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Dawn breaks as you burrow under the covers and feel the familiar tap-tap-tap of a paw on your cheek. You could use a couple of more hours of sleep, but your cat wants your undivided attention without delay. Fast-forward to later in the day when you return home from work, school or other late-afternoon activities with just enough energy left to operate the TV remote. And yet, there’s your furry friend again, ready to play.
If it seems like you and your cat are never quite on the same schedule, it’s for good reason. Cats might sleep twice as much as we do, but their activity patterns don’t coincide with ours often. While we humans are diurnal, or active during the daytime, cats are crepuscular -- a fancy way of saying they’re raring to go at both dawn and dusk.
You can, however, take steps to make life easier for both of you. “Luckily, cats are pretty accommodating,” says Pam Johnson-Bennett, a Nashville, Tenn., cat behavior expert and author. “They willingly adjust to our schedule more than we adjust to theirs.”
If you make the following tweaks to your cat’s daily schedule, the chances for happy coexistence will greatly increase:
A little extra effort in the evening might just buy you that sleep you crave at dawn, says Johnson-Bennett. Too often, we don’t provide stimulation for our cats in the evening. We’re ready to pet and cuddle, but a cat that has been sleeping all day needs more. “They’re very economical in their energy, but they need to release that energy,” she explains.
Your cat’s natural pattern in the wild would be to hunt, feast, groom and then sleep, so play with your feline right before you go to bed. If you feed on a schedule, give that last portion of food right after the playtime. Send your cat to bed with a full tummy, and you’re less likely to be awakened at dawn, says Ingrid Johnson, a cat behaviorist in Marietta, Ga. Canned turkey cat food can have the same sleep-inducing effect on your cat that you notice after eating Thanksgiving dinner.
Even when you’re tired, don’t skip that play session. “If I don’t want my cats to walk on my chest at 3 a.m., I need to play with them,” says Johnson-Bennett.
At nighttime, set the stage for feline enrichment in another area of the house. “In the spring and summer months, one option is to leave an outdoor light on, with a kitty condo pulled up next to a big sliding door,” Johnson says. Other options are to play a kitty DVD softly or set up certain cat toys just at night. For example, Johnson-Bennett pulls out a soft fabric cat tunnel each evening. “I might stick a treat in there, too,” she says.
If your cat comes to you at dawn, don’t respond or even open your eyes. “We get so mad at the cats when they’re waking us up, but we reinforce the negative behavior,” Johnson-Bennett says. If you get up to feed your cat, you’re telling your pal you’ll do that day after day. However, if you’re the tenderhearted sort, try a timed cat food feeder.
Make sure your cat has the opportunity for adventures, even if you’re out during the day. Johnson recommends providing balls such as the Play-N-Treat or SlimCat. She leaves a number of such interactive cat toys out each day.
Cost need not even be a deterrent when considering such toys. A rectangular tissue box with a ping-pong ball inside, or a paper bag laid on its side with a hidden toy equally offer the potential for stimulating activity, says Johnson-Bennett. “I also do a little quick playtime with my cats before I leave in the morning,” she adds.
As you make these adjustments to your cat’s routine, be patient. “You’re not going to do it in one day and the next day your cat will be perfect,” Johnson-Bennett says. “If you stick to it, it will work.”
Kim Boatman is a journalist and frequent contributor to The Daily Cat, based in Northern California whose work has appeared in The Miami Herald, the Detroit Free Press and the San Jose Mercury News. She is a lifelong lover of animals and shares her home with three cats.