alarming cat
February 15, 2008 10:21 AM   Subscribe

Why would a cat wake you up between 4 and 5 in the morning when it has water and food and an accessible litter box?

My parent's cat has taken to coming in to their bedroom and "talking" to them between 4 and 5 every morning. My mom has gotten up on occasion and can't figure out what the cat wants as all doors are open to food, water and the litter pan. When they don't respond at all to the cat (when it does the 4 - 5 AM wake up thing) the cat pees in their fireplace or on a bathroom rug.
Does anyone know what this could be about?
posted by scottMontgomery to Pets & Animals (39 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 10:22 AM on February 15, 2008

well, kitty could be trying to pass a stone, which is painful. Our cat starting doing this and peeing in weird places because he was saying "hey, check out this blood in my urine. Help, please". He had a gall stone the sie of a tic-tac.
posted by boo_radley at 10:24 AM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Your cat is un utilized. Play with it more, right before bedtime. Exhaust the hell out of it.

It'll still wake you up at 4 AM beceause, well, it's a cat. If it didn't, it would be voted out of the club.
posted by Stynxno at 10:25 AM on February 15, 2008

It likes them.

I recommend that they try "Cat Attract" litter. I had a rampant peer-to-get-attention and once we bought this stuff, it stopped nearly immediately. He loves it like it's catnip -- tries to get into the bag, etc.
posted by theredpen at 10:25 AM on February 15, 2008

A simple answer: Because he can.

It worked once, so he's trying it again. When it doesn't work, he's voicing his displeasure by peeing all over the place.

(This is true if this is the only time he's peeing around the house. If this is a regular occurrence, get thy feline friend to a vet - it could be a UTI, among other things)
posted by cgg at 10:26 AM on February 15, 2008

My mom has gotten up on occasion and can't figure out what the cat wants

Let's go inside the brain of a cat...

* Meow.
* Whoa, the human that gives me food woke up.
* Double whoa, the human is standing up and walking around. I better hang around, something interesting might happen.
* I better do this again tomorrow.
* Meow.
* Bummer, they didn't react this time. Oh well.
* Meow.
* Whoa -- it happens in the morning! I'll be sure to come back at this exact time tomorrow!
* Meow.
* It works!
* Meow.
* Shit, didn't work that time.
* Meow.
* I need to pee.
* This looks like a good spot.
* Meow.
* The human has reacted to the fact that I pee'd on the rug. This is interesting...
* Meow.
* Shit, didn't wake up.
* I know! I need to pee on the rug first...
* Meow.
* Meow. Meow. Meow. Meow.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:29 AM on February 15, 2008 [38 favorites]

Mine does this too, when he wants to be let on to the bed - he's too old and fat to jump up. I'm going to have to build him a little cat staircase...
posted by nicwolff at 10:29 AM on February 15, 2008

Cleveland Amory's cat developed a similar habit, as detailed in his book The Cat Who Came for Christmas. And the reason I remember his account so vividly is because we used to own a cat that exhibited the same behavior. Amory's cat would come and wake him up in the middle of the night with persistent meowing and inappropriate behavior if ignored, much like our Sparky who did this to my Dad, even though he was "my" cat. In both cases, the solution was to keep a small dish next to the bed, and to pour fresh food (Tender Vittles or something similar) into the dish when the cat demanded attention. Pouring food into the bedside dish before retiring didn't help; the cat for some reason took pleasure in waking up the owner and having him provide food in the middle of the night at his request.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:34 AM on February 15, 2008

Notoriously normal cat behaviour. This might help explain. Substitute pee for baseball bat.

Our cats used* to wake us up at 4 am to let us know it was time to shake the kibbles around in their food bowl. Kibbles were already in the bowl, they just wanted someone to stir them up before they would eat.

*The nighttime distance between my bed and the cats is now enforced by the length of the house and two sets of locked doors. Meow all you want, you little monsters.
posted by jamaro at 10:43 AM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Every cat I've ever lived with was an early riser. Felines are morning folk, at least until they're fed and watered. Four a.m. is kitteh playtime!
posted by Carol Anne at 10:44 AM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

This happened to me this morning at the exact same hour! The only plausible reasons that I can think of why the cat does this are:

1. The cat is a jerk.
2. The cat is bored and didn't get enough play time in before bed.
3. The cat is usually fed wet food in the morning, so has started to become an alarm clock.
4. The change from winter to spring is somehow affecting her behavior.

My solution this morning was to lock her out of the bedroom. Tonight, I will keep a spray bottle of water nearby in case she tries it again.
posted by hooray at 10:52 AM on February 15, 2008

the solution was to keep a small dish next to the bed, and to pour fresh food (Tender Vittles or something similar) into the dish when the cat demanded attention.

That's a solution? Sounds like a reward for waking you up!

My cat sometimes does this. In general it's because her litterbox is not clean enough for her. if it's got traces of a previous visit, she doesn't want to use it. Now I scoop it routinely before bed.

Still, every few months there's a random bid for attention. Response: chuck a small pillow, say "ssss!," do something the cat dislikes.
posted by Miko at 10:52 AM on February 15, 2008

Play with me. Play, Play, Play. Can't you see, I want to plaaaaayyyyyy. Get up noooowwww. MEOW. Play Play play play play.

Or, petmepetmepetmepetmepetme

It boils down to the simple fact that cats are like high strung crack addicts. They are neurotic, Crazy and hardwired to make their owners feel the same least that's how my cat is.
posted by Holy foxy moxie batman! at 10:56 AM on February 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

My theory is that the cat associates the caretaker with feeding. It wakes up, and it wants you to feed it.

It doesn't matter that there is food out, it wants to experience the act of being fed.
posted by quarterframer at 10:58 AM on February 15, 2008

Miko has it. The first reaction to any peeing and/or pooping outside the litterbox should always be clean the litterbox. Plus there's always the possibility that the cat can't find the litterbox. (What are you? Hard of Smelling?) In that case: Night light.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:04 AM on February 15, 2008

Hey, nicwolff (and others) - if you do have a cat that can't make it up to the bed, you might look at this step side table. I have no idea who makes it or under what conditions, and I wish it weren't that particular color, but it could be good.
posted by amtho at 11:04 AM on February 15, 2008

my cat does this too. i think it's because he's kind of a jerk.

the things that work best are to
a) keep him awake in the evening and play with him a lot,
b) put on a birds-n-squirrels DVD all evening to tire out his tiny brain.

if he meows anyway, you have three tactics:

1. lazy cop detes the criminal: if he's loose in the house, shut the bedroom door and place a small fan outside the door at one side of the doorframe, blowing across the doorway so he can't get within a foot of the door without being fanned on. that should keep him away. also run a fan in the bedroom, pointed at nothing- the white noise makes a good buffer from the meowsing.

2. bad cop puts the criminal in jail: when the meowing starts, say NO! pick him up by the scruff, toss him into the bathroom, and lock the door. a few nights of that'll learn him. maybe move the bath mats so they don't get peed on in retaliation. (and this is assuming the litterbox is in the bathroom.)

3. good cop plays nice with the criminal: call him up into the bed and make him lie beside you while you scratch his chin til you both fall back asleep.
posted by twistofrhyme at 11:07 AM on February 15, 2008

This map may be of some help for a cat's eye view of the bedroom.
posted by Rumple at 11:07 AM on February 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

oops, lazy cop "deters" the criminal.
posted by twistofrhyme at 11:07 AM on February 15, 2008

Finally, I get to quote one of my favorite MetaFilter posts of all time:

Let's face it, the real question is why your cat wants to torment you when you're asleep. And the answer is obvious: because your cat is a dick.

posted by jtfowl0 at 11:09 AM on February 15, 2008

My cats will meow if their food is yucky (to them). I value my sleep at that hour, so I give them a smidge of deli-meat and go back to bed. Bad (sleeping) kitty parent, yes I know. One morning, I sleepily closed the pantry door (where her food was stored) and locked the meowing cat inside. Didn't even realize until the next morning when I kept hearing this pitiful meow. But, you know, she doesn't really bug me much anymore. When I open my bedroom door in the mornings, cats that are sniffing at the door bottom scatter quickly like oversized rodents.

I've read this can be trained right out of them, if you don't give them what they want. If I had a longterm problem with it, I might try the vacuum cleaner method, yelling, letting the dog out, etc. If the dog's locked in with my kid, the cats have free roam to meow and run. If the dog's roaming free, then the cats don't meow for attention. The dog would be more than happy to play with them. The dog loves the kitties and the kitties barely tolerate the dog.

I did have a cat that had feline hyperesthesia, but this presented many more problems than simply waking me up at night.
posted by ick at 11:13 AM on February 15, 2008

My cat wants us to watch him scratch on the scratching post for about 30 seconds. Then we can go back to bed.
posted by charlesv at 11:26 AM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'd guess a new cat has come into your folk's neighborhood, their cat hears it, or smells it (see below) out there and wants them to deal with it somehow (see if it wants to go out, but it may not), because cats are territorial and absolutely hate it when strange cats invade their yards.

I think it then pees on the bathroom rug or in the fireplace to mark territory (both those places have vents to the outside).
posted by jamjam at 11:26 AM on February 15, 2008

If the cat used to leave them alone all night, and now wakes them at 4am, something somewhere has changed. If not a subtle health problem -- and this could be anything from constipation to a urinary tract infection (is the cat eating, peeing or pooping more, or less?) to a mild upper respiratory infection -- then it could be something external. They should think hard about whether they have changed anything in the cat's environment -- litter brand, food brand, is water dish always full, have they thrown out an old toy or scratching post, moved a cat bed or favorite chair for sleeping, etc.

External causes could include things like: early twilight is waking the cat earlier; the cat can hear birds outside that it didn't used to be able to hear; neighbors, or a neighbor's pet, is now making noises at that time; someone (newspaper delivery, trash pickup?) is now going by at that time; a new family of raccoons (or possums or mice) is making the rounds; etc. Be aware cats can hear things humans can't, and that cats (like many pet species) are "crepuscular" -- their inclination is to be most active in the early evening and early morning (twilight hours).

Beyond getting their cat a good exam by a vet that might rule out the health causes, there might not be a lot they can do. Despite BitterOldPunk's comment, some cats (in my experience) respond poorly to negative punishment, and will persist when swatted, spanked, sprayed with water (I admit have never thrown them as a punishment).
posted by aught at 11:33 AM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Definitely attention. We keep our bedroom door shut at night. Guess who KNOCKS on the door in the middle of the night? Fucking cat...
posted by Thorzdad at 11:45 AM on February 15, 2008

My cat does this, too. He only likes to pee outside so that is about the time his tiny bladder is ready to explode. If I don't let him out, he will find the other cat and bite it's balls to make that one scream until I get up. He's a nasty piece of work. If I leave him out all night he has figured out how to jump up and hang on the screen and meow at the window in a large demanding voice, but he is easier to ignore when he is outside.
posted by 45moore45 at 12:00 PM on February 15, 2008

One of my cats does the same thing. It's because he feels lonely and wants to be with someone. If I don't open the door, he will meow very pitifully the entire night, which of course, is very annoying for someone trying to sleep.
If I let him enter he will try to get as close to my head as he can, which is annoying because he'll be purring very loudly next to my ear. AND HE DOESN'T WANT TO STAY AT THE FOOT OF THE BED.

After this experience I doubt I'll ever want to have kids, unless they are born already grown up or something.
posted by Memo at 12:03 PM on February 15, 2008

I always use the spray bottle by bed trick. When the cat comes near, squirt him (not on the face). Quickly enough, you don't even need to squirt. Just picking up the bottle sends the message. Cats hate the surprise of the thing, the noise, plus getting wet. Hate it.
posted by sweetkid at 12:18 PM on February 15, 2008

Learn to be a cat. When he's napping on the bed or in the sun, lay down for a while and curl up with him. When he's purring, purr back. When he pisses you off, "hisssss" and swat.
posted by zengargoyle at 12:21 PM on February 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

My cat does this too. But I know what it's for. She has distinguishable vocalizations for "I'm hungry" "Please play with me" "Hello" "Oh, you surprised me!" "Gee, that bird out the window sure looks delicious" and "Guess what! I just pooped! I pooped!" She appears to frequently poop in the wee hours of the morning (you'd expect her to pee in the wee hours, but I digress) and usually feels the need to inform me, usually from close range. After she finishes telling me, I go back to sleep.
posted by kindall at 1:40 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I keep a small tub of Mentholatum by the bed, within arm's reach. When the cat gets frisky, I remove the lid and hold the tub near her nose. The smell always sends her scampering for the exits.
posted by Atom Eyes at 1:56 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's a cat shortage. Get the cat a playmate, someone else to bother when the humans aren't available.

Also, consider putting down fresh catfood just before bedtime -- that encourages more sleeping at night (for all concerned).
posted by nonliteral at 2:08 PM on February 15, 2008

If this is a new behaviour, it warrants a trip to the vet to rule out a medical issue (urinary tract, vision, etc.). Trying to treat a medical problem like a behavioural problem is pointless.
posted by biscotti at 4:25 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

The cat is testing for whether you have died in your sleep. The peeing is to warn other cats away from this potential bonanza food source.
posted by oats at 4:33 PM on February 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

Agree wholeheartedly with Holy foxy moxie batman! Some people answering should not be cat owners - they should keep a dog instead.
posted by lungtaworld at 4:48 PM on February 15, 2008

If my cat Frank is representative, for the lulz.
posted by Kinbote at 5:57 PM on February 15, 2008

Cats are crepuscular, dusk and dawn makes them active. So it's in the realm of normal. Is the cat old, or showing other symptoms?
posted by gjc at 6:09 PM on February 15, 2008

As an owner of 8 cats, I have to go with the "Cats are jerks" thing. They just are. Love 'em, but the little creeps are jerks through and through. (Including the one of them who learned to say "oh, shit" by mimicing my wife.)
posted by azpenguin at 11:55 PM on February 15, 2008

Get the cat examined by a vet, innapropriate peeing is one of the first signs of a urinary tract infection, but only a vet will be able to confirm this.

If the cat is elderly, then night time miaowing might be one of the signs of a thyroid problem which is common and treatable in most cases. Again, an elderly cat may be showing early signs of brain deterioration and the miaowing could be the cat waking up, feeling confused and it calls to seek some reassurance from its people.

Punishment of any kind is not going to fix this behaviour.

Good luck!
posted by Arqa at 9:11 AM on February 16, 2008

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