When I adopted two cute furballs of fun from Cats Protection Worthing I was so excited for lots of cuddles, play time and two little friends welcoming me home from work each day. I’ve always owned cats and was pretty confident that I knew how to train them.
Little did I realise that it would be a little while before I would be allowed to lie-in at the weekend, or even sleep through the night without being awoken by what felt like a million meows, scratching at the be/bedroom door/linen basket/anything they could find and standing on my head.
But this was my own fault. It had been 18 years since my last cat was a kitten and I was only young myself, letting my parents take care of any difficult behaviour. I had failed to put the proper rules in place to teach them who was the boss and when breakfast time .
Instead of patiently ignoring their tiny mews at 5am, I was desperate to get more sleep and worried about their rumbling tummies, so I answered their calls with food. I soon realised my mistake. The calls for food were getting earlier and earlier – I had to do something about it.
I tried this for around two solid weeks. I had read blogs that said it was best to ignore the cats, play dead, don’t respond or move even when the cat meows and the key was to be consistent. After a fortnight, I couldn’t speak I was so tired. It felt like what I imagine most new human parents feel like.
Shutting them in another room
This worked for a little while. The cats would stay quiet for about an hour and then furiously scratch at the door, taking the fresh coat of paint with it (we’d recently decorated). The problem is, I know cats hate closed doors and I hated shutting them in. This wasn’t the answer.
Feeding them later
So we began feeding them later. We all feel sleepy after a big meal, right? And my cats definitely love a good nap after they’ve had dinner. This actually worked for a little while. They almost slept straight through for the first week, but soon, the early morning calls crept back in.
Playing with them more
Our cats are house cats because they have a slight disability, so it made sense that they might not be tiring themselves out enough roaming the house all day every day. The solution? To buy lots of toys. We scoured the internet for the best toys, looking at reviews to make sure the cats would actually play with them rather than look at me with disappointment.
Our house become filled with fishing rods toys, treat dispenser balls, those toys that have balls that spin around inside them, more laser pens than you can shake a tail feather at – everything. It was a cat heaven. I set aside time every evening to make sure they got a good exhausting run around and it worked! It sounds obvious but, tiring them out meant they slept soundly until around 5am, a lot later than the 3am wake-ups we were getting at that point.
The problem was when one of us wasn’t around in the evening to give them that extra play, their behaviour reverted back to early morning meows.
The answer … a cat food dispenser
It was our last try. We were desperate. I had put it off, mainly because I didn’t believe it would work.
But I had read in another blog that an automatic cat dispenser could help because the cats eventually no longer associate you with giving them food so they won’t wake you up.
I trawled the reviews of cat food machines (or robots, as I like to call them). I needed on that was cat proof, that could withstand the mighty brains of two very clever hungry little morning demons.
Setting the timer to go off twice a day, I hoped and prayed that I would be able to awaken later that week with the glow of an 8hr sleep. I might even be able to get rid of the dark circles that had been forming.
And after a week of routine – it worked! Putting together everything we had learned: playing with the cats more, feeding them later and disassociating ourselves from food had meant the cats were healthier and happier.
And our relationship with them is so much closer now. We aren’t frazzled by their cat demands anymore – we are ecs-CAT-ically happy and much less drowsy cat parents.
Tiffany is publicity team leader at Cats Protection Brighton & District. Please share your advice and stories about your cats waking you up in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you.