Q: Our cat is calm during the day. When we go to bed, however, our cat wants to climb on the furniture and jump on the counters. We discipline her by a light tap to the tail area. Is this wrong? Is there anything else we can do to make this annoyance stop?
A: Although it is normal for cats to nap during the day and be active at night, you can influence your cat to sleep through the night without using punishment or discipline.
Instead of giving your cat a tap on the tail, modify her behavior by increasing the environmental enrichment and engaging her in energetic activities before going to bed. Activities such as playing in a way that imitates hunting will help tire her out and encourage her to sleep through the night. I recommend author and certified cat behavior consultant Pam Johnson Bennett’s play-hunt technique to help keep cats calm at night.
Before going to bed, play with your cat by using a fishing pole toy with a stuffed bird or animal on one end. Pretend the toy on the end of the pole is prey, changing the speed and pulling it on top of bags, boxes, the bed and other furniture. Encourage the cat to chase it. Depending on the age and condition of your cat, the sessions may be extended or they might be short. When you are ready to stop, don’t cut short the session, instead, gradually slow down the play and the toy. Finally, let your cat catch the toy and then immediately feed her something she loves. She will eat, groom and go to sleep. Please note that you should put these types of toys out of your cat’s reach when you are not there to supervise the play.
Enrich her environment. Use interactive toys, such as ball and track toys that contain ping pong balls as well as puzzle boxes with toys in them, to keep your cat occupied. Treat balls are also handy for fighting boredom. Treat balls are hollow balls with holes in them. You place treats or dry cat food in the balls, and the cat has to roll them about in order to access the treats.
These types of interactive toys probably should not be placed in your bedroom because they can be a little noisy when they are played with. Hide your cat’s favorite treats in the puzzle boxes and track toys. She will also appreciate tall cat trees, placed next to secure windows. The goings-on in the neighborhood will keep her interested and focused for hours. Your cat will also appreciate paper bags without handles, boxes, cloth tunnels and igloos that are positioned in front of windows so that she can enjoy watching the nighttime neighborhood activities.
Disciplining the cat will not successfully change her nighttime enterprises. It can, however, result in the cat becoming more stressed and anxious, escalating the behavior, developing other unwanted behavior and result in her being afraid of the person who disciplines her.