Howling in the night


A reader worries about her cat disturbing sleep during the night.

Q: I’ve had a rescue cat, Boris, for about six weeks. It was clear that he is a vocal cat and we are happy to engage with him and are learning about his yowling and mewing. However, my partner gets up for work at 3.25am but Boris begins his nightly yowling earlier than that and certainly wakes me up, if not always my partner.

I’ve tried leaving Boris food and he has access to the outside. I’ve also tried shushing him, as well as calling him to me in the hope of quietening him down. How can we discourage the nocturnal vocalisations?

Kim says: I am sure this must be causing you a lot of sleepless nights. However, the disruptive behaviours that you describe are fairly common.

There seems to be a couple of things contributing to this unwanted behaviour, the fi rst of which seems to be that Boris has learned (probably very quickly!)

That he gets a response from this noisy behaviour. If you respond to his demanding meows and yowls by either giving him food, calling him to you, or telling him to ‘shush’, it means that he has received some attention for his efforts! Whether this attention is positive or negative, it’s still attention in his eyes, and unfortunately his disruptive behaviour has inadvertently been reinforced.

The best thing to do if Boris starts his nightly yowls is to totally ignore it — easier said than done I know. However, the moment you respond to it, the behaviour will increase in both frequency and intensity, and this could lead to days, weeks, or even months of broken sleep for you. Ignoring him is the key to rectifying this behaviour, and a good pair of earplugs will certainly help!

Another thing to take into account is that cats naturally have different sleep and wake patterns to us. Cats are crepuscular animals, which means that they will be primarily active during twilight hours, often the times when we want to be sleeping.

Most cats will sleep for between 16 – 20 hours a day, depending on age. In Boris’s case, a large percentage of sleeping will be done while you are out at work, and when you return home and settle for the evening, he will be raring to go!

It may help Boris to settle for the duration of the night if you can encourage him to be more active during the daytime. This can be achieved by introducing several interactive play sessions during the day, and if possible, a longer play session prior to retiring to bed. I would also suggest that you place some biscuits and extra special treats in an activity feeder, which will provide your boy with additional enrichment and stimulation during the night.

Kim Houston — BSc (Hons), Dip (AS) CABC, CCAB is a consultant in feline behaviour. She works with clients throughout the UK, helping to resolve cat behaviour problems. Find out more at