Are Cats Nocturnal?
Are Cats Truly Nocturnal?
This is a question about which many cat owners remain surprisingly in the dark. Cats are mentioned as nocturnal so often that many people take it for granted that their furry friend is a creature of the night. On top of that, some felines seem to confirm that, by waking you up at 3 AM, and demanding food, attention, or both.
And possibly nibbling on your toes or meowing loudly at you until they get what they want.
But are cats really nocturnal? No, not exactly.
If Cat's Aren't Nocturnal, Then What are They?
The animal is filled with creatures that do prefer the cover of darkness. As Hills Pet, points out animals such as racoons, for example, hunt better at night. Diurnal animals – think squirrels, hawks, or humans – are active during the day. And there is even such a thing as matutinal animals, which prefer to do their thing only before sunrise and vespertine creatures, such as owls and bats, who are active only after sunset. Cats, the mysterious and clever beings they are, take the best from both worlds: they’re crepuscular, and that means that they’re most active at dusk and dawn. Crepuscular is derived from the Latin word crepusculum, which means twighlight. Cats can also be active at other times if the conditions mimic twilight. Cats will sometimes hunt or be active moonlight and during overcast days.
What's the Advantage of Being Crepuscular?
Think about hawks. They’re big enough to be a very real threat to cats, and their eyesight is great – during the day. However, they don’t see so well at dusk, and it’s much easier for cats and similar small predators to avoid them.
In other words, cats can easily spot their prey – or predators who are after them – during the twilight hours, and can hide from those who see them as tasty. It is these times that the Paws organization says are the best for cats to hunt common prey animals such as small rodents and birds.
Moderate temperatures are another advantage enjoyed by crepuscular creatures. Some desert and mountain areas, for example can have huge swings in temperature between day and night. Hunting on the shoulder times between those extremes can provide a more comfortable temperature in which to hunt. It is a way to avoid the blazing sun of the midday heat in the sometimes freezing temperatures of night.
Also being Crepuscular considered an adaptation. Some animals who are considered more diurnal or nocturnal can actually shift to being crepuscular in response to environmental factors. Some animal species, for example will choose to hunt at dawn and dusk because they find there is less competition for prey from similar species.
And if your cat is demanding food at 5 or 6 AM, now you know why. It’s their normal hunting time. Other species commonly thought to be crespuscular include deer, bears, some bats, possums, rabbits and bobcats.
So Why Is My Cat Active at Night?
All right, wild little kitties are most active at dusk and dawn, and your domesticated kitty can demand food very, very early in the morning, so why does your cat insist on waking you up at 3 AM? Isn’t that too early?
Now that kind of behavior greatly depends on humans. Even though cats are often presented as solitary creatures (about as often as they’re presented as nocturnal), they’re actually social. Yes, they appreciate being left alone when they feel like being alone, but they also love company and social interactions when they’re in the mood for it. And if it’s just your kitty and you, and you happen to work all day and don’t really have much energy to play with your cat in the evening… Well, your feline darling was bored and sleeping all day, and a brief interaction with you in the evening is nowhere near enough.
It is important to pay attention to your cat’s habits and behaviors. Cats who are overly restless in the middle of the night could be indicating that they are not getting enough exercise or mental stimulation during the day. This can be particularly true for cats whose companions work out of the home most days. Such behavior can also indicate that the cat has a physical need, such as food or water. (But they might also just want their favorite treat.) It is particularly important to pay attention to these behaviors if they are new behaviors. As predators we always want to be aware of any sudden changes in our cats’ behaviors, including being more active at night. Sudden changes in behavior can indicate the cat is ill or in pain and you might want to consult with your veterinarian.
It's also important to remember that, as you well know, cats are very strong willed and individualistic companions. Both domestic and stray cats can alter their habits to be more or less nocturnal or diurnal, depending on their current lifestyle. This is good because it helps cats get in a rhythm with their human companions.
How Do I Convince My Cat to Sleep During the Night?
If your furry friend decides your stomach is the best spot from which to launch an attack on their stuffed banana toy in the middle of the night, you can change those habits.
One technique recommended by cat behavior expert Jackson Galaxy is to dedicate a playing feeding time approximately one and a half hours before bedtime. Galaxy recommends a vigorous play session immediately before their last meal of the day, which would be one hour and 30 minutes before bedtime. This will both tire them out and satisfy their need to hunt for food.
If you are certain that your cat is not ill, in pain or otherwise has a physical need in the middle of the night and just wants some love or a treat, you can try to alter that behavior simply by ignoring them. Eventually, they are likely to give up and you might just end up with a purring cat sleeping next to you. Some attention, even throwing your slipper at the cat, is a lot more rewarding and encouraging than no attention, so if you can ignore your cat’s meows and jumps for long enough, they might give up. Another thing would be to lock them up in a different room.
Cats also like routine. So keeping to the same schedule, a schedule in which your cat sleeps through the night, is one way to ensure that they continue to do so. Interruptions in life or their schedule can result in a change in their sleeping habits.
Some cat experts also recommend the somewhat more extreme measure of adopting a second cat. The second cat can give both animals stimulation during the day while you are at work, which can lead to a more peaceful night’s sleep for everyone. It is important to note, however, if you are considering this option that introducing a new cat into the home of an existing adult can sometimes be difficult. Existing cats can sometimes reject and be stressed out by new cats. It can be done but there are very particular steps that need to be taken, so you will want to do your research first. Generally, it is easier to do this when adopting kittens that can be raised together.
If you can’t risk being woken up at night, then the absolute solution is to provide your cat their own place to sleep at night and to make your bed an off-limits zone. You can give your cat their own special space, with one of our cat houses, in a room that can be secured at night. You want to make the room comfortable with a place to sleep and some blankets in their favorite toys and comfort items. Regardless of where you set them up it is important that you make sure they have access during the night to water and their litter box.
So the answer to the question, are cats nocturnal animals, is, not really. Cats have evolved the ability to see well in low light, which gives them the flexibility and the advantages of being active at dusk and dawn. But, as we all know, cats are also finicky, individualistic and adaptable. So give your cats a caring, loving routine that is good for you both and you should have blissful nights of sleep.