As a pet sitter I’m often asked why the cat wakes its human so early in the morning. The harsh truth is because the cat’s human parent responds to the kitten’s demands for attention and thus, through unintentional positive reinforcement, has trained the cat that it is ok to get mom or dad out of bed. No one really likes to hear that answer, so instead we should look at why the cat is predisposed to waking early. Today’s house cat is descended from the ancestors of wildcats (The New York Times). Wildcats fed on prey (such as mice and rats) that was active in the dawn and dusk hours. Therefore, wildcats had to be up and active at daybreak too.
The house cat is true to its ancestry. Many people don’t realize this and they mistakenly believe that cats are nocturnal, meaning that they sleep during the day and are awake at night. This belief may arise from the fact that cats sleep 16 hours or more each day and are often seen taking naps during the daylight hours. However, in reality, cats are crepuscular, which is a very fancy word to say that cats are active during the dawn and dusk hours just like the wildcats. That is why kitties are often awake during the very early hours and are ready to eat or to play while their human only wants to sleep just a little longer.
There are some things that can be done to alleviate being woken too early:
1. Install blackout blinds or blackout curtains to prevent sunlight from entering the room in which the cat sleeps. This may help to prevent the sunrise from triggering the cat’s instincts.
2. If the cat is fed on a schedule, you can change the schedule so that the morning feeding is later in the day and the evening feeding is right before bedtime. In this way you can gradually train the cat to expect to eat later in the day so that it doesn’t wake you up to feed it early in the morning. It will take several weeks before the cat learns its new schedule. If you free feed, it would be advisable to fill its bowls with fresh food and water immediately before going to sleep.
3. Try to prevent boredom by spending a lot of time playing with the cat. Give it a lot of attention and exercise every day. Make sure it has toys to keep itself entertained.
4. Don’t allow your cat to sleep in the room with you and shut your bedroom door to prevent it from coming into the room while you are sleeping. This is a really hard thing to do. But, if you don’t respond to the cat’s demands to enter the bedroom, eventually it will content itself sleeping some other place just as comfortable. <Sigh> I could not do this one though.