If your cat's nighttime patting and poking wakes you up more regularly than your alarm clock, it's time to rescue your slumbers from Mitten's persistent paws. Although cats spend the majority of their time sleeping, they have several wakeful periods throughout each daily cycle, and nighttime is prime play and eat time for many cats. If Mittens has learned that poking you awake is a great source of entertainment, it will take patience and persistence to retrain her.
If Mittens wakes up at 4:00 A.M. hungry, only to find an empty food dish, she's likely to poke you awake to feed her. This is especially true if you routinely feed her right after getting up each morning. If Mittens doesn't overindulge, try keeping her food dish filled with kibble for anytime snacking. If pudge is a problem, switch your cat's daily meal to dinner instead of breakfast so she is full at night. Other options are a timed feeder set to open up around the time Mittens normally pokes you awake, or a filled treat ball to keep her busy and fed during the night.
A common cause for nighttime poking is a bored cat. If Mittens spends her day alone and asleep while you're at work, she is likely to wake up in the mood for play during the night. To satisfy the urge for nighttime activity, mental stimulation and quality time with you, enjoy a vigorous play session with Mittens an hour before bedtime. Keep her pouncing and leaping with a laser toy, a feather on a string, gloves with dangling fingers or a trailed piece of yarn. Provide entertainment for your cat during the day while she's alone. A perch near a window, a catnip mouse, an enclosed track with a ball or a food puzzle all offer Mittens stimulation and a chance to burn off energy.
If you've tried changing the feeding schedule and keeping Mittens busy, yet she's still poking you awake at night, she might simply be in the habit of waking you up for attention. After all, if she's awake, she sees no reason you shouldn't be providing her with petting and cuddles. It's not easy, but you can break her habit by ignoring her poking paw. Simply turn away from her at the first tap, pulling the covers over your head if necessary. Don't move, speak or respond in any way. Mittens will probably continue to poke for several minutes before giving up. Stay consistent. If you break down and respond, you've simply taught her to be persistent. It might take a few nights, but if you are completely unresponsive, Mittens will eventually give up trying to poke you awake.
If Mitten's nighttime poking and pawing is a new behavior, and she is showing other signs of health issues such as lack of appetite, changes in litter box behavior, lethargy, crying or meowing; or if she is a feline senior citizen, it's time for a trip to the vet to rule out health issues. Discomfort or pain from health problems might make your cat restless at night, looking to you to relieve her distress. Old cats can develop confusion similar to Alzheimer's disease in humans, leaving the cat frightened or distressed at night and seeking your comfort. Your veterinarian can offer treatment and advice on health concerns that cause Mittens to wake you during the night.