How Can I Stop My Cat Waking Me Up Early Each Morning?

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, explains how to train cats to not disturb owners late at night or early in the morning.

By Marilyn Krieger, CCBC | Posted: August 12, 2011, 3 a.m. EDT

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Q: Every morning my cat, Stomper, wakes me up with yowls, pawing and, well, what feels like stomping! At first it was OK because I have to get up early anyway, but then he started waking me up earlier and earlier. Every day his antics start about 5 minutes earlier than the previous morning. Since I hate to hear him cry, I get up, play with him and then feed him. My usual time to wake up in the morning is around 6:00 a.m., but now because of Stomper, I’m up and about at 4:00 a.m. How can I get my sleep and my sanity back?

A: Stomper is a smart cat. He has quickly learned how to influence you to give him what he wants when he wants it. Your cat’s behavior is a good example of learning theory in action: a behavior followed by a reinforcing stimulus strengthens the behavior. In other words, you are reinforcing your cat’s early morning antics by playing and feeding him whenever he makes his demands.

You can stop your cat waking you up early through environmental changes and behavior modification. In order to be successful, you need both.

Satisfy your cat’s appetite by setting up an automatic cat feeder that opens a few times during the night and early morning. Multiple feedings will take the edge off your cat’s hunger, decreasing his desires to wake you up early in the morning. Playing with your cat by imitating the hunt will help him sleep through the night. Additionally, giving your cat interactive toys and placing cat trees near secure windows will help keep your cat entertained and focused away from you.

The other part of the equation is the hardest to do. Ignore your cat’s early morning antics. When your cat starts pawing and howling, do nothing. Expect his behavior to escalate since in the past you have responded to his demands. Stomper at first will not understand why his behaviors are not resulting in food and play so he will probably yowl and stomp louder. You must ignore the behavior; if you give in, you will only reinforce the behavior. It is hard to do, but after a while, your cat will learn that his actions don’t give him the expectant results and he will stop.

Read more articles by Marilyn Krieger here>>

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Reader Comments

CatChannel Editor    Irvine, CA

9/23/2013 8:49:08 PM

Bridget -- Can you keep him out of your room at night? This is when things like sticky paws adhesive strips and double-sided tape help: they prevent a cat from entering the room where you're sleeping. You can also take a vinyl/plastic carpet runner and turn it upside down so the spikes are exposed and put that in front of your room. This habit might pass in time; your kitten is still young. It's frustrating for you now but see if barring from your room will give you some peace and quiet at night.

Bridget    Milwaukee, WI

9/20/2013 9:32:17 AM

Our 1yr old male paws at the closet door at 340am every day. He has been here for 5 months and this started in the last 4months
He has food available and we play with wand toys and laser mouse every night before bed. We ignored him we squirt him, we tried double sided tape...
Can't take it any more.

Elizabeth    Renton, WA

12/7/2012 12:19:06 PM

Our 10 Y/O female Maine Coon cat has turned into a super-demanding "princess" over the past few years. Around 3:00 A.M. every morning she claws at our comforter and meows until I get up, go downstairs and feed her and her brother. This behavior is getting old! I'd like to change her ways if possible. We've already tried some of the suggestions in the article to no avail.

CatChannel Editor    Irvine, CA

11/28/2012 9:31:21 AM

Steve -- That is hard. You could try some of the tips here to help you get some rest: LINK

Also, try going on our forum to talk with other cat owners about this situation. LINK

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