Cat’s Early Morning Wake-Up Call

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, explains why a cat pesters his owner at the crack of dawn.

Q: I’m a 19-year-old college student and the proud owner of three cats. We got one of them from the pound the same day they found him when he was a kitten. I have had him since I was 14, and we have been like best friends. But every day he wakes me up at 6:00 a.m., and on weekends he wakes me up at 8:00 a.m. I just pet him a bit then try to see if I can get five more minutes of sleep. But he keeps at it, pulling my hair, patting bags and ripping paper to make noise. I usually get up just long enough to open the door, but he won’t go out until I do. Why he does this?

A: Your cat wants you to interact with him. You have inadvertently been encouraging these early morning wake-up calls by petting him when he sounds his morning alarm. Just that short petting session is enough to reinforce his behavior.

It’s going to be hard, but instead of petting him, ignore his behavior. Don’t be surprised if it becomes more frantic for a little while. After a few days, this behavior will start to fade. Along with ignoring the behavior, there are a couple of other activities you should do. As soon as you get out of bed, reward him with petting, food and maybe a grooming session.

Before going to bed, play with him, using a fishing pole toy, in a way that imitates the hunt. Pretend the toy at the end of the string is a wounded animal. Never let the toy go back toward the cat. In nature, wounded animals do everything they can to get away from the predator. Encourage your cat to energetically chase the toy. At the end of the session, instead of stopping abruptly, slow the play down, maybe taking five minutes to let your cat “cool” down. After the cool down period, let him catch the toy, and then immediately feed him. He will eat, groom and then go to sleep. A reminder: Place the fishing pole toy out of reach when you are not playing with your kitty. This will keep him from accidentally getting tangled up in it.

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