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The Graveyard Shift

Excerpt from Cat vs. Cat by Pam Johnson-Bennett

If you live with several cats, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve had at least one four A.M. wake-up call. Whether he wants food, a place on your pillow, or just a bit of playtime, a cat can be mighty persistent.

If you’ve been getting up to put food in his dish when he sits on your chest at four or five A.M., then you’re reinforcing his behavior. Even if you try to hold out as long as possible before you simply can’t stand it anymore, every time you get up lets him know his method worked.

Maybe your cat doesn’t want food – he merely wants your attention. Out of frustration you may have resorted to locking him out of the bedroom. Although it may work with some cats, in other cases you may end up with having to listen to the endless sound of a cat scratching and pawing at the door or scratching at the carpet.

Cats tend to become more active after dusk. Just as you’re winding down from the day, a cat is revving up. After engaging in several catnaps during the day, a cat is ready for play when the sun goes down. You also have to keep in mind that you’ve been gone all day, so when you come home at night, your cats are stimulated by your presence.

Fortunately, there’s an effective and fun method for curbing nocturnal activity base on natural cat behavior.

Normally, you may come home, feed your cats, play with them, and settle in for the night. Perhaps the cats curl up next to you as you read or watch TV. Then it’s off to bed. While this routine is great from a bonding/affection standpoint, it doesn’t address the kitty’s stimulation needs.

To shift a cat’s internal clock, I think of the cat’s most basic behavior cycle: hunt, feast, groom, sleep. Cats engage in the basic activity cycle multiple times in a day. First, a cat goes through the stimulating activity of the hunt. Once the prey is captured, the cat enjoys his feast. After the meal, a cat fastidiously grooms himself to remove any traces of the prey’s scent. This important survival skill is done so the scent won’t alert other prey or make the cat the target of a bigger predator. With a full stomach and his grooming duties completed, the cat is ready for sleep. Keep this cycle in mind to change the unwanted behavior. Do an interactive play session right before bed, in addition to any other play sessions earlier in the evening. Okay, that takes care of the hunt, and now it’s on to the feast. If you feed your cat on a schedule, divide up his portions so you can include the pre-bedtime feeding without increasing his overall amount. After the meal, he’ll very likely groom himself and settle in for the night. If you leave dry food out for him, take it up in the earlier part of the evening and put it back down at bedtime, topping the bowl with some fresh kibble. If you don’t want to take the food up because of the other cats, then just make a big ritual out of topping off the dry food right before bed.

Even if your cat isn’t food-motivated, you’ll improve the chances of a restful night’s sleep if you get on a schedule of doing pre-bedtime play sessions. These sessions may have to be a bit longer than the usual fifteen-minute play sessions, but it’s worth a little extra time to ensure a good night’s rest.

For more advice on cat behavior, purchase Cat vs. Cat from www.tuftscatnip.com.

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