cat vs sleep.
July 9, 2011 5:08 AM   Subscribe

What to do with early morning kitty? GF is increasingly upset.

We have a one year old cat. We have had Annie ~2 months from a shelter with 4 other kitties. She is great, except for in the mornings. For work (most weekdays), the GF gets up at 6:30, and feeds the cat. On weekends, she wants to sleep till at least 7. The cat, however, still wants to get up at 6:30 (sometimes 6... or, if one of us gets up to pee.... 4) and will pester us constantly till one of us (usually her) gets us. Mewoing, knocking things off the bedside table, more meowing. She gets plenty of food. Plenty or a little too much. My GF feeds Annie purina one beyond brand food... she usually gets two or more cups a day. The shelter says they fed her some kinda fancy special order food. Annie has no problems eating the purina, that we can see. She is, unfortunately, driving my cat-loving GF into utter rage. Cat has: food, water, some toys, easy access to the litter box, a decent amount of love and attention. Help?
posted by Jacen to Pets & Animals (34 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The only way of solving this issue that is more than 50% successful is to deny the cat access to the bedroom. Close the door at night, lock the cat up somewhere else if she's too loud outside the door.

We have 2 cats. The first one we adopted was fine with sleeping in... the second one liked to step on my throat at 4am. So they aren't allowed in the bedroom. Thankfully the second one is such a wimpy meower that I can't actually hear her with the door closed.
posted by selfnoise at 5:12 AM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Stop feeding the cat before 7. She's come to expect a meal at 6:30, and does not know what day of the week it is, or why that should affect her schedule. If she's always fed after 7, she'll come to expect that. It will take a while to make that adjustment, during which period you might try closing her out of the bedroom. That might introduce more confusion, though, since she'll begin to associate the bedroom door opening with breakfast.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:19 AM on July 9, 2011 [27 favorites]

Agree with selfnoise- just keep the cat out of the bedroom at night. We have two, and they both start dancing on our heads as soon as it begins to get light outside. One wants to be fed (I think), the other one actually just wants to cuddle (but he purrs really loud, drools, and licks... yuck). So they just don't get to sleep with us anymore. There was a little bit of protest in the beginning. But they no longer meow at the door. I've never met a cat who could be broken of this behavior.
posted by kimdog at 5:22 AM on July 9, 2011

Best answer: Feeding time must be adjusted. Full stop.

No more feeding the cat at 630, bc w time the cat will move that up to 430.

Allow the cat to free feed. Put the food down at night. Or just before leaving for work.

NEVER feed a cat as soon as you wake up. They are quite bossy about it and will keep checking to make sure you still have a pulse, because why would you deny precious kitty the nutritious breakfast she so rightly deserves?

Note that improvement will not happen overnight.

Do not give in 'just this once' for an extra ten minutes of 'sleep,' or you will prolong the time change process.
posted by bilabial at 5:22 AM on July 9, 2011 [19 favorites]

Nthing stop feeding the cat immediately upon waking up. She's waking you up because you've been training her to wake you up. Stop. (And steel yourselves for the extinction burst.)
posted by jon1270 at 5:29 AM on July 9, 2011 [7 favorites]

Deny access to the bedroom, and under no circumstances respond to the whiny behavior you'll probably have to endure from behind the door. My sisters found it effective to stuff the gap between the door and the floor with towels - I preferred sleeping in the basement.

I also think feeding anywhere near the time you get up is a bad, bad idea.
posted by SMPA at 5:30 AM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get an automatic feeder. Seriously. Detach "people" from "food." There are feeders all over amazon and at the pet store. Set the thing to feed ever how many times a day, and then stop feeding the cat by hand. We did this, for exactly the same reason, and we didn't have to live through the fresh hell of keeping them out of our room or give up kitty snuggles.

It works. Really quickly, in my experience.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:32 AM on July 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

We feed our cats at night for this exact reason. Now everyone sleeps in!
posted by sugarfish at 5:33 AM on July 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

I had a cat who did this at increasingly early hours of the morning (her favorite technique was biting my ears). She was a gobbler, so free-feeding wasn't an option--she really had to be given measured amounts or she'd eat everything in sight and then some. I finally started giving her a "midnight snack" right before I went to bed--just a little bit of kibble to get her through the night. It worked like a charm.

My mother used to pick up our indoor/outdoor cat when he started doing this at 5 and throw him (gently) outside, but of course that doesn't work so well with indoor only cats.
posted by newrambler at 5:41 AM on July 9, 2011

The real solution is for the feeding time (or process) to change. I notice that you don't mention when you get up. If it's later than the GF, the obvious solution is obvious. (or switch to some other method of feeding.)

However, in the short term, if you know how much it bothers her why don't you just get up and feed the cat on the weekends? Is it really that hard to be generous to her and handle a fast and easy chore which you acknowledge is really bothering her? (There may be circumstances you don't mention, of course, but you give no indication that you can't take on some more responsibility here.)
posted by oddman at 5:45 AM on July 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

I have never gotten up, fed or played with a kitty who has woken me up. From day 1. I just pretend I'm still asleep.

So now they never bother. Ignore her; power through it and eventually she'll stop. It's going to take longer than you want, because she knows you'll cave.

It works! And my kitties are spoiled like crazy, but not until after I wake up. Also, I wouldn't feed her first thing after you wake up - she'll associate the two things. Wait 10 minutes at least.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 5:51 AM on July 9, 2011

If I could give new cat owners one piece of advice, it would be "Do not EVER feed the cat immediately upon waking up." It causes the cat to make the association "Human waking up" = "Foodtime!", which gives the cat a motive to wake the human up.

If you are feeding the cat just once a day, do it when you get home from work or at night as sugarfish suggests. That will prevent the cat from getting hungry overnight and asking for food earlier and earlier. But I think 2-3 small "meals" per day is better than a once-a-day food dump.

If you want to feed the cat in the morning, do it right before the last person leaves the house for work, and never any earlier. If you work from home, give the cat food on a regular schedule well after you get up and preferably after some piece of your morning routine that the cat can recognize (for example, train the cat to expect that she won't be fed until after you've eaten your breakfast or done your morning yoga).

You need to institute a new feeding schedule and stick to it with absolute rigor. The cat will probably go through an extinction burst and try extra hard to wake you up in the morning for perhaps the next 1-3 weeks, depending on how long it takes her to catch on. Steel yourselves to endure it. Do not give the cat any response when she meows or knocks things off the bedside table (you might want to clear the tabletop temporarily so she doesn't have the option). Hold still and pretend you are still asleep. If you've gotten up to go to the bathroom, do not look at the cat, pet her, talk to her, or acknowledge her in any way (you are going for the least reinforcing syndrome). If you and your girlfriend stick to this routine consistently, I believe you can outsmart the cat and train away the undesired behaviors. Good luck!
posted by Orinda at 5:53 AM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can also remove the cat from the bedroom when the bad behavior starts; she will learn meowing and knocking things over leads to exile. But you must do it calmly and impassively so as not to reinforce the bad behavior through attention. We did this with ours whom we wanted to be able to sleep in with us, byut without 2 a.m. foot gnawing.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:57 AM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Had the same problem with two cats. I was feeding them half of their daily meal in the morning before work (around 7) and half in the evening before bed (around 10). Every week they started pouncing on me earlier and earlier, even on work days, until I was being woken up with things being knocked over every morning at 4am.

Now I only feed them at night - half a can of wet food each, and a scoop of dry food each - and they graze all day. They seem totally content and let me sleep in later - though they still know my work schedule, so they try to wake me according to that!
posted by anotheraccount at 6:27 AM on July 9, 2011

As soon as you stop feeding the cat in the morning, the behavior will stop. Feed it when you get back home and again at night, leaving enough food for the morning. This will take about 2 weeks to correct itself.

It's really that easy. 3 cats here shifted to a don't bother us in the 5am hours just because my wife gets us.
posted by filmgeek at 6:33 AM on July 9, 2011

Yeah, this is really a problem of timing. Cats will become earlier and earlier morning cats if you let them. Start feeding them before you go to bed at night. You may have to shut the bedroom door for the first few days until they get used to eating at night, but as soon as they've become accustomed to it, you should have a happy, cuddly kitty!
posted by honeybee413 at 6:35 AM on July 9, 2011

I don't feed mine until I'm done with my shower. Once he thought he could hurry this process by jumping into the shower with me. He only did that once.
posted by desjardins at 6:36 AM on July 9, 2011 [22 favorites]

Seconding M. Maven's timed feeder - set it up on the other end of the house. This seemed like a fortune when we bought it 8 years ago, but it's more than paid for itself in kitty/human sanity. Our clever little highly motivated monster who's figured out how to open doors and latches hasn't figured out how to make it go off. It's also useful for entertainment, testing Pavlov's ideas, and when you go on vacation and need cat sitters.
posted by arabelladragon at 7:02 AM on July 9, 2011

the way I combatted the issue of my loud cat waking me in the morni was to feed them at night. worked like a charm!!
posted by katypickle at 7:11 AM on July 9, 2011

We've added a late-night feeding to the schedule and it's definitely cut down on the early-morning wakeups. Don't forget to redistribute the amount of food you give the cats if you add an extra feeding; otherwise you'll have little furry beach balls. I know this from personal experience.
posted by immlass at 7:25 AM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can also vouch for night feeding only as working like a charm. We just recently moved our two cats to this model after the early morning door crying got to be too much.
My cats would still try to wake me up in the morning if I let them sleep in the bedroom. Which is why they are not allowed.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:44 AM on July 9, 2011

Just another suggestion for the automatic feeder, I recommend them all the time. My cat was a semi-feral who had all sorts of food issues, and the feeder totally disassociated us from the food process. This isn't the brand we had but is the same general idea. It's also hilarious to watch the cat drop whatever it's doing and run across the house whenever the feeder goes off.
posted by lillygog at 8:03 AM on July 9, 2011

Nthing disassociating your awakening with cat feeding. Makes a world of difference.
posted by MeiraV at 8:04 AM on July 9, 2011

Can of air for the knocking things over. If your cat is as big of a jerk as ours was, he'll start escalating the noise in an attempt to wake you up. A very short burst of canned air in his general vicinity put an end to that.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:11 AM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think the food alone will help. I give my cats free kibble all day, and give them wet food when we have dinner (some breeds, including mine, prefer it when their humans eat at the same time as them). And they still tapdance on my forehead at dawn.

Locking them out of the bedroom just led to needing to replace the molding on the outside of the door (no, I don't put up with that, but believe it or not, getting up to scold them for it would have reinforced the behavior).

Completely ignoring them, however, works about 95% of the time. They'll still check in on me every now and then, but just a quick walk past the head of the bed, see if I move, and if not, they move on and leave me alone for another half hour. But as others have said, even this approach will take some time, and don't don't don't ever give in, not even a quick scratch on their chin, not even a growl of "go away!". Totally ignore them until you want to get up.
posted by pla at 8:24 AM on July 9, 2011

We had a similar problem, and shopped for an auto feeder, but couldn't find any that fit our space and budget requirements. Instead we got a Tiger Diner. I still put food in in the morning and night, but there's usually some kibblets left in the AM so that the kitties aren't crawling all over me. The entry price is low enough that if it doesn't solve the problem its not a huge loss (esp. compared to some of the auto feeders.)
posted by Wulfhere at 8:28 AM on July 9, 2011

I absolutely agree with everyone else who's saying no morning feedings.

However, I want to just add a word of caution about free feeding. Two plus cups a day is a LOT of kibble, and a kitty who will eat that much now will, in my experience, increase the amount of food they eat if you let them. We had a fat kitty who would have never stopped eating if we'd given him unfettered access. For our overeating kitty, we introduced wet food and fresh fish into his diet a lot more, and cut way back on the kibble, which is very calorie dense. The food with more water content seemed to fill him up more quickly, which we suspect was part of the problem with the kibble. He wasn't getting a 'full' signal as quickly, and the problem escalated.

So while free feeding may resolve your current problem for now, it may introduce new problems in the future, and the problem may even come back as your cat increases the amount of food she eats. That is, rather than yelling at you on a regular timetable, she'll just start yelling at you whenever her bowl is empty.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:27 AM on July 9, 2011

I was going to come in and suggest something like the Tiger Diner or the Slim Ball which is what I got my cat, Mr. Mister. I fill it up at night and he has plenty of time to eat and leave me in peace. But I see that Wulfhere beat me to it.

I think with multiple cats, the Tiger Diner would be the better choice.
posted by patheral at 10:08 AM on July 9, 2011

Response by poster: Oddman- Cause I sleep heavier than her, and am much less bothered by it. Shes up and irritated at the first meow. It takes at least nose nomming to get me up :D

'Sides, it does not seem that actual hunger is really the issue... a lot of good advice on how my GF is training her/rewarding bad behavior. Will look into feeders! Thanks everybody.
posted by Jacen at 10:33 AM on July 9, 2011

I also feed my three after my shower, and they know it... as soon as I go in the the bathroom in the morning, there's a parade of black kitties being obnoxious and cute simultaneously, sneaking in the bathroom to sit on the counter and bathtub edge. It's also kinda creepy, but it's much better than them being obnoxious by pouncing on my head at 5am demanding food. But now they don't care if I get up at 5am or 10am, as long as i feed them as soon as I'm out of the shower.
posted by cgg at 11:01 AM on July 9, 2011

Deny access to the bedroom, and under no circumstances respond to the whiny behavior you'll probably have to endure from behind the door. My sisters found it effective to stuff the gap between the door and the floor with towels - I preferred sleeping in the basement.

Unless, of course, you have MY kitty. The one who sits-back on his rears and pounds on the closed door with his front paws, like a one-cat SWAT team invading your home. At 4 am.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:25 AM on July 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Social cats that want to be in another room (i.e. to watch birds outside) will wake you up to get you out there with them. If you lock them out of the room they'll meow loudly at being left alone. Decoupling the food from wakeup should at least push the wakeups past 7, but they'll come in for a couple quick attempts after that point, FYI. We manage 8-9 normally.
posted by jwells at 2:23 PM on July 9, 2011

My cats go batshit insane if the chow level in the bowl is even remotely close to the dreaded Bottom Of the Bowl, which is a total emergency. Day or night, it's a feline 911. Therefore, the bowl is always full, and btw the cats are both a reasonable weight.
posted by puddinghead at 3:54 PM on July 9, 2011

With the summer heat lately, I've put a fan in the bedroom and noticed that the sound of the fan really helps drown out the kitty yowling that seems to happen randomly between 4 and 7 am. Maybe she can try the same or some other type of white noise generator?
posted by platinum at 5:21 PM on July 10, 2011

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