Pet Sleep Q&A

Behavior and Training  •  Pam Karkow  •  Friday, May 15, 2020

Boy, is this a timely topic!  My parents just adopted a puppy and she has been keeping them up at night.  Despite their efforts to wear her out during the day, she cries and cries at night.  She’s probably missing all her roly poly brothers and sisters.  She will adjust to the change, and will become a better sleeper as she grows and matures, but what can we do with an older pet who just doesn’t seem to want to sleep at night? This can be especially troublesome if your pet sleeps in bed with you! Below, some common reasons cats and dogs don’t sleep well, and what to do about it.

Why are cats restless at night?

Cats are genetically programmed to hunt at night, which is why they can often be heard pouncing and playing in the dark.  They are also very social animals, which explains their desire to play and be vocal with their humans in the wee hours of the morning.  According to Russell Hartstein, certified cat behavior consultant, “One of the most important things every pet, and pet parent, needs is an education.  All of these behaviors – scratching, running, excessive meowing – are manifestations that indicate basic needs aren’t being met to some degree.”

What can I do?

Make sure your cat has plenty of interactive toys to keep him busy during the day.  Set up a cat haven where your cat can go to be entertained and to get rid of some pent-up energy. Consider building a catio to keep your pet safely busy outside when you're home. Some toys that would be good for his space are balls to chase, hanging toys to bat around, and a cat scratcher for climbing and claw exercises.  You might also consider a cat perch or a cat tree.  If you don’t think it would drive your cat too wild, you can hang a bird feeder outside the window where he can watch the birds from his perch.  If you have an early riser who gets you up before the sun, invest in an auto feeder, like the PetSafe 5-Meal Automatic Pet Feeder.  Then your cat can help himself to breakfast.  The smart-feeder has a timer that signals the tray to rotate to reveal a pie-shaped feeding bowl.  Each segment holds a cup of food.  Toys that dispense treats are also an option for your hungry cat.

Why are dogs restless at night?

Dogs are naturally curious and social animals.  If they have not had enough stimulation during the day, chances are they are going to keep you awake at night, trying to conquer their curiosity or satisfy their need for socialization.  It can be particularly hard to meet your dog’s need for community if you are at work all day and your dog is home alone.  According to Dr. Nicholas Dodman, professor emeritus at Tufts University and author of Pets on the Couch, an adult dog should get about 10 hours of sleep per day.  If your dog spends most of the day sleeping while you are at work, then you can expect him to be ready to play at night.

What can I do?

Well, the most obvious answer is to wear your pup out during the day so he’ll sleep at night.  But if you work or are away from home most of the day, that can be difficult.  If you work from home, try to incorporate a walk sometime during your workday, or head home from the office during your lunch break to take you dog for a walk.  This can be good for you and your canine friend!  My husband takes work calls while he walks our golden most days of the workweek.  She’s worn out when they get home!  If walking during the workday is not an option for you, consider getting another dog to keep yours entertained or hire a dog walker.  When it comes to restless sleep at nighttime, the answer may just be in the placement of your dog’s bed.  Our old golden retriever used to keep us up half the night running in her sleep.  Our solution?  Move her to our son’s room.  He sleeps so soundly, she never bothered him.  The golden we have now often wakes us up when she detects a squirrel or a rabbit in the backyard.  So, we installed blinds in our room and make sure to close them at night.  What she can’t see won’t drive her crazy.

You don’t have to settle for poor sleep when you are a pet owner.  By being creative, being smart, and being proactive, you can stop sleep issues before they start.  Sweet dreams!

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