You’re in a beautiful meadow. It’s sunny and the birds are chirping. Oh and you have ice cream, your favorite flavor. Suddenly you realize you can fly! Amazing!
And then your cat smacks you in the face with their claws and you wake up. Great…
It’s common enough to be an internet meme – the cat who decides that RIGHT NOW is breakfast time so you need to get up. Is this your fate as a cat owner? Or could you possibly reclaim your beauty rest?
Why is Your Cat a Jerk?
Cats don’t live by the same sleep/wake cycle that we humans do. They spend their days going between naps and short bursts of activity. It’s inevitable that they’ll spend time awake when we’re sleeping (or trying to). Cats also tend to be most active in the mornings and evenings when their prey would be active too.
On top of that, cats love routine and can’t control the can opener themselves. And bopping you in the face works. Sometimes you don’t get up right away so your cat needs to work harder, but you’ve always given in eventually so they’ve learned to keep trying.
However, If this morning behavior is a sudden change for your cat, schedule a vet visit. Changes in sleep patterns, vocalization, and appetite can be signs of medical issues.
Dealing With “Morning Cats”
Use Up the Energy
A bored cat full of unburned energy is likely to find some annoying activities. Make sure your cat is having their daily exercise needs met. Daily interactive play is the best way to get your cat moving and using up that playfulness. Give your cat a good play session just before bed to leave them tired for more of the night.
Other enrichment around your home will give your cat things to do other than bothering you. Solo toys, climbing options, and window perches all make use of your cat’s senses and lead to calmer behavior. Feeding your cat with food puzzles is a great way to improve their behavior overall.
Push Back the Hungry Time
Give your cat their last meal of the day just before you go to sleep. For some cats, this is enough to push back their desire for their next meal to a bearable hour. Again, feeding in a puzzle toy will prolong the meal and burn energy which will lead to more sleep at night.
Don’t Give In
When you make a commitment to changing your cat’s demanding behavior, you have to fully commit. You can’t give in to their demands anymore.
Everytime you give your cat attention or food after they wake you up, you are teaching them to keep waking you up. If you hold out for a while and then give in, you are teaching them to be louder and more persistent. So commit to saying “no”.
Your cat’s behavior will get worse for a while when you stop giving in. They will be confused and annoyed that what always use to work isn’t now. Think of how you behave when a vending machine takes your money but doesn’t give you anything in return. That’s not how that’s suppose to work! Why is it broken?! Maybe just punch the button a few more times… (This is called an “extinction burst” by the way, whether it’s you or your cat.) Because you know things will get worse before they get better, the whole family needs to be prepared to follow the plan.
To set yourself and your cat up for success, make sure they are getting plenty of activity during the day and have ways of entertaining themself as well. Follow the steps above so they have a chance for an easier transition.
If your cat gives you even a moment of calm and quiet during this process, reward them with calm attention and petting. You are teaching them what you want from them going forward.
Kick Them Out
Most owners admittedly don’t like this option but it’s worth saying: if your cat isn’t in the bedroom, they can’t paw your face or bite you. Close the bedroom door and let your cat sleep in one of the many other comfortable places in your home.
If you go this route, expect your cat to complain about it for a while. They will probably assume it was a mistake and let you know they’ve been forgotten. The only way to get through it is to stick it out so invest in some earplugs for the first couple nights.
The smoothest way to leave your cat on the other side of a door is to occupy their attention with a toy, treat, or food puzzle before walking away and closing the door. Double-sided tape on the door can deter scratching. Or you might find a different room for your cat to sleep in so they can’t sit outside your bedroom door.
Buy a Solution
If all your cat wants is to have their bowl filled, a gadget may be the easy solution. Buy an automatic cat feeder and set it to dispense at whatever time in the morning your cat has determined is breakfast time. Now they can help themselves.
You may have to show your cat their new toy a couple times before they learn to go to it on their own. Set it to dispense when they are nearby so they can learn to associate the noise with food.
You can regain your sleep! With a plan and patience, your cat can learn to wait for you to finish that awesome flying dream. And then you can treat them like the royalty they know they are for the rest of the day.
Need a more complete or personalized plan to stop your cat’s morning activity? Consider scheduling a private behavior consultation.