Nocturnal Activity (Feline)
Cats naturally display peaks of activity throughout the day and the night. Some cats may be particularly active at night, displaying energetic play behavior, vocalization, pouncing on or biting their owners as they lay sleeping, and sometimes destruction of household items. Feline nocturnal activity is a variant of normal feline behavior that tends to subside as the cat matures. It is only considered problematic if it is not well-tolerated by the cat's owner.
Common name: Feline Nocturnal Activity
Scientific name: Feline Nocturnal Activity
Cats particularly prone to excessive night-time activity are those under 18 months old, exclusively indoor cats, and those who are inactive during the day because they don't receive enough physical and social activity (usually because they are home alone all day). Cats of any age and lifestyle may be particularly active at night if they can see other cats roaming outside the house.
Incidence/prevalence is unknown.
There is no known geographic predilection for this behavior.
Clinical signs (primary, most to least frequent, scientific term, synonyms)
Excessive activity primarily at night, Physical contact with owners (e.g. biting or pouncing) as they sleep, Vocalization.
Clinical signs (secondary, most to least frequent, scientific term, synonyms)
Damage to household items.
Cause (scientific, common term)
Nocturnal activity is a variant of normal feline behavior.
Organ system affected (most to least affected)
There is no organ system affected.
Anxiety or fear, Cognitive dysfunction, Hyperthyroidism.
Cats naturally show peaks of activity throughout the day and night. This normal activity pattern can be skewed toward nocturnal hours if the cat has little motivation or opportunity to expend energy during the day. Excessive nocturnal activity is most common in young cats under 18 months old and is exacerbated when the cat spends the daytime alone and inactive. Hallmarks of nocturnal activity are exuberant play (which may damage household items), pouncing on or biting the sleeping owner (hands or eyelids twitching during dreaming may stimulate play), and vocalizing. Cats that can see neighborhood cats roaming outside at night may also display territorial behavior. Treatment involves reducing excitatory stimuli while accommodating the cat's natural behavior.
Satisfy the cat's needs for physical, mental and social stimulation during the day. Provide vigorous interactive play sessions and environmental enrichment that encourages physical and mental exercise (see ‚ÄúFeline Enrichment‚Äù for ideas). Adding another young, active, well-socialized cat to the household can provide an outlet for youthful energy and satisfy social needs.
Stop rewarding the cat's demands for attention. Responding to its demands with soothing, affection, play or even scolding only encourages the behavior. Ignoring the behavior may temporarily frustrate the cat, but will eventually reduce unwanted demands for attention. Wearing earplugs and closing the cat out of the bedroom at night can help people consistently ignore the cat's demands.
Modify the night-time environment to minimize sleep disturbance while accommodating the cat's normal behavior. Keep the bedroom door closed and provide particularly enticing toys in another room every night. Rotate toys regularly to maintain interest. Use catnip judiciously: it quiets some cats but excites others. Deter demands for entry into the bedroom with booby-traps (e.g. SsscatTM motion-activated compressed air) or with aversives (e.g. a box-fan blowing outward) outside the closed door. Also, use room-darkening shades. The first light of dawn (or urban street lights) may trigger feline activity. Shades also prevent the cat from spotting roaming neighborhood cats, reducing territorial behavior around windows. Feeding the cat's evening meal at bedtime can help induce sleep, while a timer-feeder set to open just before daybreak will satisfy early morning hunger pangs.
Professional care is seldom necessary. Cats usually sleep more at night as they mature and the actions recommended above usually reduce night-time activity to a tolerable level until then.
Consult a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a Veterinary Behaviorist if the nocturnal activity does not respond to these recommendations, persists into adulthood, threatens the safety of the cat or other household members, is accompanied by apparent hallucinations, coincides with changes in the household or schedule, or features extreme destructiveness. Cats that previously slept through the night then became more vocal or active should be assessed by a veterinarian to rule out medical conditions such as cognitive dysfunction or hyperthyroidism.
The prognosis for reducing the behavior to acceptable level is fair to good in most cases, especially if the cat is young and the behavior consists primarily of exuberant play.
Feline nocturnal activity can often be managed at home. If home care is not successful, consult your veterinarian or a qualified behaviorist.
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Katherine Miller, Ph.D.
Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist
Steven Hansen, DVM, MS, MBA