For many cat parents, their favorite feline’s seemingly nocturnal lifestyle can be fascinating. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about cats’ activities at night, and how to manage their evening escapades with greater ease.
Nocturnal, Diurnal, and Crepuscular, Oh My!
Nocturnal animals are typically awake and more active at night, while diurnal animals are like most humans—meaning that they are awake and more active during the day. Cats are crepuscular, which means that they are naturally more active during the twilight hours of dusk and dawn.
Why We Think That Cats Are Nocturnal
Most cats sleep around 18 hours per day, spread out across “cat naps” throughout the day. However, our kitties are unique individuals, and can have very different sleeping habits.
Cats are often thought to be nocturnal animals because mice and other prey that piques their hunting interest tend to be more active at night. Our feline friends also have certain advantages when it comes to their ability to see at night, including the ability to detect movement and sense shapes and objects better than humans can in low light conditions.
You may think that your cat is more active at night, especially if you are away during the day for work or other activities. While they may engage in play while you are gone, it’s equally possible that they are sleeping more from a lack of adequate physical and mental stimulation. When you get home and are winding down from your day, your cat may seem more excitable (they’re happy you’re home!) because they’re ready to play and interact with you.
Managing Your Cat’s Activity At Night
Provide Play and Stimulation Throughout the Day
If a cat feels neglected for long periods of time, they will find other ways to make them feel better (even if that means waking you up at night). Giving them plenty of opportunities for play, even when you’re not at home, is key to meeting their needs for mental and physical stimulation. This can be achieved with cat trees or other features that allow them climbing and perching opportunities, puzzle toys and feeders that fulfill their natural instinct to hunt for prey, and interactive cat toys. You can also provide them with access to a safe outdoor space such as a catio, or even supervised walking time outdoors to help ensure that they have adequate stimulation throughout the day.
You can also start a routine of playing with your cat before you go to bed. In addition to bonding more with your cat, this can help tire them out and close out the day on a positive note in a way that meets their needs for physical, emotional, and mental stimulation.
Feed Smaller Meals More Frequently
Dr. Ernie Ward, Basepaws Veterinary Medical Lead and founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), suggests that pet parents feed their cats smaller meals more frequently. This includes a later evening feeding for cats that wake you up in the wee hours of the night or early morning asking for more food. Dr. Ward calls this the “Midnight Weight Loss Snack”, which typically consists of a small portion of a high-protein food or treat option. To keep your cat feeling more satiated throughout the day, he suggests dividing the total daily food volume or calories your cat needs into four to six smaller meals.
However, this method may not be appropriate for all cats (e.g., a diabetic cat with strict dietary and insulin needs). It also does not mean that you should feed your cat extra food simply because they ask you to in the middle of the night—there could be other health factors at play and it’s always best to consult with your veterinarian if you are feeding your cat the appropriate amount of food, yet they still exhibit hunger.
Consult With Your Veterinarian
If you have tried these suggestions and still have a cat that keeps you up all night, you should schedule a wellness visit with your veterinarian. Punishing your cat for waking you up at night will not be beneficial for either of you, as there may be something else going on. It's better to have a veterinarian evaluate their health and to come up with positive reinforcement solutions.Your veterinarian can provide insight into what may be going on with your cat and help you to take steps to support them. Oftentimes, all that's required is a bit of adjustment to at-home routines and environments, in addition to a lot of love!
Cats are crepuscular animals that have retained the instinct to hunt during the hours of dusk and dawn. However, cats may seem nocturnal if they don’t have enough opportunities for play and stimulation throughout the day. If you are still having trouble with your cat’s nighttime activities after trying some of the above tips, be sure to consult with your veterinarian. You may also want to consider reaching out to a certified cat behaviorist for additional support.