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Pet Fix Case Study:- Nocturnal attention seeking in a young house cat

Posted: Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 10:34:10 AM EST by Cam Day

Pet Fix Case Study:- Nocturnal attention seeking in a young house cat

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Annie from Carina writes about Peanut an 11 month-old domestic shorthair cat. Peanut is a male, neutered rescue cat that Annie adopted from a shelter at 6 months of age.Annie and Peanut

Peanut has recently lost his appetite in association with a house move and with Annie being away for a while and she is concerned about that.

However Annie’s main worry is that Peanut practices nocturnal attention-seeking behaviour.

He will wake Annie in the early hours, typically 3am – 4am. At that time he is active and cheerfully playful, chewing power cords, jumping over furniture and the kitchen counter, scattering and wrecking valuables in his wake and generally being an early morning nuisance creating more devastation that a super-charged hurricane on a bad hair day.

He has also started humping some of his plush toys which Annie finds unusual considering he is neutered.

The three identified issues with Peanut are:-

  1. Decreased appetite
  2. Nocturnal attention seeking
  3. Humping of toys.

It’s unlikely his reduced appetite relates to the other two behavioural issues albeit the association with Annie’s move may indicate he is overly anxious and ‘worried’ about changes to his routine and territory.

Being a rescued cat, most refuges are very good at ensuring the optimum health of their adoptees but if he was a hunter before Annie took over his care, there’s a chance he may have a specific tapeworm called a spirometra which is a little more difficult to eliminate than normal tapeworms.

There are many other causes of a reduced appetite and the scope of that is beyond this Pet Fix but a visit to the veterinarian is warranted. Because Peanut uses a litter tray, taking a sample of his faeces for examination will speed the process so that worms and other parasites can be confirmed or denied at that time. A full examination by Annie’s vet will also determine any other medical malady causing Peanut’s reduced appetite.

Nocturnal attention seeking is a common behaviour with cats. Cats are nocturnal predators and humans are not! We prefer to sleep at night but cats prefer to boogie at night.

Being the breeding season at present (it extends from spring through most of summer), cats are more active after dark right now. Although Peanut is desexed, the romantic misdemeanours of the few non-desexed cats in Annie’s neighbourhood are likely to cause Peanut to wonder ‘what’s that all about’. Thus the roaming activity of local cats, with their yowling, fighting and urine-spraying, may be stimulating Peanut to be active at night.

Annie may not see these cats but Peanut will be well-aware of their presence due to sounds they make and the smells they leave behind as they roam.

Installing a Feliway Diffuser may make Peanut less worried about territorial challenges from other cats and thus make him more content, creating a restful state at night. Sometimes a few drops of a homeopathic preparation specifically designed for pets can be effective.Playing creates a calmer state

Annie could implement a simple trilogy of tired-making tricks just before bedtime to create a soporific effect:-

  1. Vigorous play to create tiredness
  2. Follow that by providing a ‘gut full’ of food
  3. And complete the task by using the massaging, calming effect of gentle grooming with a (flea) comb or brush

His humping behaviour is not a sex-based behaviour. It’s a common-enough behaviour of desexed cats and mostly indicates boredom as a consequence of being house-confined. Enriching his lifestyle with game play routines are likely to help with that, along with the removal of items targeted by his wayward ways. That should get him over the hump of the problem.

If the behaviours persist and Peanut’s problems are proven to be an anxiety disorder, a medication approach could be implemented.


Comment by: Cam Day
Oct 21, 2013 at 7:12 AM
Thanks Karen. Great additional information. Keep misbehaving!
Comment by: Dr Karen Higginbottom
Oct 21, 2013 at 6:52 AM
Dr Cam's solutions/ explanations sound spot on to me. I would add the following: - other ways of increasing enrichment (of benefit to most indoor cats anyway) e.g. feeding meals scattered in interesting places, requiring searching and jumping; installing and encouraging use of suitable cat 'furniture', providing a good high up view of environment around house - consistently and totally avoid all inadvertent reinforcement of nocturnal attention-seeking - e.g. close bedroom door; open it only when cat is not attention-seeking (behaviour worsens at first but have confidence to wait it out!). Once this behaviour starts, it is likely to become a 'habit' even if the original causes are removed A cat I treated recently displayed similar nocturnal attention-seeking. These methods, combined with some of those suggested by Cam, were 100% effective. I found it amazing how much difference the late evening game and supper made, and the extent to which the cat's general emotional state was improved by increase in general enrichment. Karen
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