Why do cats go batshit crazy in the middle of the night?
Batshit. I know, it’s a very technical term—bear with me here. Specifically, it means streaking around the house in a maniacal frenzy, knocking stuff over, trampling (sleeping) human faces, and yowling in foreign cat tongues.
Perhaps more commonly known as the “3 am crazies,” nearly every cat I know has episodes like these. It’s nothing to be overly concerned about (ha! tell that to my sleep-deprived face, you say), but can be extremely frustrating if you have a furry roommate suffering from this affliction. (..Can we call it “suffering?” They seem to rather enjoy it.)
Why the heck are our cats such hyperactive psychos at the exact time when we’d prefer them to sleep quietly through the night? And more importantly, how the heck do we get them to cut that shit out?
Possible (Most Common) Cause of Kitty Crazies
A cat’s nocturnal hyperactivity can often be attributed to pent-up energy without an appropriate outlet for release.
As you’ve undoubtedly noticed, our kitties spend a vast majority of their day snoozing, despite having the athletic ability of a jedi ninja.
Furthermore, they’re genetically predisposed to be the most active at night, when their natural prey are out n’ about and ripe for massacre. All of these factors combine and manifest into the parade of crazy you see every night.
Retool Their Circadian Rhythm
Simple! Just find their circadian control panel, tighten some screws and flip some switches! Ha… if only.
To help your cats tweak their kitty jet lag, schedule a hearty play session about an hour or two before your bedtime.
Make sure they’re plenty engaged, and that you’re getting their heart rate up. And while it’s great to give them a proper challenge, make sure you’re letting them catch the damn thing from time to time. Otherwise, you’re just building up even more frustrated energy in your kitties and this whole strategy could backfire.
Some great weapons to have in your kitty play arsenal (and yes, I have all of these):
If you’re too busy (or just too damn beat) to run around the house with them every night, automatic cat toys can be a godsend.
Either set a timer for them to turn on every hour or so when you leave for the day, or turn them on for a few hours before your bedtime. A few of my picks:
*as seen in one of my favorite kitten photos of all time:
Now, here’s the clincher: Delay your cat’s dinner until after these nightly play sessions. Make sure you’re feeding them a quality, high-protein diet, and it’ll be the perfect “cap” to calm their hyped up prey drive. After all, they’ve just engaged in a rousing hunt (your play session), and are now enjoying their hard fought
kill meal (or so their instincts will tell them). After a stimulating hunt and a satisfying meal, most—if not all—cats will tuck in for a nice long nap.
A Few Extra Tips:
- Swap out kitty’s toys about once a week. I have about 3 “sets” in ziplock bags (sprinkled with a hearty dose of catnip) that I rotate out when I notice the cats haven’t been playing with their toys as much. Just like their humans, cats get bored playing with the same old toys day after day. Pique their interest by keeping things fresh, and the toys will do a lot of heavy lifting in helping your cats stay engaged and active.
- Alternately, leave cat TV on (at a low volume) for your kitties to enjoy when you’re away. A quick youtube search will reveal loads of cat-friendly channels.
- If your cat is an only child, consider adding another to your family. I’m a firm believer in having more than one cat—despite the common misconception, cats are quite social and form deep and long-lasting bonds with other animals. With a proper introduction, almost any pair or group of cats can be eased into lifelong, peaceful cohabitation. And once you’re no longer your cat’s sole source of companionship and entertainment, everyone will be much more relaxed and happy.
Possible Cause of Kitty Crazies #2
Pest infestation! Have you just moved to some new digs? Is the building perhaps a bit older than your former home? You may very well have unwanted houseguests, whose presence is being picked up by your cat’s hypersensitive smell and hearing. At night, when pests like roaches and rats are more active, the sound of them scuttling about.. *shudder* ..in your walls or across your floors could be kicking your cat’s prey drive into high gear.
EXTERMINATOR!!! Ok, so this is a cat site and not a site about pest extermination, so I’ll spare you my half-hearted attempts to advise you in this area. However, it’s always a good idea to check inside your kitchen cabinets for signs of critters: like rat or roach poops. Roach poop looks like black pepper, and will generally be located in the corners and along the walls of your cabinetry. Don’t ask me how I know that. (Ok, it’s because I live in NYC and roaches are our dust bunnies, except way less cute.)
Possible Cause of Kitty Crazies #3
If the behavior erupted out of the blue and persists even into the daytime, a trip to the vet is in order. Your kitty could be suffering from an ailment that is causing them physical discomfort, like fleas—or perhaps hyperesthesia syndrome.
1-800-VET-VETVET. (Don’t call that number, I made it up.)
How to preserve your sanity in the meantime
While you’re implementing kitty’s new playtime/late dinner regimen and waiting for her sleep clock to be properly realigned (or alternately, waiting on the exterminator to do their thing), here are a few extra steps you can take to keep your kitty’s disruptive behavior from driving you insane.
- Lock them out of your room. Hey, it’s only temporary until their nighttime routine is modified. If your cats are anything like mine, they won’t take kindly to this new development. To keep them from pawing at your door, lay down a strip of carpet runner in front of your bedroom door, with the knobby side up. It won’t hurt them, but will make it uncomfortable for them to camp outside, raising hell.
- If your cats are extremely persistent, get a can of Ssscat and position it outside your door. It senses movement and fires off a blast of air that deters them from returning.
- For a homemade version, hang a blow dryer from your bedroom door handle, turned on and plugged into a remote controlled outlet. When your cat starts scratching or yowling, turn the dryer on for a few seconds. It’ll startle them and likely discourage further attempts at forced entry.
- If your cat only pesters you early in the morning and locking them out feels a little harsh, invest in an automatic, portion-controlled feeder. Your cats will no longer hound you to get out of bed and feed them, which should buy you a few extra hours peace and quiet. (Note – I don’t recommend gravity food dispensers, as cats are prone to overeating when bored and can easily become overweight.)
A few well-rated automatic food dispensers:
Some final thoughts
Remember, everything I mentioned above will only be useful IF your kitty already has a sufficiently enriching home environment. That means: quality nutrition, plenty of toys, and comfortable roosts (vertical space).
A sweet vantage point out of a window is a big plus in this department. If these basic, passive needs aren’t met first, there’s not much you can do in the way of active engagement that will make up for the lack of stimulation in kitty’s life.
Also – if your cats are not yet neutered and spayed, get on that!!
Kittens can be spayed/neutered as early as 8 weeks old, and the benefits are immense—not the least of which is a drastic reduction in unwanted behavior like night howling, aggressiveness, and spraying (yurk).
Your cat is driving you insane at night, you say? Check that kitty has most (ideally all) of these needs met:
- Kitty is spayed/neutered
- Plenty of playtime, about an hour before bed, followed by:
- A late dinner, which should be the biggest meal of the day
- Plenty of toys, territory, and entertainment to keep her stimulated while you’re gone
- Or even better- a feline friend to play with
- Cleared of any underlying medical issues
- Fed on time in the morning, either by you or an automated dispenser
If not, work towards achieving all the points above, and you should see some pretty drastic results.
Further your cat know-how: Tricks for leaving your cats home alone without all the drama
Unmask the love behind all the crazy: Subtle signs your cat adores you
How do you deal with late-night kitty zoomies? Have any insights to share?
Let me know!