Why Cats Meow at Night? (Moonlight Meows)
Updated: November 6, 2023
Cat owners frequently find themselves amazed by their cat’s knack for napping in seemingly any spot, be it a tabletop, windowsill, or a pile of freshly laundered clothes. Yet, curiously, when night falls, a cat appears incapable of finding a suitable place to rest.
A prevalent grievance among cat owners revolves around their feline companion’s tendency to spend the night dashing around the house, leaping onto unsuspecting individuals, and emitting vocalizations at a volume that seems to defy reason. What prompts this nocturnal surge in activity and noise levels in cats? Is there any prospect of getting a good night’s sleep with a cat in the household?
Instinctual Feline Behavior
In the wild, large cats, as well as feral and stray domestic cats, are most active during the night, as it is their prime hunting time. When a stray cat is adopted and brought into a new home, adjusting to a different schedule can be a challenge. Even well-cared-for housecats that are accustomed to going outside at night for hunting or exploring may continue these behaviors indoors, especially during inclement weather.
The presence of a pest in the house can trigger a cat’s hunting instincts. Creatures like mice and other rodents tend to be more active at night, which can excite a pet cat. Even nocturnal animals like bats or skunks observed through a window might stir up a cat’s playful mood.
It’s important to note that domestic housecats are crepuscular, meaning they are most active during the dawn and dusk hours, rather than strictly nocturnal. This behavior is also shared by animals like dogs, deer, and skunks.
A cat’s energy level often reaches its peak at dusk, sometimes lasting well past the bedtime of their human companions. It’s not uncommon for a cat to vocalize or make other sounds in the evening or overnight. This behavior stems from the way wild felines communicate with their pack mates during nighttime hunting expeditions.
Pet owners may face challenges when trying to train away these instinctual behaviors. One potential solution is to close blinds at night to prevent outside critters from being visible. Additionally, scheduling a pest inspection can ensure that no mice or other creatures reside within the home.
Quieting “Chatty Catty”
Before addressing excessive meowing, pinpoint the underlying cause. Identify when your cat is most vocal and what triggers the behavior to cease.
If attention-seeking leads to the meowing, break this cycle by ignoring her until she’s quiet. Once she’s silent, promptly offer affection. If she resumes loud vocalizations, walk away. Repeat this process to teach that noisy behavior won’t be rewarded.
If your cat spends a lot of time alone during the day, consider hiring a cat sitter for companionship. Ensure there are plenty of beloved toys available to keep her content.
Establish a consistent feeding schedule to reduce “mealtime meowing.” Automatic feeders can help teach your cat when to expect meals, minimizing between-meal vocalizations.
Consult your vet about diet changes. High-fiber or protein-rich foods can help your cat feel full even with smaller portions, potentially reducing excessive vocalization.
Possible Social Issues
Certain cats are naturally reserved or may be easily startled due to past traumas. The tranquility and darkness of the night can offer them a sense of freedom. During this time, a cat may emerge to expend energy, as the serenity of the home and the emptiness of the living spaces create a reassuring environment.
A frightened cat may also become active at night and vocalize in search of assistance. Their meows could be directed towards their mother or littermates if they are young, or they may be seeking familiar animal companions or humans if they are shelter cats.
The optimal approach is to work patiently with the cat to help them feel more at ease. Create a calm and less intimidating environment in the home for a shy animal. Gradually initiate gentle physical contact and encourage the cat to share the bed for sleep.
Establishing a bond with a trusted human can often be sufficient to soothe the animal and encourage rest. The time spent together may even contribute to the cat developing increased confidence in dealing with the outside world. If the cat continues to exhibit fearfulness or displays other behavioral issues like urine marking or aggression, seeking advice from a veterinarian or a pet behaviorist is recommended.
Concerns with Health
Health issues may be the root cause of a cat’s difficulty in sleeping at night or increased vocalization after dark. For an aging or unwell cat, activities like mealtime, companionship, and outdoor playtime during the day can serve as distractions, helping them momentarily forget about any bodily discomfort or other problems they may be experiencing.
Cats are adept at concealing their illnesses. This instinct, crucial for their survival in the wild, arises from the fact that sick animals are vulnerable targets for predators. At night, when they believe nobody is paying attention, a cat may be less inclined to mask its discomfort.
When an older pet exhibits nocturnal behaviors that deviate from their usual routine, there’s a higher likelihood that it may be related to their health. In such cases, it’s advisable to schedule a thorough health check. This applies to pets of any age who display changes in behavior or engage in activities that seem out of the ordinary. A comprehensive wellness examination can help identify and address any potential underlying issues, whether they be illness, injury, or a more subtle problem.
Rewards for Behavior
Cats are clever creatures that quickly learn that bothering their human can lead to getting what they desire. Many people wake up during the night to play, pet, or feed their cats. Eventually, the cat comes to associate disruptive behavior with receiving something enjoyable.
It’s understandable that humans need their uninterrupted rest at night and aim to return to sleep as swiftly as possible. While it may initially seem like the best solution to give in to the cat’s demands in order to get them to quiet down and leave, unfortunately, most cats tend to become even more persistent over time. This can result in them waking their human more frequently in the hopes of receiving a reward.
The most effective approach is to resist responding to the cat’s behavior and not reinforce it with a reward. It may take a few days or longer to retrain the pet, and it’s common for the behavior to escalate during this period. To help with this, consider closing all bedroom doors, using a fan to drown out any noise, and remain steadfast in the retraining process, regardless of how insistent the cat may become.
Reaction to Loneliness
Cats may experience feelings of abandonment or loneliness when the usual hustle and bustle of a busy household comes to a halt. A cherished pet might wonder why there’s no one around to engage them, leading to their attempts at self-entertainment. Cats that engage in playful attacks on their owners during sleep or vocalize frequently at night are often seeking attention and hoping to find someone willing to join in their activities.
It’s important to ensure that the cat receives ample attention during the day. A confident cat that knows it is loved is less likely to feel isolated come nighttime.
For homes that are typically lively during the day, consider keeping a radio or TV on at night. The pet may be accustomed to the background noise and miss it when it suddenly stops. Place the source of distraction in a room away from the bedrooms to encourage the cat to go there and leave people undisturbed.
Alternatively, gradually reducing the activity and noise levels in the home as evening approaches can be helpful. This way, the cat is less likely to be startled by a sudden silence. A more relaxed evening routine can help both the cat and the humans settle down, preparing everyone for a restful night’s sleep.
While not suitable for everyone, introducing a companion cat may be a solution worth considering. Contrary to the belief that cats are solitary creatures, having another cat in the household can alleviate feelings of loneliness. A playmate can also help tire out the cats, making it more likely for them to sleep soundly at night.
Response to Training
Human behavior may contribute to the heightened nighttime activity of cats. Many felines spend a significant portion of their day, roughly 8 to 10 hours, alone while their human companions are at work or school. During this time, cats engage in a cycle of napping, stretching, eating, and repeating, often without participating in vigorous activities. In the evening, when the human occupants return home, they typically have their dinner and sometimes engage in play with the cat just before bedtime.
However, this is precisely when the cat begins to wake up and become more active, coinciding with the household’s preparation for sleep. Left alone once more, the now fully awake cat may attempt to rouse everyone for more playtime. The cat may even interpret the responses of the humans, such as hiding under blankets or gently pushing them away, as part of the game.
To address this, it’s crucial to ensure the cat receives ample activity during daylight hours to expend some of their energy. Leave curtains open, set up a bird feeder by the window, introduce a fish tank for entertainment, or provide interactive toys that capture the cat’s attention. Hiring a pet sitter to visit mid-day and engage with the cat can also offer mental and physical stimulation, diverting them from excessive sleep.
Consider rescheduling playtime with the cat to the morning or early evening, before dinner. Engaging in play after dinner may inadvertently amp up the cat’s energy levels just before bedtime. Offer cuddles and quieter forms of attention in the evening to ensure the cat still receives the same level of affection.
Fulfilling a Need
If your pet exhibits disruptive behavior in the early morning hours, it might be due to hunger, requiring an earlier breakfast than their human counterparts. Consider investing in a timed feeder instead of having to stumble to the kitchen at 4 AM to provide more food. Once the pet grows accustomed to the feeder, it’s likely to eat and return to sleep.
Cats typically sleep an average of 16 hours a day. For many cat owners, the frustrating reality is that their eight hours of wakefulness often coincide with the times when humans need to rest. It may take some trial and error to discover the most effective solution for your cat, but a resolution is attainable.
Why do cats meow at night?
Cats may meow at night for various reasons, including hunger, loneliness, seeking attention, or expressing discomfort.
How can I stop my cat from meowing at night?
Ensure your cat is fed and has access to water before bedtime. Provide stimulating toys and playtime during the day to tire them out. Establish a consistent bedtime routine to help them associate nighttime with rest.
Is it normal for a cat to meow at night?
Some meowing at night can be normal, especially in younger or more active cats. However, excessive or sudden nighttime meowing may indicate a need for attention or medical attention.
Could my cat be in pain if it’s meowing at night?
Yes, persistent nighttime meowing could be a sign of pain or discomfort. If this behavior is new or accompanied by other concerning symptoms, consult a veterinarian.
Should I ignore my cat’s nighttime meowing?
If you’re sure your cat isn’t in distress, gradually ignoring nighttime meowing can help discourage attention-seeking behavior. However, always ensure their basic needs are met first.
Can health issues cause nighttime meowing?
Yes, various health issues, such as urinary tract infections or cognitive decline, can lead to increased meowing at night. A vet can help rule out any underlying medical problems.
Should I let my cat sleep in my bed if it meows at night?
Allowing your cat to sleep in your bed is a personal choice. If you’re comfortable with it and your cat finds comfort in your presence, it can help reduce nighttime meowing.
Understanding and addressing nighttime meowing in cats requires patience, observation, and a proactive approach. It’s essential to recognize that cats may meow at night for various reasons, including hunger, loneliness, seeking attention, or discomfort. Providing a consistent routine, ample daytime stimulation, and a comfortable sleeping environment can help mitigate this behavior.
While some level of nighttime meowing can be normal, sudden or excessive meowing may indicate an underlying issue that warrants veterinary attention. It’s crucial to rule out any potential health concerns, such as pain or discomfort, through a thorough examination by a qualified veterinarian.