Feline Behavior Unmasked: Wakefulness, Whisker Fatigue, and Water
Paula Garber and Tabitha Kucera of the PPG Cat Committee tackle some of the common
questions cat owners ask about feline behavior any cat owners will be familiar with their felines waking them up in the middle of the night or pawing at their water bowl. But why do they do it? Our resident feline behavior experts tackle both issues here.
Q: Why does my cat wake me up in the middle of the night? Is it because cats are nocturnal?
A: Cats are actually crepuscular, which means they tend to be most active at dawn and dusk when the animals they prey upon (e.g., rodents and birds) are most active. This activity pattern often doesn’t match the owner’s schedule of getting up, going to work all day, and then coming home to relax and unwind. Many cats adjust their activity patterns to those of their owners, but there are several reasons why this might not happen: • An underlying medical condition is contributing to the behavior. • The cat’s activity needs are not being met. • The cat is hungry or thirsty, or the litter boxes are dirty. • The owner’s schedule changes a lot. • The cat is being bullied by another cat in the home. • The cat sees or hears other animals (e.g., cats, birds) outside the house. • Environmental noise, light, or vibrations (e.g., garbage truck, car headlights shining through windows, overnight construction) are waking up the cat. • The owner is reinforcing the behavior. The cause for a cat’s nighttime wakefulness must be determined so the problem can be addressed appropriately and effectively. As forcefree behavior professionals, we already know that yelling, throwing things, squirting water, and punishment risk making a cat fearful and anxious around his owner. Shutting the cat out of the bedroom, confining him to another room or area of the home, and using deterrents like motion-activated air cans and scat mats can cause undue stress and lead to other, more challenging, behavior problems. For any behavior issue, a veterinary checkup is always a good idea
Cats’ whiskers are very sensitive because they are filled with sensory collecting nerves that collect information about objects, vibrations, and wind currents around the cat. Whisker fatigue commonly occurs when a cat’s whiskers are regularly being squished and brushed up against food and water bowls. 54
BARKS from the Guild/March 2019
© Can Stock Photo/Vlue
Cats tend to be most active at dawn and dusk but this activity pattern does not always match the owner’s schedule
first to rule out any underlying medical causes, especially if the behavior is new. Increased hunger, thirst, and frequency of urination or defecation are components of many disease processes and can contribute to nighttime wakefulness. Senior cats or cats who suffer from sensory deficits are especially prone to variable sleep-wake cycles.
Ensure that your cat is getting plenty of playtime and other activity during the day and evening. This should be in the form of interactive play with wand-type toys, exploratory play using food puzzles and treasure hunts (hiding food, treats, and toys around the home), and social interaction with you or other humans. If you work long hours or your schedule changes a lot, hire a pet sitter to play and interact with your cat when you are not home. Setting up a bird feeder outside a window with a cat perch can also help keep your cat entertained and awake during the day. To help your cat be more restful at night, engage him in a play session immediately before bedtime, and follow it with food. If your cat is free-fed, pick up his food bowl in the early evening. If you meal-feed, plan your cat’s largest meal for this before-bed feeding. Play with your cat until he is tired. When he starts to become fatigued, he will lie on his side to take a break—but don’t end the game just yet! Keep it going until he is lying on his side more frequently (about once every 20-30 seconds or so). Wind down the game by making the toy move more