Second Chance: Circadian Cat Rhythms

Second Chance: Circadian Cat Rhythms

Dear Pet Column,

I love my cat.  What I don’t love is my cat pouncing on my head at 2 in the morning. 

Please help…

Sincerely, Groggy



Dear Groggy,

Yes it is true, cats pick some inconvenient times to display their love for you (or need for a midnight snack). So if you want to achieve a normal biological circadian rhythm rather than a feline-illogical circadian nightmare you have two choices: get a day job and become nocturnal or give your nocturnal cat a day job to encourage being awake during the day (diurnal) and sleeping at night.

First remember the cat’s ancestor, the African wildcat, is mostly nocturnal. Domestication shifted activity patterns more toward daylight, but most cats still tend to wake at least twice during the night. The good news is that cats can learn to let their owners sleep in peace.

Of course we always want to rule out medial problems first – particularly if this is a sudden change in your cat’s evening activity. If your cat restlessly wanders around your house at night meowing or crying, he may be suffering from an underlying medical problem causing pain or discomfort that you would want your vet to rule out – especially if the agitation continues during the day.

If your cat is medically fine (and you feel is still just plotting to annoy you) try the following:

  • Schedule interactive play sessions with your cat during the evening with toys and soft balls, etc. to tire him out.
  • Feed your cat a main meal just before bedtime. Cats tend to sleep after a big meal. If your cat continues to wake you during the night for food, purchase a timed feeder that you can set to dispense once or twice during the night (reduce meal sizes so that your cat doesn’t get chubbers). Your cat should learn to wait by the feeder rather than on your head.
  • Incorporate a variety of enrichment activities to keep your cat busy during daylight hours. Cardboard boxes and paper bags in varied places and interchanged on different days of the week can encourage daytime activity for cats.
  • Consider adding a second cat (***Pick me! Pick meeeeee!!!) to your family. If the two cats are compatible, they’ll probably play with each other and leave you alone at night (if not, then you’ll have two cats waking you at night…).
  • Shut your cat out of your bedroom at night. If he cries and scratches at the door place something in front of the door he won’t want to step on (vinyl carpet runner placed upside-down to expose the knobby parts, double-sided sticky tape or aluminum foil, etc.).
  • Overly persistent cats with overly sleep deprived parents may require “The Booby Trap” – a blow dryer dangling off the bedroom door knob, a vacuum cleaner in front of the door, etc. Plug it into a remote switch (available at most hardware stores) and when the meowing ensue,s hit the button to turn on the appliance. Repeat as needed until the behavior is extinguished.
  • If all of the above fails: eventually you will adjust to a soft purring body on your head and find comfort in it…or be too tired to care… and sleep soundly.

***My name is Biscuit and I would love to help entertain your cat so that you can sleep. I enjoy other cats and I LOVE people and when people pet me. I also enjoy tuna and tunnels.


Editor’s note: It’s no secret. The Telluride region is dog heaven. Well, pet heaven. Unless you are one of our furry friends who gets caught in the maw of neglect and abuse. Then heaven is on hold until Second Chance Humane Society comes to the rescue. Second Chance is the region’s nonprofit dedicated to saving animals’ lives and promoting responsible pet parenting and human-animal bond. In her weekly blog, executive director Kelly Goodin profiles at least one, generally two of the many animals now living at the no-kill shelter, Angel Ridge Shelter, a dog and a cat, hoping to find them loving permanent homes. The column is sponsored by Ted Hoff of Cottonwood Ranch & Kennel, who from time to time exercises his skills as a dog whisperer, partnering with Kelly and her staff to help train a particularly challenging animal.

Ted Hoff & Mae

Ted Hoff &  Magnificent Mae

By the by, there is no better place to park your pup or get your pup (or adult dog) trained than Cottonwood whenever you head out of town (for locals) or are heading to town and staying somewhere that does not allow pets. Consider joining Ted’s Very Important Dog (VID) Club for added benies. (Details on Ted’s website.)

Second Chance Humane Society Animal Resource Center and Thrift Shop are both located in Ridgway, but service San Miguel, Ouray & Montrose Counties. Call the SCHS Helpline at 626-2273 to report a lost pet, learn about adopting a homeless pet, or about the SCHS Spay/Neuter, Volunteer, Feral Cat, or other Programs. View the shelter pets and services online:

Vetting the Vet: Dr. Michelle Dally, DVM, J.D. is Medical Director of Second Chance Humane Society. She also has a private practice, Dally Veterinary Medicine, 333 S. Elizabeth Street, Ridgway, Colorado. Her service area is  San Miguel Mesas, Placerville, Ridgway, Ouray, and Montrose. For more on Dr. Dally, go here.

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