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?
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.
By: Marilyn Krieger, CCBC
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