2001-Thu Jan 17 16:31:19 EST 2019
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One of the main reasons your cat wakes you is because, quite simply, it works! Your cat has learned that if she is persistent, you will eventually get up and feed her. Even if you only occasionally give in to her crying, your response still reinforces your cat’s behavior — in fact, an infrequent response can result in behavior that is more resistant to change than behavior that is regularly rewarded, because your kitty learns to be persistent.
Ignoring unwanted behavior requires the will to withstand all unacceptable draws for attention, like yowling, meowing or pawing and only rewarding quiet, calm behavior. Be aware that deciding to ignore a behavior can cause an extinction burst, a period where the bad behavior gets even worse before it fades. It may take just a few days or several weeks for the early morning crying to end, depending upon how ingrained the habit is for your cat. Be patient and don’t give in.
Of course, ignoring the behavior isn’t practical in every situation. If you have kids who are trying to sleep, for example, it may be difficult to ignore your cat’s early morning cries. If this is the case, try building on increasingly longer periods of quiet before getting up. Mark a moment of silence with a marker signal, like “good,” let the cat in your room and reward her. It’s OK if she meows after you mark and reward — it’s important that she begin to associate the reward with quiet behavior in order for the yowling to stop. Wait to deliver meals until your cat is sitting calmly and quietly. Over time, work up to longer periods of quiet before you reward, moving from what may initially be a couple of seconds up to a couple of minutes, for instance.
Your cat may be waking you not because she’s hungry but because she’s bored. Encourage independent behavior and help her fill her time by providing a variety of mentally and physically fulfilling activities for her.
Create outlets for species-specific behavior like climbing, scratching and hunting. Replicate the hunt by serving your cat’s meals in food puzzles or by dividing meals among multiple bowls in areas she frequents. You can also challenge your cat by hiding treats, food puzzles, catnip or toys in various locations, like on perches and cat trees, for her to find on her own.
Your cat’s environment may also trigger her early waking. She may have learned to associate sunrise with mealtime. You can subtly change your cat’s sleep/wake cycle by using blackout blinds to keep her sleeping area dark. Your cat may also be responding to the sound of you stirring (even if it’s in your sleep). Consider adding a soothing nighttime background noise, like waves or a gentle fan, to drown out any noises that might wake her.
Finally, consider giving kitty her own enclosed space, away from your bedroom door. Stock it with essentials like food, water, resting spaces, toys and a litterbox. Ideally, if she continues to be an early riser, she will learn to entertain herself in her room until it’s time for you to get up and join her.
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