Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Curb a cat's early-morning demands for food while maintaining your sleep regimen and sanity

It’s a common scenario in many households with cats: 4:00 AM, you’re sound asleep and your favorite feline is doing his best to awaken anyone that will give in to demands for food. It's annoying to say the least, but for many, it's a very frustrating occurrence that disrupts a good night's rest. For those who are already sleep-deprived, it can raise the tension level considerably. 

Understanding felines and getting to the root of the behavior 

But it's important to remember that cats are not on the same sleep cycle as we are; as crepuscular animals, felines relate to their days differently. It's not uncommon for pets in their twilight or during hospice to experience sleep changes, and yes, that can affect when they feel hungry or have an interest in food. Pets in the latter category can also experience some cognitive dysfunction, which can contribute to wee-hour calls for food.

That said, giving in to a healthy cat's demands to be fed during our sleeping hours can reinforce the behavior and lead to more behaviors that are unwanted. With regard to pets who are in fragile health, that's far less of an issue obviously, but addressing their changing needs with regard to feeding in a way that keeps everyone happy is a priority. 

Space meals out

Feeding cats once per day can be a contributor to any early-morning cries for food, so switching to a twice-daily regimen can be a boon. In fact, for older or fragile cats, feeding some warm food before bedtime can help induce sleepiness. It can also mitigate any acid buildup in the stomach and subsequent vomiting upon rising that cats in this group can experience. 

Tech to the rescue

No matter if you've a young, healthy cat or one who is experiencing some changes they can't help, there's another solid idea that may help you get the sleep that you need—and you'll not reinforce unwanted behaviors. I'll admit that typically, I'm not big on gadgets and the newest tech when it comes to living alongside our furry friends. But one caught my attention with its simplicity and usefulness: the automatic cat feeder. 

These products have long been a boon for folks whose work schedules are unpredictable, travel for overnight stays and the like. By being able to stock an automatic feeder's compartments with kibble and set the timer to open the lid at a specific time, a cat can be provided a meal (or a ration of their daily intake), and no human need be present to dish it up. The same strategy can be applied in households trying to sleep until an acceptable hour; load the feeder and set the timer to go off whichever time in the wee hours works best. 

Auto feeders need not be limited to dry food. In fact, with a little preparation, cats on canned food—families with renal kitties, I'm looking at you!—can be accommodated, too. Loading the bowls of the feeder with wet food and keeping it fresh and appetizing is easy: simply line a cookie sheet or muffin tin cups with waxed paper, portion out the appropriate serving sizes, place in the freezer until solid and store in a container of choice. Pop out a portion to put in the feeder bowl before bed, set the timer, close the lid and by the early morning, kitty will have a thawed portion of canned food ready to eat without having to wake everyone in the house to get it. 

Though it may take a few nights for a cat to catch on to the new routine, once established, it can be a sanity saver. This strategy has proven successful in recent weeks with a couple of families that I work with, as it addresses the needs of everyone in the household. 

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. She has been a featured guest on the Pawprint Animal Rescue Podcast, talking about her career working with companion animals and writing about her experiences. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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