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Cat Behavior Question: How can I stop my cat’s wake up calls?

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Question: “How can I stop my cat’s wake up calls?”

Susan B. says, “I adopted a female cat two years ago and she is approximately 2-1/2 years old.  I leave my bedroom door closed at night and Amore frequently sits outside my door meowing and scratching at the door and the rug.  In the morning she meows when I guess she awakens. That’s normally long before I wish to receive a meow wake-up.  Is there any way to retrain Amore from this behavior?  On a side note, I do occasionally on weekends allow Amore to rest on the bed with me (probably a bad move on my part). I appreciate your feedback and thank you in advance.

Amy’s Answer

Night time kitty pestering keeps many cat owners bleary-eyed with frustration. It’s helpful to understand why cats do this in order to figure out a way to quiet the cat-calls. I use the H.I.S.S. Test to help evaluate exactly what’s going on.

H=Health

Cats tend to suffer in silence when they feel bad. The exceptions to this include deaf cats who can’t hear themselves and yowl louder, and kitties suffering from high blood pressure which might be related to kidney issues, heart problems or hyperthyroid concerns. While you don’t mention a recent veterinary exam, Amore at age two probably isn’t at high risk at her age for these concerns.

I=Instinct

Cats claw to mark territory, particularly of important owned locations or objects. From what you describe, though, it appears that Amore doesn’t necessarily claw—but simply paws—at the door and rug not to mark it but as a solicitation for attention.

Cats most typically aim meow vocalizations at humans. Whether this is instinctive, or simply an observational/learned behavior depends on the circumstances. Do cats recognize that humans “talk” with vocalizations and reciprocate accordingly? Or do humans simply react more positively to vocalizations?  It’s likely a combination of these things.

Finally, cats are night creatures. They see better in the dark than humans, and are designed to be more active during these time. Most cats eventually learn to adjust their awake/sleep cycles to be more active when humans are up and can interact with them. But many cats persist in wanting to include owners in nighttime interaction and play.

S=Stress

Some loud-mouth cats will meow more and solicit attention when they feel stress. That might be due to separation anxiety, for example. But more commonly, the stressed-out cat may hiss and growl or instead simply hides.

S=Symptom, Signs & Solutions

Susan, you describe a very common cat behavior. Whether or not you can re-train Amore to refrain from pestering you at these times depends on you. We humans often reward the cat to continue the objectionable behavior, and we don’t realize we’re doing it!

Think about it—why does Amore call out and claw at the door? She wants to be with you. To do that, she knows the door must open. For the door to open, you must be awake. To know you’re awake, she must receive some sort of signal that you’ve reacted to her pleas.

What do you do when she cries and paws? I suspect that (at least some of the time) you:

  • Tell her to stop—perhaps several times.
  • Let her in.
  • Toss a pillow at the door (or something similar).
  • Perhaps hold out for a very long time—but ultimately do one of the above.

Bottom line, Amore does this for attention. And like a spoiled human toddler, ANY attention (even getting yelled at) is better than being ignored. If you hold out for a very long time, but then ultimately give in, you’ve taught Amore to be persistent. In other words, the odds of the cat getting her way goes up the longer/more she complains.

So what to do? You invest in earplugs, and ignore her. Totally. Completely. The yowls and clawing will get worse (probably much worse) right before it goes away entirely. Give her alternatives, such as interactive puzzle-treat toys to keep her busy and out of your hair at night.

Has letting her share your bed on weekends caused the problem? That depends—if you open the door for her meows on weekends, then yes. But if you simply leave the door open all night, or you open it BEFORE she yowls, then that won’t be a problem.

 

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