Friday, April 5, 2013

Hyper kitty

I recently received a question about kitty behavior that I will summarize below. While I am not a vet behaviorist; I am presented with behavior problems frequently in my holistic practice, and find them rewarding to treat.

Q.  I adopted an adult cat. He is waking up around 5 AM, and is quite restless. Is there a way to change his sleep patterns?

AFirst off, cats are nocturnal creatures. This means they have evolved to sleep during the day and hunt and play at night. Many domesticated cats retain these sleep patterns, which can be disruptive to their human family member’s desires to sleep at nite.
See your vet:
My first inclination would be to rule out a potential disease process that may be underlying your cat's restlessness. Your vet may want to make sure his vision and hearing are normal and that he doesnt have a problem such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes, or even cystitis (inflammation of the bladder). In some cases when a cat's environment changes significantly; they react with behaviors such as night vocalization. In my TCVM practice, I would look to rule out an "imbalance" that could be treated with herbal medicine, a dietary adjustment, or acupuncture.
If your cat is healthy; this is likely normal behavior for him.

Ignore him: :(
To try to adjust his behavior; dont encourage him during his 5 AM antics. Do not respond to his meowing by feeding him, petting him, or playing with him at this hour. If you do, it will teach him that if he meows at 5 AM he will get rewarded by you.
If his nightime antics are exhausting you, I recommend you try to exhaust him first - so that he will be too tired come nite time to be "restless".
To keep him active during the day, and encourage him to use his instincts to hunt for food; I like to use "interactive" toys.  These are contraptions in which you hide food or a beloved toy. He has to work throughout the day to get it out. Do an internet search for "interactive cat toys" and you will find plenty!  If your kitty eats kibble; try splitting up his kibble in a few of these toys hidden around your house. This stimulates his brain as well as keeps his body active.

Luckily, many cats prefer the simplest toys; such as foil balls and empty boxes. I like to leave a suprise out every few days for Sam so he doesnt get bored with his toy selection. :) For inspiration; watch this video of a cat named Maru who LOVES boxes. I cant stop watching him - so cute!!
If you are home during the day; I love for cats and cat parents to bond with toys such as "wands". Many cats love stalking and chasing these; and you will surely end up laughing, and praising your cat friend as he shows off his moves to pounce on the prey.

A kitty going crazy for a feather wand toy:
My cat Sam loves to go outside on a leash (with a harness). Most cats tolerate a harness fairly well after getting used to it - Sam knows when the harness comes out he gets to play outside! These outdoor sessions can be wonderful for their (and your!) spirits. Just please be sure your cat is vaccinated, as some diseases are transmitted thru the air.
                                                      Sam enjoying some fresh air and sunshine: 
If you are not able to play with your cat during the day, consider hiring a petsitter to play with your kitty for an hour or so while you are at work. The added expense might do wonders for your mental health if it gives you a few extra hours of sleep each night! :)
You may also try leaving a radio on or an animal related video or tv channel.  Make sure there is furniture or a perch available that allows your cat to climb, explore, and look out of a window. You may even want to place a bird-feeder on the other side of the window - this can provide hours of entertainment!
This lucky kitty has a lovely window view. I bet he'd love to get outside and play a little (on a leash!) :)
He is a cat...
Having said all of this; we must recognize that nocturnal behavior is normal for cats. If your kitty is still waking you up at nite despite stimulating him throughout the day and ensuring he does not have a medical issue; you two may just need to separate at night. Perhaps he can have a nite-time "playroom"; that is separate from your bedroom. Simple lifestyle adjustments such as this can often do wonders.
 Please check with your veterinarian before changing anything in your pet’s health care regime.
No information in this blog is meant to replace the advice of your veterinarian.


  1. Katie, any herbal recs since you are in AZ and I am in DC?

  2. Unfortunately, its hard to recommend a Chinese herbal formula without doing an exam; but there are many "western" herbs that have been used successfully for anxiety in cats. You can try: Valerian (essential oil is best), and Passionflower. Kava often works well; but there is concern about liver toxicity with it - so I would only use it as a last resort; and short term.

    1. FYI the Valerian dose for a tincture is 1-2 drops/ pound twice daily. The Passionflower dose is 2 drops/ pound up to 3 times daily.