If you have a cat, you probably also have a morning routine that starts much earlier than you’d like.
Sometimes cats are subtle about it, with a soft meow or nuzzle. But if you don’t get up, it turns into smacking you in the face, climbing over your head, chewing on the window blinds, and yowling like it’s the end of days.
It doesn’t have to be like this. Believe it or not, you can have a cat and sleep in.
It’s all about figuring out why your cat is waking you up. They aren't doing it out of spite or because they don't respect the fact that you work hard all day and need a good night's rest. Cats have instinctual needs, and when you figure out which need is causing this particular behavior, only then can you meet that need in a way that works for you and understand how to manage the unwanted “WAKE UP!” behavior when it happens.
Why Do Cats Wake Up So Early?
Contrary to what many people think, cats are not nocturnal. They’re crepuscular — most active at dusk and dawn. They’re predators, right? And when do the birds and mice and other little critters start scurrying around? Sunup and sundown. Even if your cat is strictly indoors, they’re still programmed to perk up and get active when their prey is active. But they should be sleeping overnight.
There are other reasons cats wake us up early:
- Hunger – While feline obesity is a major problem, many people aren’t feeding their cats often enough. They have very small stomachs (only about the size of a ping pong ball). Your cat will start to get hungry about 5 hours after eating. If you’re going more than about 8 hours between meals, which many people are when they feed in the evening and not again until morning, your cat is starving by morning. They know they aren’t getting fed until you get up, so … WAKE UP!
- Sleeping all day – If your cat isn’t getting play and enrichment during the day, of course, they’re going to be up at other times. They aren’t designed to sleep as much as we’d like to think. They do it because they’re bored.
- Age – Senior kitties dealing with muscle or joint pain may sleep a bit more uncomfortably. And older kitties starting to feel the effects of dementia will often wake up at odd times.
- Temperature – Cats like it pretty warm. Their thermoneutral zone (the temperature at which they aren’t expending energy to maintain body temperature) is 86 to 97 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s higher than the human thermoneutral zone, thought to be about 82 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. If they’re cold, they may not sleep well or as long.
Cats waking people up super early is so common we produced a song parody about it.
Teaching Your Cat Not to Wake You Up in the Morning
The first step in stopping your cat’s early morning wake-up call is meeting whatever need has them up so early.
Think about the list above and what your cat does when they get up? Are they begging for food, trying to get you to play, zooming through the house, fighting over the sunny spot in the window? You can’t make that need go away.
No amount of “I’M SLEEPING! KNOCK IT OFF!” will change thousands of years of instinct. But you can meet that need in a way that doesn’t ruin your sleep and encourages them to sleep later.
Tips for stopping your cat from waking you up early in the morning
These suggestions are based on the different reasons cats wake us up.
- Try not to go more than about 8 hours between your cat's meals. Feed your cat a meal or snack right before you go to bed.
- Try an auto-feeder. Initially, set it to go off about 20 minutes before your cat’s normal wake-up time. If you don’t want your cat eating so early, spend a couple of months gradually pushing out the time on the feeder so they’re eating just a little later each week. When you get to a point where it’s going off around the time you wake up, try removing the auto-feeder and going back to manual feeding when you get up. But there’s nothing wrong with using the auto-feeder early in the morning if it works for you and your cat. And it doesn’t have to be a full meal. It can just be a snack.
The Cat Mate automatic feeder is one our team likes.
- Give your cat lots of play and enrichment during the day so they’re ready to sleep at night.
- Prey sequence play sessions right before bed work great. You can follow the play session with their nightly meal or a snack.
- Giving a food puzzle or two during the day gets your cat using their brain. You can even hide treats around the home for them to sniff out. Follow some of these tips if you have a bored cat.
- Have lots of self-play toys available and swap them out often to spark interest in play. Several self-play toys are listed in our bored cat article.
- Do training sessions for mental enrichment and quality bonding time. Check out Cat School Clicker Training on YouTube. It's a fantastic cat training resource.
- In cooler weather, try a heated bed to encourage a longer and better sleep for your cat. A cat-safe heating pad works well, too. These are also great for older kitties with joint and muscle aches. The heated bed and mat we link to are made for cats. Do not use heating mats for humans, as the temperature setting can burn your cat's skin.
- In warmer weather, try a cooling pad.
- A super cozy sleeping spot can go a long way in getting your cat to stay in bed later each morning. We found some super cute cat caves on Etsy. Some cats love to sleep all wrapped up.
- As hard as it is, ignoring this behavior is key. And I mean 100% ignore. Don’t look at your cat. Don’t have a conversation with them about how crazy they’re driving you. Don’t talk to your partner. Don’t even roll over. The slightest indication that they got your attention with their vocalizing, scratching, climbing the curtains, or whatever else they’re doing will give them a reason to keep trying. Pretend nothing is happening.
- If needed for your own sanity, it’s fine to put your cat outside the bedroom when this starts. But you want to do it as neutrally and quickly as possible. Don’t say anything. Just get up, pick them up, set them outside the door, close the door and go back to bed. Make it as much of a non-event as possible.
- Here’s the tough part. It will get worse before it gets better. This is called an extinction burst. Children actually do the same thing. When something that used to work suddenly stops working, they think they need to try harder, get louder, and make more of an effort. Power through this phase, and they should soon realize that this behavior is getting them absolutely nothing at all. We’re not punishing them. We’re just saying, “This isn’t the way to get my attention.”
- For every “no,” there needs to be a “yes.” You can’t expect your cat not to need your attention. You’ve got to offer play and other enrichment throughout the day. Otherwise, it’s just not fair to expect your cat to stop asking for attention at night. Meet that need for attention at more appropriate times.
If you try these tactics and have ruled out medical issues, but you’re still having issues with your cat’s early morning wake-up call, consider working with a certified feline behavior consultant. They can help determine what’s triggering your cat and give you tactics to address it.
What to Do If Your Cat Doesn’t Respond to Training
If, in spite of your reconditioning training, your cat is still waking you up and constantly seems hungry, there might be an underlying medical condition.
Diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and other medical problems can cause voracious appetites in cats. Dental pain, pain in general, and cats in heat or spayed cats with ovarian remnants can have behavior changes, including appetite. So, if your training doesn’t seem to have much effect on your cat’s early-morning wake-ups, your vet can help to get to the bottom of things.
Sudden changes in a cat's routine – like the addition of a new baby or a recent move — can stress out a cat and cause them to vocalize.
Yowling in older cats might be due to Feline Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (feline dementia).