How to Live With Your Crepuscular Cat

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.”

Five Steps to Better Feline Friendship

For weeks, Nicholas Dodman's family hardly ever saw their two kittens outside of meal times. That's because Dr. Dodman, DVM, director of the animal behavior clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, adopted kitties that had not socialized much with people before they arrived at his house. "With patience," he says, "they came around in a year's time."

He did it. And you, too, can learn to you coax even reticent felines out from under the bed, from the closet or other secret hiding spots for some quality time.

No Two Are Alike
To learn to bond with your kitty, you first need to understand that felines -- like humans -- have different personalities. Dr. Dodman, author of the feline psychology book, The Cat Who Cried for Help (Bantam), says that feline personalities can be divided along three main measures: alertness, equability and sociability. Cats that are active, calm and don't mind being around people are the easiest to win over. But there are ways to win over even the most reclusive, irritable or the lazy cat and make it your friend and companion.

"Never force a cat to do anything. Never bother your cat. And never punish your cat," warns Dr. Dodman. "But if every time you're around good things happen -- exercise, petting, food -- the cat will love you to death."

Here are five steps to cement a feline friendship:

Step # 1: Tempt them with treats The way to a cat's heart is through its stomach, says Bonnie Beaver, DVM, past president of the American Veterinary Medicine Association and a professor at Texas A&M University. "A lot of cats are interested in people because people feed them," she says. Former strays, or feral cats, may not emerge when you put down the food bowl, but they may be encouraged to come closer over time. Feeding a cat simulates a parental role -- it's what mother cats do for their kittens -- and can help bonding. With Dr. Dodman's two cats, he waited until they were hungry and emerged from the attic before he slid a treat across the floor to coax them to come out in public. Every day, he moved the treats closer and closer to family members. The cats followed and eventually learned to enjoy the attention.

Step # 2: Frolic with your kitty Indoor cats need exercise. One of the best ways for your kitty to get active is by playing with you. Whether you drag a string in front of them or hold a toy out of reach, their curiosity may get the best of them. Anything that moves fast will spark that feline hunting instinct. The lion within may also emerge -- they may pounce or claw so be careful not to have your hand too near. "It's especially fun for an owner to get down on the floor and interact," Dr. Beaver says. During playtime, it may also be comforting to talk to your cat, providing you do so in a soothing tone.

Step # 3: Teach your cat new tricks Dogs aren't the only domestic pets that can learn to sit and raise a paw. Cats, Dr. Dodman says, are also trainable if an owner has patience. "You can teach a cat to jump up and jump down or how to run through a tube," he says. Popular methods for training cats include using food rewards or a handheld "clicker" device to make a sound when the cat does something correct. Dr. Dodman has heard of cats being trained by the clicker method to turn a light switch off or on by command. Even if your goals are simpler, such as getting your cat to give a high-five, training can cement a mutual appreciation.

Step # 4: Personal touch for your pet Many cats enjoy being petted down the back, scratched behind the ears or gently combed. You can usually tell what your pet enjoys once your little friend starts kneading with its paws, or purring in contentment. "It is said that the two things a mother cat does with its kittens is to groom them by licking with her tongue and to feed them," Dr. Dodman says. "You can take on this parental role by feeding and petting your cat." Don't scare away your feline by combing roughly or introducing static electricity, Dr. Beaver warns.

Step # 5: Break out the new toys Stores carry a wide variety of chase toys, stuffed animals and rod-and-reel lures. You can also make your own. "Anything on the end of a string that will bounce up and down is something the cat can bat at," Dr. Beavers says. "They also like little balls that will roll, or toys that the cat gets to chase." Invest in a variety of new toys. "Don't leave the entire collection of toys out all the time," she advises. "Mix them up so that they kind of become new toys for your cat all over again."

Corporate Cats

Ever since Spike took up residence in a St. Louis bookstore, he has become a draw for customers and has been lovingly cared for by the employees. As a cat that seems to thrive in a work place, Spike is hardly alone. "Over the past several years, we've noted an increase in the number of firms allowing people to bring their pets to work with them," says Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA), a Connecticut-based nonprofit.

The trend seems to make everyone happy. Vetere indicates workers are less worried about their cats or dogs at home, and so they tend to work longer hours and take fewer days off. Bosses are pleased because their pool of workers is larger and more reliable. And, although no animals were willing to speak on the record for this article, guesses are they are enjoying the increased attention a lot more than being left home alone all day.

"Most employers we surveyed indicated that there was more worker satisfaction when a pet was present," says Vetere, referring to the national survey on this subject recently conducted by APPMA. Not only is it a huge relief to not need to rush home at lunch or be out the door at 5 to feed a cherished cat, but it's also proven that animals can have a calming effect on their humans.

A Good Business Idea
What would it be like to have a cat curled up on your desk or lap while you work? A large number of individuals surveyed (41%) said they believe that having pets at work leads to a more creative environment. Similar to the benefits of "Casual Friday," when employees can wear jeans or shorts to on the job, allowing cats or dogs seems to help employees feel more relaxed and more imaginative in their approach to their work.

A cat in some workplaces may actually increase business. "Customers come to our store looking for the cat," says Barry Leibman, co-owner of Left Bank Books in St. Louis, speaking of Spike, the store feline. Spike was a rambunctious and vocal young stray that was warmly welcomed by staff and customers, and named after the bookstore held a community naming contest. Now, at age 2, Spike is quite at home in the bookstore, often sprawling on the Special Orders counter and never wanting to go outside. "We have about 4,000 square feet here, so he gets to roam around," says Leibman, who has noticed that parents convince their kids to come to the bookstore by using Spike as the lure. "If Spike is hiding or asleep, kids will throw tantrums," says Leibman. "I've learned that the cat is much more popular than we are."

Caring for Spike is shared among bookstore employees, who take monthly turns doing kitchen cleanup and litter box changing. All workers participate in the purchase of cat food. They all help to feed Spike, too. Of course, a single cat in the workplace can almost take on the role of company mascot. It's quite a different situation for an office to allow pets.

The Los Angeles office of the advertising agency Chiat/Day allows its 1,000 employees to bring their pet dogs to work. On an average day, there are 30 dogs in the office. Employees regularly work long hours, even all-nighters, says Carol Madonna, director of office services. She believes it is only fair to allow staff to bring in their dogs, but the rules are strict. "They have to sign a contract saying their dog is in good health and has no ticks or fleas," says Madonna. No barking or biting is allowed. The dog must have its leash on and remain attached to a person or a piece of furniture at all times. Poop bags are provided, and employees are given a map of the area outside where dogs are allowed to pee. Having the dogs in the office creates such a fun atmosphere that the rules are rarely broken.

Tips for Bringing Pets to Work
For any business owner or employee who wishes to bring a cat or dog into the workplace, consider these suggestions:

1. Make sure that such a policy would be acceptable to your landlord, store manager or owner and employees.

2. Find out how many of your coworkers or employees are allergic to cats before you consider proceeding.

3. Make sure you are clear about which pets are, and are not, acceptable in your workplace and under what conditions. Have this put this in writing as part of Human Resources information that each employee receives.

4. If you own or manage a business, consider asking employees who want to bring pets to work to sign a contract agreeing to be responsible for the pet's health, behavior and care.

5. If there is a single pet in the workplace, create explicit instructions for employees about shared caretaking of the animal, including weekends and holidays.

Studies show that cats and dogs can have a positive effect on human health by helping to reduce stress and even lowering blood pressure. Companies like Chiat/Day and Left Bank Bookstore have discovered that allowing pets at work is a simple way to keep workers healthy and happy. "Therapists always say it's good to have an animal around," says Barry Leibman of Left Bank Books. "It's been really good for us." One of his previous store cats, named Jamaica, after the writer Jamaica Kincaid, was introduced to his namesake when she came to give a book reading. "They met and got along famously," says Leibman.

Home Improvements for Older Cats

Bubba the cat is old and surprisingly big. At the age of 20, years of health issues and related inactivity had turned him into one fat cat. While most felines his age are receiver thin, Bubba looked more like a linebacker. At 24, he developed a problem that troubled both him and his owner -- Bubba would get stuck in the entrance hole to his hooded litter box.

The solution, at first, seemed obvious. Remove the hood to allow easier access. But Bubba, as it turns out, had other problems. Arthritis made it difficult for him to step in and out of the box. Finding the whole ordeal too much trouble, he simply went on the nearby floor, or anywhere.

Fortunately for Bubba, he was a client of Colleen Paige, an author and Washington state-based animal behaviorist. Paige, who also has a background in interior design, resolved the problem by cutting a wide opening into a wicker basket, which served as a makeshift hood while still reminding Bubba of his old toilet setup. She chose a shallower pan and also had the owner put another litter box in the house, "since elderly cats become especially sensitive to litter soils and smells, and they also need quick and easy bathroom access."

For challenges posed by older cats (11 years and above), you don't have to locate someone in your town with credentials similar to Paige's. Here are her suggestions for a "remodeling" project that you can do yourself.

Family Room
According to Paige, one of the biggest family room challenges faced by older cats has to do with getting on and off furniture, like sofas, tables and chairs. "Cats may be able to jump on, but jumping off can aggravate arthritis or, if an older feline misses its mark and slips, it may even dislocate or crack a bone," she said. Paige advises placing large, "but not too fluffy," and therefore unstable, pillows next to favorite feline furniture to cushion jumps.

If your cat enjoys lounging on your bed, or resting at the foot of your bed at night, it may experience similar difficulties jumping on and off your covers. Pillows, even stacked, likely will not help much, due to the height of most beds. Instead, Paige suggests purchasing carpeted stairs meant for dogs and cats. However, she quickly adds that some cats fear or avoid such stairs. "If that happens, you must teach your pet to use them and to not be afraid," she said. "Place treats on each step, or perhaps lure your cat with catnip."

Kitchen countertops seem to forever fascinate felines. Or perhaps you feed one or more cats on a kitchen counter. Paige said that is common in houses shared by both cats and dogs. "Cats may attack dogs, or vice versa, and cats might even squabble with other felines in your family," she said, explaining the elevated dining arrangement.

But as a cat ages, jumping on and off counters can be extremely dangerous, given the hard surfaces usually found on both the counter and floor. Still, Paige understands the need to give cats a separate, quiet space to eat. She said, "To cats, a bowl of food represents survival, so their health and entire mindset can be affected when feeding problems arise." If you are a counter cat feeder, she suggests letting your older cat(s) eat in the bathroom with the door closed. Then set a kitchen timer for a short, yet reasonable, amount of eating time "so you don't forget they're in the bathroom."

For stubborn cats that either will not give up their countertop privileges, or continue to investigate your counters, Paige said taping balloons near popular jumping spots usually does the trick. Keep the balloons in place for a week or so, if possible, to de-condition your cat. Persistent felines without serious health problems may require that you pop one of the balloons just as your cat is about to jump. "Believe me," Paige said. "It will probably be a long time before that cat considers jumping on the counters again."

Furthermore. . .
Although your cat may need a literal leg up as it ages, Paige believes that maintaining a feline's sense of self-control is paramount. "Remember that cats aren't like dogs or needy people," she said. "A dog may whimper, as if to say, 'Please help me,' but cats are more independent and like to at least think they can solve their own problems."

Harmony in a House of Cats

Apparently, cats are like potato chips. Stopping at just one isn't easy. On average, cat owners have 2.4 cats, according to the American Pet Product Manufacturer's Association.

"Living with other cats is stimulating and overall a very good thing," says veterinary behaviorist Sharon Crowell-Davis, DVM, professor at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, Athens. "Preconceived ideas about cats being solitary are simply not true. Cats are social and enjoy the company of their own kind. We've shown in our research of feral and stray outdoor cats that they often form complex social groups. They groom one another, pay attention to one another and play together; they wouldn't do that if they were solitary."
Dr. Crowell-Davis says people all too often have a single cat, and eventually decide to get a second cat maybe when that single cat is five or six years old. And all that time that cat hasn't been exposed to other cats.

"A cat that isn't accustomed to its own kind becomes socially incompetent as an adult," she says. "But then, if a child grows up without going to school and being deprived socially, wouldn't the same thing happen? Social behavior is greatly learned."

Dr. Crowell-Davis is among those who encourage shelters to adopt littermates in pairs or even three at a time, depending on the existing pets in the family. She says, ideally, adopt a Queen (mother cat) with two of her offspring. "Our research indicates those kittens will grow up to be confident and stable, assuming the mother is reasonably confident and stable."

The trick to harmony in multi-cat homes is a slow and gradual introduction of any new cats. Dr. Crowell-Davis says, "You don't just assume any two people who have never met before will get along. Why make those assumptions with cats?"

When they do meet, use really great tasting food as a sort of payoff. "Give the cats a reason to like one another," says Amy Shojai, author of PETiQuette: Solving Behavior Problems in Your Multi-Pet Household (M. Evans and Company).

"Understand how cats use space," adds Debra Horwitz, DVM, a veterinary behaviorist based in St. Louis, Mo. "Cats use vertical space. So, try to offer places for them to climb. And soon, each cat will have their own preferred places, some shared with other cats and some not." Resources, like food bowls and litter boxes should be kept in various places in the house rather than next to one another.

"Say you have two cats and two or three boxes -- which would be the right number of boxes -- but the issue is that they're all in one room," Shojai says. "The more dominant cat might intimidate the other cat from using the boxes just by sitting in the hallway. I call it playing poker -- just a slight glance or simply the presence of one cat might threaten another. Litter box indiscretions are the number one concern in multiple-cat households, but they can often be avoided by locating the boxes in different places around the house."

Shojai says the same goes for feeding cats. Traditionally, owners separate cats from one another at feeding time to avoid problems, or they try to. The problem is that they often don't succeed. Following advice of the behavior experts, the idea is to set up at least as many feeding stations as there are cats in the home -- and then let the cats "hunt" for their food.

"Our lives our so busy. If you have three cats, try feeding three different diets -- it's not easy," Shojai adds.

However, even if you feed your cats the best possible food, and follow the advice offered from behavior experts, the straight truth is that you can have too many cats. "Living in our homes, cats don't have an option to come and go from the group as they please," says Dr. Horwtiz. "Consider if all the cats have a regular opportunity to interact with the owners. There should be time for every cat in that home. And every cat requires easy access to resources."

"Your wanting to rescue cats in need means your heart is in the right place," says Shojai. "But if you have a home filled with spraying cats, it means they're not happy. You might have too many in one place. While there's no limit on your love, there may be on finances to properly care for the cats, or for allotted space in your home. My general rule is no more cats than the number of rooms in your home."

"Most people don't go overboard," adds Dr. Horwitz. "And I'm glad that most homes have more than one cat -- it is best for the cats."