Ask the SPCA: Cat enrichment - BC SPCA
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Ask the SPCA: Cat enrichment

July 24, 2016

Question: I have a new cat who keeps on waking me up at night. What can I do?

Although known to be nocturnal, cats can modify their sleep cycles to adjust to our patterns. Firstly, check for any health issues that may be keeping your cat awake at night with a quick trip to your veterinarian.

Veterinarian listening to stethoscope while examining a cute, grey cat

With medical concerns ruled out, your cat could be waking you up because she wants to play, eat or simply enjoy your company. Many cats are home alone during the day and, without much to do, sleep a lot. When you arrive home, your cat’s day really just begins.

To ready your cat for bedtime, schedule a few interactive play sessions during the evening. Games of keep-away and fetch are especially rewarding because they trigger her natural predatory instincts. Toys that wiggle or dangle will allow her to stalk, chase, pounce and bite, just as if she were hunting. Play until your cat seems tired.

Then, just before bedtime, feed your cat a main meal. Cats tend to sleep after a big meal. You can also use a timed feeder to dispense one or two small meals during the night. Be sure to adjust her portions so that she is eating the same amount of food in a day, not more.

For all those hours she is alone during the day, make sure your cat has things to keep her occupied, such as toys to play with, hidden treats to find, paper bags and cardboard boxes to explore, and window perches to watch birds outside. The more active your cat is during the day, the more likely that she will sleep at night.

Lastly, stay strong! When your cat wakes you up at night, resist the urge to get up and feed or play with her. Doing so only rewards the nocturnal behaviour. Even getting up to scold her is reinforcement; to her, negative attention may be better than no attention at all.

Sleepy cat looking through cat face shaped opening of post

If you aren’t handy, the books have design ideas using store-bought shelves, bureaus and even couches with cat tunnels. Don’t stop with just adding vertical spaces. Satisfy your cat’s primal hunting instinct by splitting up food rations and hiding small amounts around the house. Put treats in a cardboard container with paw holes to provide a new challenge. Introduce new objects such cat toys, a tree branch or cat grass to stimulate smell and touch. There are so many commercially made products at pet supply stores that can bring the curiosity back out in your cat.

For more tips on cat care and behaviour, check out our cat pet care section.

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