Why Do Cats Cry at Night? (Nightmare or Normal)

Updated: October 19, 2023


You’re snugly nestled in bed, drifting off to dreamland, when a sudden noise startles you awake. It’s the unmistakable yowl of your cat echoing down the hallway, inexplicably brimming with energy at the most inconvenient hour. Night after night, your slumber is punctuated by these bursts of commotion and clamor from your feline companion.

Cats hold a special place in the family, yet, like any family member, they can sometimes push your buttons, especially when you’re weary and seeking some respite. Why does your cat vocalize at night – is there something amiss, or is it purely for amusement? Let’s embark on an exploration into the realm of feline behavior and uncover the underlying motives behind these nocturnal serenades.

A Cry in the Dark: Nighttime Noises Decoded

Equipped with insights into cats’ sleeping habits, we can now grasp why their active periods often coincide so disruptively with ours. The early morning, specifically between 3 and 6 AM, is their natural hunting ground. However, there are occasions when their nocturnal activities escalate to levels of volume or frequency that raise concerns. Let’s delve into the various reasons why a cat may vocalize at night – and explore effective strategies to address them.

Read also: Why Do Cats Yawn? A Veterinarian Explains

All Fun, All the Time

A domestic cat’s instinct is to rise in the early morning and embark on a hunting expedition. However, with a human providing sustenance and scarce prey to be found, this energy is typically channeled into play. Kittens, in particular, wake up with play at the forefront of their minds.

The outcome is a symphony of sound: the thundering of paws echoing through the halls, accompanied by spirited vocalizations of triumph and defeat in their make-believe hunting game.

In the quiet of the night, with humans slumbering and no diversions in sight, cats can swiftly succumb to boredom, leading them to vocalize for attention. While their ultimate aim may be to secure a playmate, any form of attention is welcomed by an eager cat, prompting them to vocalize persistently. Humans often inadvertently reinforce this behavior by responding to their cries. Although it might not result in an extended play session, it communicates to the cat that being vocal garners at least a modicum of attention, and a little is better than none.

You can help alleviate your cat’s nighttime need for play by offering increased stimulation, both actively during your waking hours and passively at night. Engaging in play during the day and evening, especially with toys that mimic hunting, will help tire out the cat and condition it to a more manageable play schedule. Additionally, ensure the cat has access to toys it can entertain itself with while you sleep, strategically placing them away from your sleeping area to minimize any noise reaching your ears at rest.

Cries of Hunger

Experiencing hunger-induced awakenings is universally recognized as an unpleasant sensation. To be so ravenous that sleep becomes elusive is both uncomfortable and distressing. This holds particularly true for cats, who, unlike humans, are generally unable to procure their own sustenance. A hungry or thirsty cat will rouse prematurely, fixated on the singular goal of filling its belly, often resorting to plaintive yowls until someone intervenes.

If your cat leads you to its food bowl and cries at night, it’s a clear indicator that mealtime adjustments are in order. Typically, healthy adult cats thrive on two feedings spaced approximately 12 hours apart. Having an early dinner can lead to hunger pangs in the early morning.

To rectify this, consider feeding dinner closer to your own bedtime or dividing it into two smaller meals – one at your cat’s usual dinnertime and another just before you retire for the night.

A cat appearing hungry may also be experiencing dehydration – a common issue with pet cats, given that commercial cat food contains less moisture than freshly caught prey. It’s crucial to ensure that fresh water is consistently available and easily accessible for your cat.

A gravity-fed water dish with a sizable reservoir can guarantee a steady supply of water. Some even feature fountains that maintain a circulating stream, which may appeal to cats that are otherwise reluctant to drink still water.

Physical (or Mental) Pain

If your cat is a senior or if nighttime crying is a sudden occurrence, there may be underlying health concerns. Kidney and thyroid diseases are prevalent in aging felines and often manifest in vocal expressions of pain. A vet examination can identify any ailments, and with proper treatment, both the discomfort and the nocturnal noise should subside.

Senior cats exhibiting nighttime yowling may be grappling with dementia. Waking up in a state of confusion, unsure of their surroundings, can be profoundly distressing, prompting cries of disorientation.

Additional signs of feline dementia may encompass urinating outside the litter box and increased sleep. If you observe these indicators, a visit to the vet is imperative to rule out other potential causes and explore supplements that could help slow the progression of dementia.

Cats can experience anxiety much like humans, particularly in the face of significant environmental changes such as a move or the introduction of a new person or pet into the household. Crying can be their way of communicating discomfort or unease, especially during the quiet, lonely hours of the night.

In the midst of major changes in the cat’s life, make a concerted effort to maintain stability as much as possible. Adhere to established feeding and playtime routines to reassure the cat that despite the alterations, everything is fundamentally okay. If you haven’t already, consider allowing your cat to share your bed – your comforting presence can greatly aid in their adjustment to the new circumstances and help diminish nighttime cries.

How to Reduce or Stop Tail Chasing in Cats

Intermittent tail chasing, particularly in young kittens, is typically innocuous. Yet, if you observe your cat indulging in this activity excessively or compulsively, it’s crucial to identify the underlying reason and offer them the appropriate support. Here are a few recommendations for cat owners to help mitigate the occurrence of excessive tail chasing in cats:

Prioritize Health Assessment

Begin by consulting a veterinarian to rule out any potential underlying health issues that might be prompting your cat to chase their tail. Promptly addressing medical concerns can prevent complications and ensure your cat’s overall well-being.

Foster Mental and Physical Engagement

Combat boredom and the lack of stimulation, common contributors to tail chasing, by keeping your cat mentally and physically engaged. Consider the following strategies:

  • Engage your cat in 1-2 daily play sessions, each lasting 20-30 minutes. Interactive play with a wand toy that mimics hunting behavior is highly recommended. This satisfies their instinctual need to hunt and expends excess energy.
  • Offer a diverse range of toys, including self-play options and interactive electronic toys to keep them stimulated even when you’re not around. Rotate toys periodically to maintain their interest.
  • Provide scratching posts, cat trees, and tunnels to cater to their natural instincts. These accessories offer opportunities for climbing and finding secure spaces.
  • Introduce puzzle feeders for mental stimulation. These interactive devices require cats to work for treats, engaging their paws, noses, and cognitive abilities.

Cultivate a Tranquil Environment

Address potential stressors, as stress can contribute to tail chasing. Establish a calm and predictable environment with designated safe spaces for your cat to retreat. Consider using cat pheromone diffusers, like the Feliway Classic Calming Diffuser, to promote relaxation.

Redirect Behavior

If tail chasing is primarily a behavioral issue, redirect your cat towards positive activities. For instance, interactive play with a wand toy can be effective in diverting their attention. After a play session, reward your cat with food to signal the end of the “hunt” and encourage relaxation. Consistent redirection and positive reinforcement can help establish new habits and reduce tail chasing frequency.

Seek Professional Guidance

If medical concerns have been ruled out and previous attempts to address the behavior prove ineffective, consulting a certified cat behaviorist is a wise step. A professional can identify the underlying cause and collaborate with you on a tailored behavior modification plan. This proactive approach ensures a positive outcome for both you and your feline companion.

Late to Rise: The Feline Biological Clock

A cat’s biological clock defies dawn. Crepuscular by nature, they’re wired for twilight activity. Descendants of nocturnal hunters, they conserve energy by day, reserving their liveliness for dusk and dawn. This innate rhythm can challenge human schedules, as they dance to their own nocturnal tune, leaving late risers in their wake.

Rising and Setting

Many assume that cats are nocturnal creatures due to their penchant for daytime slumber. However, cats are technically crepuscular beings, most active at the transitional periods of dawn and dusk.

This subtle yet crucial distinction sets them apart. Nocturnal animals thrive in the nighttime hours, while crepuscular creatures flourish in the “in-between” phases of day.

It’s likely that cats evolved to be crepuscular to capitalize on the cooler temperatures during these times. Hunting demands great energy, and under the blazing sun, they risk overheating.

The gentle sunlight at the edges of day offers ample illumination for a cat’s sharp vision, while it hinders the weaker eyesight of prey, thereby enhancing the odds of a successful catch. Moreover, other predators like hawks and birds of prey struggle with diminished visibility in subdued light, reducing competition for food during these periods.

A Not-So-Deep Sleep

Dawn and dusk are fleeting moments, leaving the rest of a cat’s day largely dedicated to slumber. A cat typically logs around sixteen hours of sleep per day, while a kitten might rack up a whopping twenty hours – a striking contrast to a human’s sleep needs. Yet, cats experience sleep in a markedly different manner than humans, exhibiting surprising activity even in what appears to be a deep slumber.

Upon awakening, humans often grapple with a foggy and sluggish state, described as being “awake but not awake.” This is especially noticeable if roused during the deep REM sleep phase. It can take minutes, or even hours, for all cognitive functions to fully kick in after rising. During this transition, mental processing slows, memory falters, and motor skills mimic those of an individual under the influence.

Cats, however, sidestep this issue. With the exception of a brief period of REM sleep (clocking in at a mere six minutes, compared to humans’ 90 to 120 minutes), they are easily roused. Their keen noses and alert ears remain active even during this light slumber, vigilant for scents and sounds signaling potential prey or danger. Any hint of unusual sensory input prompts the cat to spring into action, as if it had never been asleep at all – fully operational and poised to prowl or protect.

Is it normal for cats to be active at night?

Yes, cats are naturally crepuscular, meaning they are most active during dawn and dusk. This behavior is instinctual and stems from their hunting tendencies.

How can I tell if my cat’s nighttime crying is a sign of distress?

Pay attention to other signs like changes in appetite, litter box habits, or overall behavior. If you suspect your cat is in pain or distress, consult a veterinarian.

Can changes in routine lead to nighttime crying?

Yes, disruptions in a cat’s routine, such as a change in feeding schedule or environment, can cause nighttime restlessness. Gradual adjustments may help alleviate this behavior.

Is it possible to train a cat to be quieter at night?

Yes, it is possible to modify a cat’s nighttime behavior through consistent routines, interactive play during the day, and providing enrichment activities.

Should I consider a nighttime feeding schedule for my cat?

A small, balanced meal before bedtime may help curb hunger-related cries. Consult your veterinarian for specific feeding recommendations based on your cat’s age and health.

Are there medical reasons for nighttime crying in cats?

Yes, certain medical conditions, such as hyperthyroidism, arthritis, or cognitive dysfunction, can lead to increased vocalization at night. A vet check-up is recommended if this behavior persists.

When should I seek professional help for my cat’s nighttime crying?

If your cat’s nighttime crying is sudden, severe, or accompanied by other concerning symptoms, consult a veterinarian promptly. They can provide a thorough assessment and recommend appropriate measures to address the issue.


While it can be frustrating, it’s essential to remember that this behavior is often a natural expression of their instincts and needs. Through patience, consistent routines, and providing adequate stimulation, we can help alleviate nighttime restlessness. However, if cries persist or are accompanied by concerning symptoms, seeking professional advice from a veterinarian is imperative.

This ensures that any potential underlying medical issues are promptly addressed. Remember, our cats are cherished members of the family, and their well-being is of paramount importance. By taking the time to decode their nighttime behavior, we can enhance the quality of their lives and strengthen the bond between human and feline.

Michael R

Michael R

I'm a publisher and editor at Cat Guide 101. I imagine that since you’re here, you likely own a cat — or two! — so helping you better understand them is my aim. I'd like to invite you to check out our about page to learn more about the Cat Guide 101 story.

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