Nocturnal cat steals HIS sleep during the day
October 4, 2012 8:47 PM   Subscribe

Cat is driving us crazy! Please help us get some sleep.

We have a two year old Maine Coon who is very active at night. He meows to go outside all the time and we often let him go out during the day which we don't mind. However, he is up all night yelling to go out and will come into our room and paw our faces until we let him out.

Just locking him into another room isn't a good option as he slams his body up against the door and scratches the new carpeting all up under the door. So we want to buy some kind of indoor pet kennel or perhaps a soft bag such as this:

A plastic/metal carrier isn't a great option as he slams his face against the cage and hurts this nose.

Anyone have any suggestions here? I would love to get some rest at night but this guy is driving us up the wall!
posted by gregjunior to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Engage the cat in vigorous play for about 15-20 minutes just before bedtime? I think there is some hard-wired thing in a cat's system that leads them to associate physical fatigue with "end of the day." Conversely, if a cat isn't tired, he sort of feels like "there's something I forgot to do," and so he tries going in, going out, pawing and all of that to try to figure out what he's left undone.

Restlessness in cats at night is also sometimes a symptom of illness, so you might want to bring this up with your vet.
posted by La Cieca at 8:55 PM on October 4, 2012

Conditioning is your friend. I once read, possibly here, of people who set up the vacuum cleaner outside their closed bedroom door. They ran the cord under the door and plugged it into a power strip. When the yowling started, they hit the switch on the power strip, the vacuum started as if by magic in a way seemingly not caused by the humans, and the cat learned not to behave that way. Very quickly. YMMV
posted by carmicha at 9:12 PM on October 4, 2012 [19 favorites]

Have you tried just closing your bedroom door at night, so he has the run of the house but can't come bother you? (He may be annoyed by this the first few nights, so give it a little while for him to get used to it.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:19 PM on October 4, 2012

It's hard, but we trained our large young (but neutered) male cat not to do this in two or three nights by ignoring him completely... and I mean COMPLETELY. Don't respond AT ALL: don't talk, don't punish, don't squirt him with water, don't even look at him - no eye contact. It's like a toddler - he will do everything he can think of*, and you have to pretend he doesn't exist. It's exhausting, but any attention is still attention. It involved a few nights of bad sleep, but it was successful - this is a weekend project. Set your alarm for mornings, and when the alarm goes off feed him & let him out. That's what the alarm means: everybody gets up and eats breakfast, and you are NOT to be bothered before that. He only gets attention AFTER the alarm goes off!

*Our cat was so bad ...he start pushing stuff off surfaces - he broke a glass - and no, we didn't clean it up until morning! Anyway, put breakables away for this project! Haha.

(My cat started doing this after my Dad came to visit - Dad woke up at 5am, cat asked Dad if he could go out, Dad spent hours trying to "distract" cat until dawn... )

We've tried the garage thing too... trouble for us was that he LOVES being in the garage! So he'd get in trouble on purpose so we'd lock him in there. *sigh*
posted by jrobin276 at 9:31 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

My experience with a particular cat was similar to jrobins276. Any attention made the cat feel he had succeeded. I wish I had been forewarned. It took me awhile to figure out I needed to totally ignore him. Sometimes I forget that an awful lot of kitty energy is devoted to observing me and that focus can be used for miniacal manipulations.

Cats love having their patterns and rituals. Try to create a game with a little movement which ends up in bed. We (me and the former pest and his brother) join forces and conduct an in depth kitty patrol around the house. We look behind curtains, check windows and doors, gather up "mousies", verify that the food and water bowls still exist, talking and chirping together all the while. Exciting stuff! They love to join in. We end it by everyone diving onto the bed. People start reading and beasts start bathing. Uninterupted sleep usually follows!
posted by cat_link at 10:05 PM on October 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Water pistol or air can. It worked for us (though he still does a daily 3 am lap around the apartment which is mildly noisy. He no longer paws our faces or purr-drools on our heads or knocks over the bedside lamp because OUT NOW.)

Ignoring him only worked to a point, and that point was knocking glasses over on our faces. Withholding attention often leads to escalating behavior because the animal is boundary testing and doesn't mind being more annoying to see you react/give in. I don't have the willpower not to react to water being spilled on my head at 3 am. A short, swift, harmless punishment was enough to teach him. Eventually, all I had to do was touch the spray bottle and he'd run away. Now he doesn't bother me at all.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:11 PM on October 4, 2012

he is up all night yelling to go out and will come into our room and paw our faces until we let him out.

Stop letting him out at night, at all, ever. When he paws your face, do your best to play dead. He'll probably get extra-obnoxious for a period of time (an extinction burst) before abandoning the behavior. You might want to clear away lamps, glasses, and other fragile items from your bedside table to prevent a repeat of jrobin276's situation.

This article from the New York Times offers a very readable introduction to operant conditioning and animal training; it refers to extinction as "least reinforcing syndrome."
posted by Orinda at 10:35 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am basically you, and have been for years. In our case it's inability to shut our bedroom door to keep the cat out, due to the behaviors you mention in your post (patches of carpet have been torn bare).

My "solution" (and it isn't much of one) is to keep two water sprayers in the bedroom, one on either bedside table, and when the Cat Who Will Not Be Denied gives up on napping alongside us and starts pawing at our faces in the middle of the night (or, more commonly, attempting to groom us), we spray him. One or two squirts usually does the trick, and when he's particularly persistent, I will literally reposition myself such that I am brandishing the sprayer at him as I fall asleep again. Only occasionally does he start chewing on the sprayer's nozzle.

Like I said, not exactly optimal. The only nights I sleep through completely are in hotels. But it's one option.

I for one am absolutely going to try the vacuum-powerstrip thing. In my experience vacuums are the universal cat kryptonite. And may I say that kitty patrol is the cutest idea ever.
posted by AugieAugustus at 5:16 AM on October 5, 2012

Regarding his behavior at your bedroom door. We had a cat that would throw herself at our door at night, trying to get in. The quick and easy solution was to put a scat mat in front of the door for a couple of weeks, the behavior ended never to return.
posted by HuronBob at 5:55 AM on October 5, 2012

Ssscat! All the way. Ours recently started trying to break down our bedroom door at night (it was actually pretty hilarious; like, BODY-SLAMMING). And we finally put a Ssscat canister outside our door at night and now that is OVER. Now when we remove it in the morning, he verrrrry cautiously slinks into the bedroom. Heh.

Goddamned adorable cats.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:02 AM on October 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

The best advice I've seen for this on the green is to wait until your cat is sleeping during the day and then meow at him. It accomplishes nothing, but it is SO satisfying and hilarious.

But yeah, the vacuum thing works. I keep mine plugged in next to my bed and I just hit the on button for a second when our cat starts to act up. His behavior has improved considerably and it's been weeks since I've had to turn on the vacuum.
posted by chaiminda at 7:44 AM on October 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

I crate two of my cats at night because they want to rodeo around the house in the wee hours and shockingly my downstairs neighbors do not appreciate it. I use a metal dog crate big enough for a litter box, water, and bedding, but not so big that the more athletic of the two can do backflips in it. I would be very surprised if the softsided crate would withstand a determined Maine Coon. The mesh areas look very easy to claw and chew through.
posted by crankylex at 8:06 AM on October 5, 2012

The vacuum thing worked like a charm. I only got the chance to try it last night but after two incidents of turning on the vacuum, he doesnt even want to get near the door now!

Hopefully this will continue to do the trick.

Thanks all!
posted by gregjunior at 8:52 AM on October 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

The best advice I've seen for this on the green is to wait until your cat is sleeping during the day and then meow at him. It accomplishes nothing, but it is SO satisfying and hilarious.

Oddly enough we did this when our cats were kittens and they stopped the midnight yowl-fest pretty much instantly.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:30 PM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

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