Why won't my cat let me sleep?
April 4, 2011 3:43 AM   Subscribe

My cats are nocturnal! Which was never a problem until, a few weeks ago, one of them started getting really irritating at night. She will scratch a piece of furniture or wall, making that wonderful knife-sharpening sound, until she sees that my wife or I are awake (usually this involves us yelling or throwing something, but I've noticed that even rolling over or lifting a head to look, will make her stop). This happens 6 or 7 times a night. The other one is usually fine but now they get in fights every night. Nothing in particular has changed in our, or presumably their, lives. They seem healthy and otherwise happy. What gives?

The cats are brother & sister, were rescued from under a barn at a young age, and have always been as sweet as can be, both with us and with each other. Past nocturnal problems have mostly been about them walking on our heads or sleeping on our books. Standard cat behavior in other words. Though, now that I think of it, the one that's being annoying now did spend some time poking us with her claws in the middle of the night a few years ago- we took to poking her back instead of petting her, and she stopped. This seems related: it's clear she wants attention. But at 4 am we have no positive attention to give, and this needs to stop.
posted by Erroneous to Pets & Animals (19 answers total)
1. Close your bedroom door.
2. Give her something to "hunt" at night. string, that furry stuff attached to a string.
3. Close your bedroom door.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:48 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Simple answer: cats are wierd.

They're playing games with you because they want your attention. It's working.
posted by talitha_kumi at 3:49 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Unfortunately, the answer really is "It's a cat."
Our cat insists on loudly pawing on any closed door it can find at about 3 or 4 in the morning. If you open all the interior doors, it will paw on closed exterior doors...including the door in our bedroom that opens to a patio.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:23 AM on April 4, 2011

Close your door and run a white noise generator at night.
posted by rottytooth at 4:40 AM on April 4, 2011

Please do not leave string out for your cats (or any other reason) - if you cat eats string, it could be very, very bad for the cat, leading to much suffering, expensive surgery, and possibly death.
posted by amtho at 5:25 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

When we had a similar issue, our vet recommended putting the offending cat out of our room and/or in the bathroom for the rest of the night (bathroom if the cat requires separation from the other cat; you can pre-prep a bathroom with water/food/litterbox if necessary). Then don't react, don't even groan, just calmly remove the cat to the bathroom. As calmly as possible. You can say "No scratching at night" or whatever if you want, but you don't have to. The idea is to give the cat as little reaction as possible.

This led to one miserable week of kitty crying outside the door half the night before it dawned on him that if he just didn't BITE OUR TOES in the middle of the night, he wouldn't end up banished. Eight years later, when he feels the need for nighttime escapades, he hops off our bed, runs his crazy out in another part of the house, and comes back to curl up with us again. So it was well worth the miserable week investment.

(Even better, if our newer cat acts up in the night on our bed, our existing cat knocks him off the bed, because he knows that shit don't fly on the bed. Our existing cat is a total stickler for making the other cat obey the rules, we hardly had to do any training at all!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:59 AM on April 4, 2011 [10 favorites]

Tried and true methods of water pistol if that works on your cat, or can full of pennies. Scratching = thing that the cat doesn't want. Being nice and going to bed = snuggles.

Ours went through something like this and EVERY TIME we had to be really consistent with the negative consequences. They'll be eight this year and it's been a long time since we've had to deal with it. They go to bed with us, and if they need to get up and do something cat-related, I can only imagine they go downstairs - whatever they do it's not waking us up.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:07 AM on April 4, 2011

Basic attention-seeking is a possibility, but here's another question: Is the cat always scratching the same spot? Our cat got weird about crying in the bathroom and occasionally clawing at a window; turned out that some starlings were building a nest in the bathroom vent and she could just see them from the window in there. It's Baby Animal time of year in the northern hemisphere. If that's where you are, it could be that she's pointing out the interesting critters she can't get at.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:17 AM on April 4, 2011

(About string and safety: I've found that a big, chunky high-quality nylon bootlace works well instead of string--it's much too thick for an average-sized cat to swallow, it's too sturdy to chew apart (make sure to get a really good, tightly woven one) and when pulled it flips around more than a mere string. Our cat went through few weeks of intense love for the bootlace, with lots of chewing (the bootlace lived in my room where I could keep an eye on it) and it's like new. )

Get a fan or a white noise machine. My little cat likes to wake up at about 2am for a romp and my room is her lair (the rest of the house is just her turf). A fan next to the bed covers up all the noise and scuffling.
posted by Frowner at 6:19 AM on April 4, 2011

Just to compound on what Eyebrow McGee is saying: Do not react by yelling, shouting, throwing, or otherwise making a big deal. All of a sudden you are awake and giving your cat the attention she wants. Pretend you're sleeping. Don't move or open your eyes or do anything that even hints at the possibility that she woke you up and got you to pay attention to her.
posted by royalsong at 6:22 AM on April 4, 2011

Umm... ALL cats are nocturnal. *scratches head*

Anyway, they sell double-sided sticky tape at pet stores that will discourage them from scratching. They'll probably come up with some other way to annoy you, though, so you need to sleep in a different room from them. And wear earplugs.
posted by desjardins at 6:39 AM on April 4, 2011

I believe all cats are crepuscular, not nocturnal.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:43 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

This is why I wear earplugs, every night. I got so tired of struggling to ignore tiny cat-mischief noises throughout the house, falling asleep feeling frustrated, being awoken over and over. The earplugs have saved the cats from death and me from the electric chair.
posted by hermitosis at 7:37 AM on April 4, 2011

Put your cat in another room with a litter box, and water if you think he/she will need it, when you go to bed at night. Let them out as soon as you get up. Keep this up every night for a while, at least a week. Then see how they do outside the room again. Usually, they will have adapted to being quieter and hanging out in certain spots by that time. If you need to put them back in the litter box room, do it. It does not harm them in any way. Eventually, they may even sleep with you or near you during the night and get all their playing out during the day before you go to sleep. Cats CAN learn, but you have to make it worth their while.

We kept our cats in the laundry room at night with their litter box and a couple cat beds and a small climbing thing. When we had all three cats, this was absolutely necessary for our sanity. I had to take one cat, Colby, back to the shelter*, so now we only have two, and there is no need for either of them to sleep anywhere else as they are fine at not keeping us up at all during the night.

*Please do not judge me. I cried so much over this decision, but I gave this cat so much love and attention and we just couldn't make it work. Colby would tear holes in the screened porch, escape and get into fights with raccoons (badly injured once), and then the other cats would also escape out of the hole in the screen; when kept in the house Colby tore the weather strips from around the doors and if we forgot to lock any doors, he would open them and get out anyway (very smart cat). He urinated and defecated repeatedly on my youngest son's bed and we tried everything--when we tried using Felliway, my son started getting bad headaches, and he couldn't sleep in that room any more. We finally decided we had no choice but to let Colby go--the stress was just too much for us and the other two cats. When I took Colby back to the shelter after literally a year of trying to make it work, the shelter people really made me feel guilty and kept me standing there, crying, explaining why over and over. This after I had raised money for the shelter, rescued sick cats, and I even offered to pay the adoption fee if someone wanted Colby as an outside cat to hunt down mice (he was very, very good at killing things: after escaping, he'd bring back mice and even blind baby moles that he had killed. And then drop them into our swimming pool). Colby did get adopted--I hope the shelter fully informed the new owners what to expect. Now the other two cats are much happier, as are we, and I know it was the right thing to do, but I still feel so sad that we couldn't find a way to make it work.
posted by misha at 8:52 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

One of our cats, who is now eight, goes through periods of trying to wake up the humans throughout the night. The annoying but true answer to the problem is that you just have to ignore it. Shut them out of the room, get a white noise machine if necessary, and just ignore their shenanigans. The second you show a reaction to what is clearly an attempt to get your attention, you are rewarding the behavior.

Pretend that you are dead, that they are zombies who wish to feast on the brains of the living, and if you demonstrate even in the most minute way that you are alive, they will stop at nothing to get to your tasty, tasty headcheese. Don't even grumble to yourself, or toss & turn, or tell the cats to shut up, or anything. Play dead. It's the only way.

This will result in a few nights of crappy sleep while the cats adjust to your lack of reaction. However, it's the only way my cats ever knock it off. Sometimes they'll try it again, but at this point, they give up after 15 minutes of trying to get us to join in their all-night dance party.

Another helpful thing we started doing is feeding them right before we go to bed. Something about a nice meal makes kitties want to give themselves a bath and curl up for a snooze.
posted by countess duckula at 9:25 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


(Sammy Katz has been much more insane lately, too.)

Yes, definitely lock kitty out/ignore her, and if that doesn't work, water bottle.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:51 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had a cat that bit my toes at night, a few unintentional kicks stopped the behaviour. She still loves me. My sister's cat likes to go into the bathtub at 3 AM and yell on the top of his lungs. The sound reverberates and echos like crazy!! She turned the shower on him a few times. Now he rarely does this. So a bit of negative reinforcement does help, but who wants to be mean?

Kitty does want you to get up and she is probably succeeding. Unless she is sick, she will stop if you ignore her. Ignoring her will be the hard part.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 12:31 PM on April 4, 2011

I used to have a cat that decided to start scratching to go out at 5:00 every morning. I started nailing him with a squirt bottle every time, but I found that he still occasionally did it. Then I noticed that after I got him between the eyes with the water, he would come to bed with me to KISS AND MAKE UP. I decided to start ignoring him and refusing the cuddle time; it only took a couple times of that to end the scratching forever.

So I would try the squirt bottle if you can locate the cat and squirt it before it gets away (you have to be pretty fast to do that). Otherwise, just try ignoring the scratching, though that won't be any fun at all.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 3:20 PM on April 4, 2011

We tried the squirt bottle for awhile. The cat merely enjoys the chase. It's attention and play for them and just encourages them to keep it up all night.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:36 AM on April 5, 2011

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