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Feline Night Games
Cat owners find their nerves quickly frayed as their new kitten begins her nightly capers. Sleep becomes impossible when kitty is nibbling on an ear or an owner’s chin, scampering up the drapes, or racing after the phantom mice hiding in the shadows. Frustration grows as kitty romps across the dresser, scattering any object in her path; lamps, books, brushes, you name it and the floor claims it! Scratching the carpet or jumping at the walls, kitty is actively on the prowl.
Cat owners try to disarm these “nightly naughtiness,” knowing full well that in just a few hours, the alarm will ring and they have to meet the day renewed and refreshed. Significant others, who capitulated to their mates desires to adopt a kitten threaten to move out of the home or kick the kitten into the garage or basement if the nocturnal activities don’t cease.
Why are kittens in full throttle in the wee hours of the morning? To understand the reasons behind the heightened rate of activity, one needs to understand innate cat behavior. We think to ourselves that the kitten is playing. The reality is the kitten is preying.
Kittens come pre-wired. They have three basic prey functions: pouncing, swatting and leaping. These actions result in what they prey on becoming food. Eating food is preferable to being eaten, so anything that they hear or see moving at night becomes prey, even ankles and feet! Nighttime is when their prey is out; bugs, mice and other rodents. Because a kitten is growing it hasn’t quite mastered the silent effective stalking of adult cats. Therefore prey time is at a feverish pace as kitty races through the house chasing the shadows of the night.
In the wild, the queen leaves her nest at night to hunt. Once she has found and captured prey, she brings it back to the nest. Leaving it in the nest she waits for her kittens to finish the kill (the prey is generally injured but not dead). The queen steps back to see what her kittens will do with the offering. This type of nocturnal behavior becomes the kitten’s first hunting lesson. Most kittens, especially those from stray and feral litters aren’t able to stay with the queen long enough to finesse their hunting skills (ideally 12 weeks). Therefore, they revert to this high energy kitten piston churning around the room.
Frustrated, cat owners try various ways to stop the nighttime scramblings. Water pistols, noisemakers, squirt bottles, screaming at the kitten, stamping of feet, and finally eviction as a final measure. The bewildered kitten is placed outside the bedroom, banished so the owner can sleep. “Is this normal behavior” many cat owners ask. Not only is this normal behavior, it is expected behavior.
In his book Understanding the Cat You Love, author Mordecai Siegal humorously and accurately describes this nighttime activity:
“A sudden crash. It could be a lamp falling over, or the trash can tipping to the side. Out of the cloud of dust comes the thundering sound of hoofbeats as the feline night stalker races across the entire house, up one wall and down the other…”
Instead of becoming frustrated, start working with your kitten in prey therapy. Using an interactive toy; a laser pointer or even just turning off the lights and using a mini flashlight beam on the walls, or a popular favorite “Da Bird” a feathered favorite, engage your kitty’s nocturnal prey drive before you go to sleep. Keep in mind that the kitty needs to follow normal prey activity, pouncing, leaping and swatting. Da Bird accurately mimics a bird in flight which stimulates the kitten’s prey behavior. Aerodynamically designed to mimic a real bird in flight, this feather toy on a fiberglass pole stirs the kittens prey drive. A note of caution, Da Bird is a supervised play toy only. Leaving anything with string attached available to kittens or cats is never advisable. Kitties love string- maybe it resembles a mouse tail. I have seen kittens tip over trash cans in an attempt to retrieve a piece of string that was thrown away.
You don’t want to play with your kitten to the point that your kitty is exhausted. Open-mouth panting signifies that playtime has exceeded a recommended time frame. Kitty now needs to wind down. By giving kitty a meaty treat, you start the cooling down period. Once kitty starts to groom himself, you will know that kitty is relaxed. Now the two of you can climb into bed, she can curl up next to you and purr you a lullaby as you both fall peacefully asleep.