How Can I Stop My Cat’s Midnight Begging?

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

My little boy, CJ,is a very sweet SPCA rescue and has trained me very well. I’d like to get him to stop waking me at 2:30-3:00 A.M. to feed him his wet food. How can I do this? I’ve tried closing my bedroom door, but he cries and scratches until I can’t stand it anymore and, of course, I get up and cater to him. If I feed him before going to bed I’m afraid he’ll just expect the wet food twice instead of just once in the middle of the night. Thank you for any suggestions you might have .

~ Marcia

Siouxsie: Well, Marcia, you’re right in thinking it’s not good to reinforce CJ’s undesired behavior by getting up and catering to his desire to eat in the middle of the night.

Thomas: But as you know, cats can be very persistent when they’ve decided they want something — particularly if they’ve already gotten it once.

Kissy: It’s going to take a two-prong approach to get CJ to stop crying and scratching at the door at 2:30 in the morning.

LOLcat image: Good Morning! I can haz breakfast now, yes?

Siouxsie: First, we’d recommend that you do something cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy refers to as an “hunt, eat, sleep” game shortly before you go to bed.

Thomas: That is, you should spend about 10 or 15 minutes playing with him using an interactive toy like a wand attached to a string that has feathers or a fake mouse on the end.

Kissy: While you’re playing, be sure to move the toy like prey: don’t just fling it around, but get him tempted by moving it like a mouse or a bird might move. A mouse scurries around and a bird hops a bit, then stops, then takes off for a little bit, and so on.

Siouxsie: As you get to know CJ’s play preferences, you can move the toy in a way that appeals to him. Be sure to let him catch it now and then.

Thomas: Once you’ve finished your play time, feed CJ a portion of his wet food.

Kissy: Once he’s hunted and eaten, the next thing he’s going to do is sleep. That’s the way our evolution has taught us to behave.

Siouxsie: The other prong in your approach is to put automatic repellent spray outside your bedroom door in order to stop him from scratching in the middle of the night.

SSScat spray

SSScat spray in action.

Thomas: This product is called SSScat. It has a motion detector that attaches to a spray can. When the cat comes within a few feet of the SSScat, it sprays air (and yes, the propellant is non-toxic to cats) and causes the cat to run away.

Kissy: We’d recommend that you get two cans and put one on either side of the door. Aim one so that it sprays straight across your doorway and the other so that it points outward about 25 degrees in order to catch him even as he approaches.

Siouxsie: All the online listings we’ve seen, unfortunately, say that SSScat is on back-order until August. However, you might be able to find one on the shelves of a pet supply store.

Thomas: We think this two-pronged approach will work to keep CJ’s early-morning crying and scratching at bay.

Kissy: Good luck, Marcia. Please let us know how this technique works out for you.

  • Rebecca

    I second this excellent advice. I also had problems with my cat demanding food in the middle of the night. I knew about the hunt-eat-sleep pattern cats have, so I tried something similar. Through using this pattern of behavior to my advantage, I have been able to get my cat to let me sleep through the night.

    Also, one thing I have noticed is that my cat tends to do most of her eating at night, while I’m sleeping. Maybe that is when cats like to eat the most. Could it be that you’re not leaving enough food to satisfy that urge? It might be helpful to do one thing I have done, which is to reframe my thinking about what the main meal of the day is going to be. Once I decided that my cat’s main meal was probably going to happen at 4 am, I started leaving her more food before I went to bed. Between that and the other strategies, she stopped bugging me. Nowadays I usually wake up to a peacefully sleeping cat on the foot of my bed.

  • InterestedPerson

    I would hate to use the spray, so personally hope the other things work.. just my personal opinino, obviously: I know you need to sleep. I would try also putting out before you retire, one of the search=feeding balls, which the cat has to manipulate to get kibbles out of. We use also a
    feeder wiwth different sized tubes, so that the little bit of dry food they get has to be manuevered outof the container.
    I also read leately of hiding food to imitate the way a cat would normally have to forage for food.
    So if you did this also before bedtime, if you make the eveing meal the main one, it might take him
    longer to find the food, and so also be more full during the night.
    And most of all, if he was a rescue, presumably he had lots of hungry times, so if you can communicate to him, or ask a trained animal communicator to let him know that he really will
    not have to go hungry anymore.

  • kel

    it helps us to leave out water & dry food whenever our cats want to pick and eat, they have something to nibble. We only feed wet food a few times a week at night and sometimes a cat treat and it seems to have worked.

  • http://FaceBook Marcia

    I do play with CJ every night before going to bed until he loses interest. I leave dry food out all the time so he can help himself so there is food there at night too. I’ll try feeding him a little of his wet food after playing and hopefully he’ll sleep through the night. But, between you and me, I doubt this will work. But it’s worth a shot. I appreciate all the suggestions and will keep my fingers crossed something will work. In any event, he’s a keeper.

    • paulette

      Is there a reason he can’t sleep with you? I don’t think the problem is hunger but more being lonely. I ha. I guess getting him a companion is out of the question, being a rescue cat he was used to being around other cats, I love cuddling with my cat at night and so does he..

  • Al

    My Snowshoe cat, Simon and Captain Lucky our Yorkie are both on open feed. Neither one is overweight and eat a bit of food whenever they care to.

    They both eat dry food, with the kitty feed on top of the washing machine. That stuff is like candy for our little fifteen year old Yorkshire Terrorist.

  • Marie

    Some good information here. Dry food is always available for my cat. I am afraid though, that I am feeding him too much. He was just one year old and eats like a horse! I go through 10 cans of wet food a week… that too much? At first he was eating 4 times a day, now it’s down to 3 times. I am home all day and when I go in the kitchen, he’s right there pawing on the cabinet door. He also wakes me at 2-3 in the morning….but, to play! I hate to keep the door shut, as there are many times he’s sound asleep on the bottom of the bed when he doesn’t bother me. Cats!!! they train us well. LOL

  • char

    My cat has been doing the same thing. Wakes me up at 5 a.m. every morning. I tried everything…except the SSScat. I sprayed my bedroom door with antiscratch spray, put sticky tape on the door, alumimum foil strips, a plastic runner with the knubs facing up. The only thing that works for me is putting her in another room. Luckily for me she does not meow. The problem is trying to catch her. I have to outsmart her, but at 5 a.m. that isn’t always so easy! I might try the SSScat. She is a nervous cat which is why I don’t want to freak her out.

  • joan

    1. Wear earplugs. They feel funny at first but then your ears will very soon get used to them.

    2. Never, under any circumstances, feed a cat as soon as you get up!

  • http://orange susan krein

    I have had the same problem always around 2 or 3 I found that taking to bed with e a small spray plastic bottle with water, I sprayed him once and he shot off and if he now sees this at the side of the bed he doesn’t come only have to touch it and he is out of the door!!!!!!

  • Janet Fanning

    Any chance she can go outside and just pester the mouse population? She probably wants / even hears a mouse and wants that nutition. I have a 2:30 am cat and I started to leave the cat door in such a way that she can get in and out but other animals cant (using a collar that unlocks the door).

  • http://none Leslie AKA Pet Nana

    I am a pet sitter/dog walker and I found several of my clients have cats who like late night eating. My clients have bought a cat/dog pop-up feeding dish. It runs on a timer (battery) and you can set it to any time you want to (like 2:30 AM). Some come with a place to put in an ice pack so wet food remains cold and fresh. No more disturbances to their humans!!!

  • Joan from Peachy Pets

    I am a pet sitter. To give the kitties I take care of something to do between visits, I “hide” treats or kibbles around within nose range where they can reach them: on a lower shelf of a bookcase, on top of cabinet knobs or handles, on their favorite windowsill, etc. I make sure to check that kitty found them all in order not to encourage insects. My kitties do find most of them, so I know they’ve enjoyed the hunt!

  • paulette

    I really don’t think hunger is the problem. Is there a reason he can’t sleep with you, and is he the only cat? The meows are saying “let me in I want to cuddle”, after e few minutes of love they will settle at your feet. Is there a way he could have a companion, being raised at a rescue, he was used to being around other cats at night, He just wants some loving

    • me

      You don’t know if loneliness is actually the problem, and probably it isn’t.