Waking up to what's behind those nocturnal feline antics

MISCHIEF: It's not uncommon for cats to be active at night. Picture: Shutterstock
MISCHIEF: It's not uncommon for cats to be active at night. Picture: Shutterstock

Is your cat particularly active at night?

This is fairly common, especially because cats are naturally quite active at night and tend to spend the day relaxing while you're at work or school.

But it can become an issue if your cat's night-time activity is keeping you awake, or if it includes behaviours like nibbling or pouncing on your ears or toes in bed, walking across you while you're sleeping, making noise, or having highly energetic play sessions across the furniture (or you!).

Understanding why

Cats are crepuscular animals, which means they're naturally most active at dusk and dawn, so some nocturnal activity is natural.

Kittens and younger cats in particular are more likely to be active at night.

Night-time activity can also be a form of play and attention seeking, so it's important to consider whether your cat is getting sufficient amounts of social play and interaction during the day and evening.

This might particularly be the case for cats who are the only cat in a household and are alone most of the day.

It may also be worth speaking to your vet, to rule out any underlying medical causes such as pain and medical issues like thyroid disease or age-related cognitive changes which could be contributing.

Feeding

Adjusting your cat's feeding schedule can help to alter their sleep schedule.

For example, you can try offering smaller but more frequent meals, or feeding the evening meal a little earlier and then offering another meal closer to bed time.

This way, your cat may be less likely to wake you up for food in the middle of the night.

Cats are natural hunters, so it's actually quite unnatural for them to find their food in the same place every day.

Try hiding food around the house so your cat has to expend mental and physical energy to find their food.

You may need to show them how to find the food initially, but after a few sessions they will usually be good at finding it themselves, which is a natural behaviour for cats to express.

Some other options for altering your cat's feeding schedule include getting an automatic timed feeder that provides food in the middle of the night, a microchip feeder that opens when your cat goes near or a puzzle feeder that requires the cat to do a little bit of work to get their food, providing both physical and mental stimulation.

Lots of play time

Social play and interaction are very important for cats, and can also help if your cat is particularly active at night.

Offering several play sessions in the afternoon and earlier evening will help to expend some of their energy and meet some of their social and behavioural needs earlier in the day.

A variety of safe cat toys will help ensure your cat gets appropriate play time during the day.

Ensure all toys are safe for cats and avoid string toys or smaller objects that can be swallowed.

Cats often have different preferences, so we recommend buying or making a few different toys and seeing which ones your cat likes.

Novelty is the key, so only have a few toys out at a time and rotate them every few days to provide variety.

If you are at home throughout the day, playing and interacting with your cat - providing they're awake and interested in playing - will help to expend some energy.

An enriched environment

A home environment with appropriate enrichment is essential for cats' wellbeing.

Tips for enriching the environment that will also hopefully help to reduce night-time activity include providing several scratching posts, hiding areas (such as cardboard boxes with holes cut in them), cat grass, and, if you can, a secure outdoor enclosure for your indoor cat.

If the suggestions above don't work, we recommend you speak to your vet for further advice.

You can read these tips and more on the RSPCA Knowledgebase.