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Thwarting the Alarm Clock Cat

By: Dr. Nicholas Dodman

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Here are some suggestions to prevent early awakenings:

Highly Recommended

  • Understand your cat and don't blame her for the way that nature designed her. Have some patience and forbearance as you try to realign her habits.

  • Fit thick, lightproof curtains in your bedroom and hallways so that your whole sleeping area is totally dark at night.

  • Do not respond (in any way) to your cat's dawn-time demands ... ever.

  • Feed your cat twice daily on a set schedule, but do not feed her first thing in the morning.

  • Keep the cat occupied during the day (exercise, games, toys, bring her to your place of work, etc.)

    Things That Might Help

  • Feed your cat her last meal of the day at bedtime, which may help her sleep ("as the blood rushes to her stomach").

  • Get a cat for your cat so that you are no longer her sole source of entertainment.

  • Give your cat the internal-clock-resetting-hormone, melatonin at night to induce a lengthier period of sleep. Consult your veterinarian before giving this or any other medication.

    The most important things to remember about "early morning syndrome" is that it is a natural tendency for cats to rise and become active at dawn, and that owners can inadvertently feed into this tendency by responding with attention or food. If you are not careful, a cat that you feed at 6 a.m. will start jumping up on your bed at 5:45 a.m., trying to get a jump start on her day. If you respond to your cat's 5:45 a.m. demands, next you will find yourself being woken up at 5:30 a.m., then 5:15 a.m., and so on, until eventually you're being woken up in the wee hours.

    Because most cats are keen to bend the rules, especially where food is concerned, and are naturally quick studies, it is important to make acceptable house rules and stick to them. If you cave in under pressure, you will get more of whatever behavior you have just rewarded. That is to say, you can inadvertently train a cat to wake you up. The old proverb about "making your own bed and lying in it" really applies here, except that you won't be doing much lying. If you do have a problem of this nature, you should avoid making any early morning activity rewarding to your cat. It may take weeks to accomplish what you set out to do, but it will finally dawn on the cat that sunrise doesn't signal anything worth waking you for - and then you'll be off the hook.


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