it just wants attention, and it's repeating the behaviour which gets it what it wants. Why would it jump on the bed and gently nudge your toes when running around and knocking things over has proved so much more effective?

So, you need to change the game. Keep your body language relaxed (so it doesn't think you're playing 'chase'), pick it up and put it the furthest room from your bedroom (for me, this is the courtyard outside). Shut the door and go back to bed, with earplugs, if necessary. Eventually the cat will realise that being crazy at 4am gets it banished, and whining gets no response.

Also, cats have sleeping patterns too. If you notice the cat napping in the afternoon or evening, wake it up. Play with it, cuddle it, give it all the attention it wants at a time that's convenient for you. Like you, it will eventually get cranky and tired and start sleeping late the next morning. And if it's had lots of attention from you the night before, it might not be feeling quite so lonely and bored by 4am.
posted by embrangled at 12:47 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

The only "solution" I've been able to find is picking her up and restraining her while I repeatedly smack her ass HARD.

WTF. Stop it.

Cats are very bad at making causal inferences like "If I make noise, I will be punished." Your cat is learning only that you are dangerous and that she should hide from you, and this will result in a cat that is skittish and nervous and terrified of people.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:52 PM on February 24, 2011 [19 favorites]

Cats are nocturnal, so your gf's cay is just doing what's natural to it. I suggest following Frowner's advice, for one.

My BIL has a nice solution. He gathers up all of kitties toys before bedtime, then when the cat gets rowdy in the early morning hours, throws them one by one. He is aided in this by thestairs in his home, but it might help ease your problem.

You can try to reset the cat's clock by keeping it awake more during daylight hours, by playing, etc. Don't take it so far as to be cruel, but cats need a huge amount of sleep. This might be something to work in your favor.
posted by annsunny at 12:53 PM on February 24, 2011

gf's cat
posted by annsunny at 12:53 PM on February 24, 2011

This is not a shitty cat. This is a regular cat, albeit a pretty active one. Cats are nocturnal - not vindictive assholes.

Before one of my cats died, they would play like this every night. Now that he's gone, the surviving cat cries at night because his play buddy is gone. The damage they did both annoyed and amused me.

Please stop beating the cat for being a cat; it's cruel and doesn't work. Find a new gf or find kitty a new home.

I don't think you'd like being "spanked HARD" by something 20 times your size for leaving the toilet seat up.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 12:54 PM on February 24, 2011 [6 favorites]

Close the bedroom door and put a small, sturdy, impossible-to-knock-over fan outside the door, so when the fan is on it blows on the cat when she stands there meowing. The breeze will deter her from sitting there, and the white noise of the fan will also drown out some of her noise. Make sure you create a few equally nice places to sleep out in the rest of the house since you're keeping her out of the soft bedroom.

I absolutely love this.
posted by Debaser626 at 12:55 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Cats aren't particularly bad at causal inferences, they're actually quite good at it. The only lesson spanking teaches is (a) don't let him catch me, and (b) he's a bit of a dick.

Since water doesn't work, in addition to the tire-the-cat or get it stoned solutions, build a couple rattle cans. Put a few pebbles or coins in an aluminum can and tape it shut. Store nearby. When cat makes noise, lob the can somewhere near (but not at) the cat. The goal is to startle the cat and, if possible, to do so without letting the cat catch on that it was you who threw it.

Other than that, this is something you'll get used to. My cat did this for the first 6-7 years of her life. Now that she's older, she doesn't do it. And now that I think of it, it's a bit depressing. As H.P. Lovecraft once noted, [i]n its flawless grace and superior self-sufficiency I have seen a symbol of the perfect beauty and bland impersonality of the universe itself, objectively considered; and in its air of silent mystery there resides for me all the wonder and fascination of the unknown."
posted by Hylas at 1:03 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Spanking the cat is cruel and will not teach her anything. Sorry to pile on, but seriously, don't do that ever again. Re-home the cat if it comes to that.

Your girlfriend's cat wants to play. You both need to play more with her during your waking hours, especially in the evening before bed. It'll take some trial and error to find toys and games she likes, but the goal is to get her running and jumping. It won't completely curb the 4 am crazies, but it'll greatly reduce them.

If the cat is young, she's likely to be more active and may mellow out with age. If she's not spayed, fix that asap - that will help.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:04 PM on February 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

When everything else fails with our youngest cat, a supersonic dog trainer does the trick. They're about $10 at your local pet store. He doesn't mind water but will scoot when we hit the button on that thing.
posted by tigerjade at 1:25 PM on February 24, 2011

A word all cat owners need to know is crepuscular. Your cat is not being antagonistic. She's being a cat.

Please don't spank her. The solution is to lock her out of the room and wear ear plugs until she learns that you won't pay attention to her antics.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:31 PM on February 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

We have a cat (12 months old, so barely out of kittenhood) who thinks it's hilaaarious to knock over all my perfume bottles and books from the shelves at 4AM, so I sympathize with the frustration of waking up in the middle of your REM cycle to some half-wild idiot animal. That said, hitting an animal at all, but especially "HARD" is just beyond fucked up and mean. You deserve the enormous pile on because it's not okay to hit animals unless they're trying to hurt you, and you know this, but you're doing it anyway. Stop.

The fan idea is an amazing feat of strategy which I plan on using next time my asshole feline tests the gravitational pull of my Chanel No. 5.
posted by Viola at 1:47 PM on February 24, 2011

Yes, my previous roommate's cats would do the same thing (sit outside the shut door meowing) with the added bonus of scratching up the carpet under the door. I used the fan trick (which I first saw here!) to great effect. I would suggest as powerful a small fan as you can get, and don't look for ones that promise "quiet" or "silent" operation. You want one that has a pretty good drone for the white noise to drown out the cat and a good breeze to deter it sticking its face under the door.
posted by clerestory at 1:57 PM on February 24, 2011

Mod note: few comments removed - BACK IT UP and be constructive or answer later when you can be constructive. Thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:00 PM on February 24, 2011

Cats are nocturnal, so anything before between 10pm and 7am is fair game to them, just as daylight hours are fair game for us.

You need patience, earplugs and to lock the cat in the bathroom or otherwise outside the bedroom. It's that simple. It will learn eventually that being obnoxious will not get their desired result. But you need to have more patience than it does. (The fan idea is brilliant, as well). You can outsmart the cat, but it ain't always easy.
posted by cgg at 2:01 PM on February 24, 2011

Our cats have a bedroom of their own (The finished TV room in the basement). Complete with food, water, litterbox, toys and fleece blankies on the couch. They go down there at night, with a treat and some pettin's, and stay there until I wake up in the morning. For a while I tried keeping the boy cat upstairs at nights, when we first got the girl cat, but he soon learned how to cry and bang on the bedroom door until I got up to snuggle him.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 2:08 PM on February 24, 2011

Harden up about the crying at the door. The cat will eventually learn.

You can't stop crazy-hour.
posted by pompomtom at 2:13 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding PhoBWanKenobi. Your cat is being a cat, and smacking it will not help. I would advise that you invest in some earplugs. And patience. You'll get used to it eventually.

Also, someone said upthread about getting another cat to curb this behavior. Another cat only makes for two crepuscular cats maniacally running about the house. I know from experience, and it's just something you have to get used to. We have a fan/heater in our room for white noise and it helps distract from the cats running about the house.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 2:24 PM on February 24, 2011

I once had a kitty that was like this. He would pounce on my head & chew on my hair & sneeze in my face & poke at my eyes & eat my slippers & knock over my water & hack up furballs on the sheets & put his dingle-berried butt near my nose & not let me sleep doing all those annoying kitty things. Locking him outside the bedroom only made him howl & scratch at the door.

I placed a vacuum cleaner outside my closed bedroom door. I plugged it into a power strip with an on/off switch & placed it on my nightstand. When kitty howled at door in the very early AM hours, I flipped the switch, listened for kitty to fly back into opposite wall & scurry away, then flipped off the switch. After about 2 weeks, kitty never howled outside bedroom door again.

Please don't spank kitty. =^..^=
posted by DizzyLeaf at 3:08 PM on February 24, 2011 [9 favorites]

Cats are crepuscular. The cat is naturally active around dawn. Don't hit the cat. The cat is not a jerk, it is behaving naturally. It would love attention. A better response is a really good squirt gun; you will be able to work out some aggression; kitty will learn.

Your gf's guilt about the cat may be assuaged if you both realize that owning a pet means you have to figure out how to successfully deal with the pet's needs. This pet needs more play and more attention at appropriate times, and more tolerance and effective teaching at the times when you prefer not to play.
posted by theora55 at 3:08 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Our whacky cats like going nuts at night. They also like having the run of the house. Once we started consistently responding to the late night yowling, everything got better. I know you mention there isn't a big response to spray bottles, but I think that that is the best non-violent (please stop spanking your cat) approach. Right now what he wants most is attention, and you're giving it to him, even though it isn't the kind he really wants. We have the tried and true Slip Spray Sling Stuff Snooze approach (slightly modified from an Aussie skin cancer campaign):

Slip out of bed

Spray with compressed air or a squirt gun

Sling the offending feline into solitary confinement (aka our laundry room)

Stuff towels under the door and earplugs in our ears

Snooze blissfully

But seriously, the important thing here is consistency.
posted by arnicae at 3:10 PM on February 24, 2011

One of my cats sleeps in a cage. It's a 48" tall cage with multiple shelves, litterbox, etc. He gets fed in his cage at bedtime. Then he's shut in for the night.

Left uncaged, the cat is a madman. He ensures that no one -- human or animal -- will sleep. But he jumps into his cage quite happily every night (because his food is in there) and we're all much happier this way.
posted by grounded at 3:10 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

- Cats are nocturnal

- One of my cats acts out when she wants attention. Yes they do stuff on purpose sometimes. Intelligence + Boredom sometimes = Deviousness!

- Spanking is bad if they don't like because it sets up more antagonism + acting out. It's also bad if they do like, because you are rewarding them with attention.

- It's highly possible the cat is unhappy, hence the acting out. Consider passing this cat on to someone with outdoor access or someone who can give this cat 100% daily regular attention. Maybe someone who works from home or someone retired? I'm very very serious. This cat sounds like maybe a bad fit for you and the gf.

For the future, I must tell you that cats are not like dogs. Most of the time you can not discipline them into doing anything. Occasionally you can outsmart them. Your best bet is to talk to them and invite agreement. In this case, you've kinda blown any opportunity for agreement with the spanking, so try the fan method. If that fails, please consider re-homing this cat.

Cats have surprisingly different behavior and personalities dependent on their surroundings.
posted by jbenben at 3:28 PM on February 24, 2011

We have a cat who isn't at all deterred by spray bottles. We've been using a can of compressed air, like you'd use to clean a keyboard. One hit of it and she flees.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 3:31 PM on February 24, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. As I said in my OP, I'm REALLY not down with hitting an animal (which is a big part of why I posted this in the first place) and am a huge anti-cruelty proponent, so I would've absolutely have the same reaction as so many of you did. But when it's 4:30 am and I'm desperate to get back to sleep, I can get irrational. (If I was dealing with a crying baby, for example, I'd punch it square in its illiterate little face to get it to stop crying. But this is why I'm not a parent.)

I'd be thrilled to get another cat, and it was the first option we discussed, but it's simply not possible. Otherwise I'm eager to try a bunch of these potential solutions—Thank you again, so, so much.
posted by incomple at 4:42 PM on February 24, 2011

Lots of great ideas here! pseudostrabismus has some great ideas. The vacuum cleaner on the power strip by the bed is hilarious! I've had mostly good success with a squirt bottle myself.

IF we can make it to DAWN, I've got birdseed on the window sills (put out the previous evening) and I leave a shade open enough for the cats to look out at the birds and squirrels. I guess this won't work for those in a highrise apartment... I also have 2 bird feeders planted about a foot from a window. It's amazing how well this works for not getting woken up early on days that I can sleep in.
posted by Leah at 5:00 PM on February 24, 2011

Just chiming in to warn you against getting another cat -- I know a couple who have 3 cats, and they (the cats) still behave in exactly the way you describe.
posted by ambulatorybird at 6:55 PM on February 24, 2011

Yes, I have two cats and though they are not especially bored, it hasn't deterred nighttime activity.
posted by Miko at 7:43 PM on February 24, 2011

Yeah, everyone pretty much has this one. The cat is being a cat, she is bored and wants you to wake up. I had a cat that would lift my EYELID and look in my eye! Another one would sit next to my head and yell into my ear. And when they figure out where your bladder is, well... When I was a kid I would throw a shoe at the cat.

As I am now an adult, I no longer do such things. I usually wrap my head in a pillow and ignore the darling beastie. I am afraid if I get up or tell them to stop, it will be giving them the attention they want. We had a terrier (I know, not a cat) who would get up early, drink espresso, and run around like a crazy terrier. We finally made her an awesome nest in a closet and put her in it every night with a treat. Then closed the door until morning. It worked like a charm. I am not sure if this would work with a cat though.

I have 9 cats. I love them all. But really, sometimes...
posted by fifilaru at 7:47 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

The fan-outside-the-door solution sounds fantastic, but failing that (interim, etc), you could also try just putting a blanket/comforter against the door to help block out the noise of teh cay meowing. I had to spend the first 8 months I had my cat (then kitten) with him shut out of the bedroom due to this same crazy fun-time at night, and to keep him from seeing me through the oddly large space between my door & the floor, I took to blocking the door every night with a spare comforter. Apparently it blocked out most of the noise because I slept soundly once I figured out that trick, thank god.

Hopefully your cat is a young cat - mine went, quite quickly, from idiotic clinically insane kitten to a cuddly sleep-through-the-night bed companion. He actually really likes to sleep on my pillow, usually curled around my head (the 'cat hat'), though this does have the added occasional downside of gradually being shoved off of my own pillow while I sleep....
posted by AthenaPolias at 8:59 PM on February 24, 2011

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