While living a life without cats is no longer something I can imagine doing, there are aspects to pet ownership that are anything but pleasant. Up very high on that list? Dealing with sleep deprivation because my cat spends what feels like the whole night whining and crying, either directly at me, or outside my bedroom door.
It’s not a problem I’ve had to deal with consistently in my time as a pet parent, and for that I’m grateful. But I do remember the first month or so having Avery: this issue + the related issue of being woken up earlier and earlier each morning by him made me feel a pang of resentment toward my poor misunderstood feline. I’m glad I figured out a way to resolve things before the resentment escalated, but going through the experience certainly has given me empathy for those who do end up feeling they almost hate their felines because of the constant lack of sleep and the frustration they’re feeling.
Anyway, enough about my history with this issue, because if you’re here, chances are you’re right in the middle of it yourself and need some quick tips to help you get out. That’s exactly what this article’s here for – and if you’re planning on trying something from it, if you’ve already given some things a shot, or if you’ve figured out a way to solve this problem in your own life, please leave your thoughts and experiences down below. Your advice could really help an exhausted pet parent out, and maybe even save a cat or two from being re-homed, depending on how bad the situation got if left unresolved.
Alright, let’s jump into it!
Picture from post Feeding the Neighbourhood Cats II: Sammy
First, Determine Whether or Not Your Cat Is Sick
If you’ve had your cat at least a few months and your cat has always been in the habit of whining and crying at night, chances are your cat is not sick, but you should double check by paying a visit to the vet anyway.
A crying cat absolutely can be a sick cat; cats don’t really have other ways besides meowing and whining at us to tell us something is wrong, and obviously, it’s always better to be safe and sure than sorry. Cats typically don’t meow and cry unless something is really painful or incredibly obviously wrong to them (if they’re crying due to sickness or illness), so by the time your feline is at that stage, if there was an underlying condition causing pain, it’s important to act quickly to remedy it since it’s likely to have already progressed quite a bit.
When you take your cat to the vet, be sure to tell him or her about the nighttime crying, about any other symptoms you may have noticed, whether anything in your cat’s environment has changed (if you changed cat food, moved houses, adopted a new cat, anything like that). And only progress in terms of troubleshooting if your vet says health-wise, everything is a-okay.
Cat fine? Just took a visit to the vet recently to double check and absolutely nothing appeared to be wrong? Alright…
Cat Fit as a Fiddle? Get to Troubleshooting
Step 1: Rule Out Hunger – Feed Your Cat a Meal Right Before Bed
Yes, it is actually completely possible the only reason your cat is waking you up at night is because he or she is hungry. Food is a huge motivator for cats (and let’s be honest, it’s a huge motivator for us humans, too!), and a hangry cat is going to do whatever it takes for his or her stomach to stop rumbling, even if that means being yelled at by you for waking you up in the middle of the night before your important presentation at work or school tomorrow.
What can you do to figure out if this is the problem, and if it is – how can you fix it?
Feed your cat an enormous meal right before bed one night. It’s just a test, so you can even go so far as to give extra calories you typically wouldn’t normally give. Let’s say around half your cat’s calories for the day right before bed.
This work out? Here’s how you continue the fix without increasing calorie count.
Feed your cat it’s biggest meal right before bed. If you happen to feed your cat multiple times a day – just give out smaller meals during the majority of the day and give one enormous meal before bed.
Have a hunch this is the problem, but your cat keeps waking you up early in the morning rather than late at night? Try getting a timed, automatic pet feeder and setting it before bed so your cat can’t chow through all the kibble right after you set it down before bed, and then have a grumbling, hungry stomach again by the wee hours of the morning.
Step 2: Rule Out Too Awake at Night – Try Keeping Your Cat Awake in the Morning
Imagine you were a bit tired around noon or 1 PM, you took what you thought would be a little nap, but ended up waking up at 8 PM, realizing you’d forgotten to set the alarm to get up an hour or two later, and thus had spent the whole day sleeping. Are you going to be able to sleep at your regular bedtime of 11 or 12 PM? No. Definitely not.
Yes, cats can and absolutely do sleep more than humans. A lot more. They sleep, on average, around 16-18 hours a day, but that doesn’t mean they can sleep forever.
If a cat gets the vast majority of its “awake” hours in during the day, he or she can’t very well be expected to sleep through the night, too. A cat’s not going to spend a full 22-23 hours sleeping. So you need to factor this in and help your cat stay awake during the day, so he or she will be tired enough to go to bed at night.
Can it be done? Absolutely. Cats are either nocturnal (awake and active at night) or crepuscular (awake and active at sunset and sunrise) naturally, but they can and do adapt to be diurnal (awake and active during the day) when they cohabit with humans. Many cats make this adjustment naturally, but some need a bit of help, and that’s where you taking the time to keep your cat awake in the morning goes a long way.
How can you do this? The easiest way I’ve found, especially if someone happens to be home enough hours in the daytime: feeding, petting, playing, and giving out snacks at many points throughout the day. Now, if you’re worried about overfeeding, use this trick to make sure your cat’s not going to get too many calories, even if you give him or her snacks ten or twenty points int he day. Essentially the trick is to measure out the food for your cat (or each cat if you have multiple) at the beginning of the day and only feed from that measured amount throughout the 24 hour period. No way your cat’s going to gain extra weight off that system.
Can’t do this kind of thing easily because you work long hours? Chances are you’ll still have a weekend or a day off where you can at least try out the system of keeping your cat awake most of the morning to see if he or she will sleep better or even through the entire night. Delve out snacks left right and center and go pet your cat between snack times to keep your cat up in the morning one weekend, and if things go swimmingly those nights, you’ll know this is the problem.
Worried about the solution if this is the problem that needs to be fixed? No need to fret, not one bit. You just need to somehow keep kitty up and engaged while you’re away from home, and this is pretty easy to accomplish if you:
- Grab that automatic/timed pet feeder and set it to go off multiple times while you’re away at work.
- Grab a bunch of home alone cat toys cats can play with by themselves so when your kitty gets up, he or she will hopefully be tempted by a cat spring, a crinkle ball, or even a spring string on the doorknob.
- Use as many of these techniques to passively keep bored cats entertained as you possibly can. Many of them are things you can do right now – like rearranging furniture in specific ways to allow your cat to jump into interesting spots, leaving the radio or the TV on to make your cat feels he or she’s got company, or creating sleeping nooks in places like the bottoms of bookshelves or left-ajar closets. Others are really cheap and easy to implement, like having a suction cup bird feeder outside a window kitty frequents, adding self-groomers and grooming arches to stimulate your kitty, grabbing a perch window seat and moving it around from window to window to keep kitty’s environment ever-so-slightly changing and interesting, and having a few cat furniture/cat toy hybrids like the Ripple Rug around to encourage your cat to play on his or her own.
It’s honestly not too bad keeping even a fully indoor cat entertained in your absence, and once you put in the initial work creating an ideal environment for stimulation without a human, there’s not really anything further in terms of maintenance you’ll need to do. Besides refilling the birdseed every once in a while if you go that route.
The only other thing I could recommend, especially if your house cat acts needy and wants way too much attention on top of waking you up at night, is to strongly consider adopting a second cat. Cats typically do a very good job of playing with each other and keeping each other entertained when humans are not around, and a companion cat can really help fill a void for single cats who crave attention more than may typically be true of cats. Some cats do need more attention than others, and while it’s obviously not a decision you should make lightly, it definitely should be considered if it’s an option your life can accommodate.
Picture from post The Story of How a Cat Nap Came to an End
Step 3: Rule Out Needs Exercise: Try Tiring Your Cat Out with Play During the Day
Yes, your cat may need exercise and physical stimulation, around 20-30 minutes of it in total per day, and that too may be the only reason he or she’s waking you up late at night – (s)he’s hyper! How can you know if this is what’s up with your cat? Play with your cat as much as you physically possibly can during the day one 24-hour period, and see if your cat then sleeps through the night like a baby. If yes, it’s the exercise need he or she’s itching to get scratched by bothering you late at night.
Cats need physical stimulation as well as mental stimulation. I’d use the example of humans needing exercise to stay fit and healthy, but I’ll be honest, I think cats need that exercise a lot more. They need exercise like we humans do to stay both in-shape and “regular” in the washroom department, but they also have something in the way of exercise-needing we humans don’t at all: a prey drive.
Cats are pretty lazy creatures, but if your cat is anything like mine, he or she’s probably a lot lazier than most. In cases like these, simply encouraging your cat to play with you at all can be a struggle, let alone getting him or her enough exercise to stay fit and healthy, or let out that prey drive regularly enough to keep in tip-top shape.
While it can be pretty easy for me to engage Avery in specific games and with certain toys (*ehhem* – feeder puzzle toys? You know, ones like feeder balls, food mazes, digger tunnels, or even fun boards), those aren’t usually ones that are great at keeping him physically active and really only stimulate him mentally. Which are ideal cat toys for physical stimulation? These exercise cat toys that require high-energy output for cats to play with.
How else can you get a cat to exercise more? I’ve written up a guide here with a number of different tips, some of which include having your cat do a kibble-motivated workout before meals and encouraging cats passively to get more jumping into their day by having a variety of sleeping spots in high areas for them to bounce around napping in from one to the next.
How I Personally Fixed This Problem
I won’t lie to you. Back when I was dealing with this issue firsthand, I had no idea what I was doing. There was no guide I found worked well (so many on the internet simply recommend ignoring your pet all night – and that really never worked for me and Avery at all!). My attempt at troubleshooting basically was a complete mess – I threw everything at the wall at the same time and prayed for my sanity’s sake that something would stick. Obviously something did stick, but I changed ever so much, pretty much all of the above and probably much more, that I couldn’t say which issue, or if it was even just one, was the actual fix.
It’s been years since I’ve dealt with sleep deprivation over a cat who cried and whined at me all night, but every so often, Avery’s behaviour still does revert back. But you know what, when it does, I know it’s almost certainly my fault, as I can’t recall it ever happening lately unless I’ve personally begun to slack on keeping Avery awake during the day or playing with him enough in daylight. Out of habit, I still feed him his biggest meal at night, so I suppose the issue typically never has to do with being hungry late at night anymore.
The best way I’ve found to prevent myself from slacking on engaging Avery during the day? Creating and sticking to a house cat daily routine for him. Do I think I need this to stay in check? Absolutely not, and it’s not a routine that’s set in stone even when I do implement it. I’m always changing things and trying new things out, switching things up slightly to accommodate changes in my life, and yet it does help me keep on top of things to have a loose routine framework.
Cats have really basic needs and if you manage to fulfill all of those, I’m utterly convinced you can train your cat to do ever so many things that will make you and your feline(s) live as peaceably and happily as possible together. Crying at night – just like keeping off counters and not scratching up human furniture – is just another one of those things you may have to take some time and trail and error to train your cat not to do. And yes, it may take a hot minute to troubleshoot and fulfill those needs for your cat in the daytime just right, but by making sure you are consistently fulfilling those needs in the mornings and afternoons, you should be sleeping through the night as you did pre-kitty for decades to come. Plus the addition of a nice furry foot warmer, that is!
Picture from post 01/09/16
Your Experiences with Cats Meowing at Night?
Have you ever had a cat who meowed and cried at night? Would it typically be throughout the whole night? During specific hours? Did you ever figure out why he or she was crying? Did you ever find a fix? What was it?
Have you got any advice for those struggling with this problem right now? Any words you may have for them could really help, both them and their cats, so please do leave any and all thoughts down in the comments below!
My little Leo is 9 months old and very territorial. I live in a neighborhood with several feral cats and Leo hates them all. Almost every night he wakes me up meowing at the window. He jumps from window to window and meows like a madman. The only way to stop the meowing once he’s started is by putting him in his crate – which I hate doing. I’ve tried the stress aromatherapy spray, the collar and the diffusers. Nothing will keep him calm through the night. He is not hungry (I keep dry food out for him all the time) and was fine during his last checkup a few months ago. I think the next step is going to have to be some sort of antidepressant or sleeping aid because I can’t deal with this every night. Do you have any other suggestions?
Elise Xavier says
I would try bringing him into the bedroom with you closing the door behind you for the night with a water bowl, litter box, scratch post, (food if he’s free fed), and anything else he might need for the night, then blocking out the windows completely so there’s no way he can see out of them or simply push past a curtain to see out. If there’s a way you can figure out to make sure he’s unable to see the feral cats at all, I think he’ll do just fine. I think it’s the visuals that trigger him.
Let me know if this works out, and if not I’ll do my best to think of something else. You definitely shouldn’t have to live with this – there’s got to be a solution.
sharon crossland says
A really interesting article. I have three cats, two of which spend a lot of time outdoors and one who is a house cat. It is usually our house cat Shadow who wakes us up at some point simply because she wants company and as we are both at home, dealling with health issues and often retiring to bed pretty early, its understandable that after several hours she would like a bit of attention. When I do stay up late, I usually go and get our youngest cat Smudge in for the night and she is usually pretty good at sleeping once she is in but is not averse to asking to go out several hours later as she no longer uses the litter tray (I wish I had such bladder control!) Shadow also loves to come down with me and I let both of them run around and play for a while until I call them both in. Our eldest cat Sox can often be left out all night and as a result sleeps all day.
As you can see their routines are pretty varied but personal to themselves. I do make sure their food bowls are full at night so that the kitty bar is open for business and a lot is often eaten by the time we get up. They get a main meal in the morning and as they are grazers, I keep an eye on their bowls all day.
Playtime is a laser pen which is often asked for by Shadow and the other two will often join in if they are not knackered by the late evening/all nighter activity.
In short, as long as they are happy, we are happy!!
Elise Xavier says
Definitely sounds like a very varied routine kind of household! Very cool how they all come together and all spend time apart at pretty consistent times throughout the day. Super interesting daily routine!
Eastside Cats says
Angel has been meowing in the early morning for YEARS. Don’t think we’ve tried food as we are going to bed, though we’ve tried everything else. As it is, The Hubby gets up, pets her, then puts her in a room where we cannot hear her. In an hour or 90 minutes, it’s time to get up and out she comes. She certainly seems to be hungry, so we may have to try giving her food later in the day.
Elise Xavier says
Give it a shot, and here’s to hoping it’ll work if you do!
I’m a really light sleeper and I daresay no matter what room Avery is in, if he meows late at night or in the morning, I’m hearing him. I’m also one of those people who finds it incredibly difficult to fall back asleep once up, so I had to do something to get him to stop. So glad things worked out.
sharon crossland says
She’s obviously wanting something and as she’s hungry when she comes out is the answer making sure she has some food down for the night?
I sure couldn’t treat my cats this way!
Elise Xavier says
Hey Sharon, it should be noted that all cat owners (for the most part) do the best they can for their fur babies. Not all cats are the same, and many will handle open bowl feeding vastly differently.
My own Avery for example, when we tried open bowl feeding – would do nothing but eat all day until he literally couldn’t. This gluttony (for a lack of a better term) is especially common amongst cats, and typical cats like these, if we keep refilling food bowls for them whenever they are low, will develop serious weight and health issues in the long term.
Yes, Angel was almost certainly a teeny bit hungry by morning, she’s also likely crying because she wants a bit of attention or is maybe feeling a bit bored by a certain hour of the day, but that definitely doesn’t mean she’s being mistreated simply because she’s made to wait a little for her morning breakfast and company. Feral cats will typically eat one meal a day – the bird or rat they happen to catch themselves; there’s no actual harm in feeling a slight pang of hunger.
Something worth bearing in mind!
sharon crossland says
Just couldn’t leave any of my cats to cry. Nevertheless, fair and interesting points which are well taken.