Why do cats wake up before their owners?

The fact that domestic cats wake up before their owners is something that a cat caregiver needs to adapt to as they are unlikely to change as it’s instinctive and inherited from their wild cat ancestor. It’s because cats are crepuscular animals which means that they are most active during the dawn and dusk hours. Instincts drive them to be active at these times in order to prey on animals which are also active at these times. Consequently it is normal for cats to wake up earlier than their owners. But this is not the entire story as cats vary a lot depending on their character and environment.

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Often domestic cats aren’t only active during dawn and dusk hours. They might mix activity with snoozing and sleeping throughout the 24-hour day. Sometimes cats can be active throughout most of the night during the summer months and then they become inactive at night during winter because it’s too cold outside.

During the winter months they might mirror more accurately there owner’s circadian rhythms and sleep with them at night on their bed and then wake up when their owner wakes up.

The fact that domestic cats are so markedly crepuscular reminds us that we are living with a highly competent predator. This is about hunting instincts and cats are natural hunters with an internal clock to catch those moments when they are more likely to kill prey animals. It is during the dawn and dusk hours that they will normally (but not always) have increased energy and alertness as their hunting instincts kick in.

They may feel the need to explore their surroundings or play and most play with a cat is a form of hunting. Play is a substitute for hunting.

Also, cats are creatures of habit. They love predictability and routines which provide them with reassurances.

Sometimes their human caregiver might adjust their circadian rhythms to match those of their cat! There’s quite a lot of mutual training going on in the home of a cat owner and their cat.

Because they are creatures of habit cats are unlikely to alter their behaviour to fit in with their human’s. In fact you will see a lot of videos on the Internet of cats waking up their owner at four in the morning in a variety of ways. It is a well-known area of amusing conflict between cat and owner. Cartoons have been drawn on the basis of these interactions.

There are other things as well which can cause a cat to wake up their owner. As mentioned a cat might be active throughout the entire night and come in for a bit of food and then check on their owner who’s fast asleep. In doing this they might wake up their owner.

For many cats, the time between 10 am and 5 pm might be bedtime. This is an issue in cat ownership because in some homes the circadian rhythms can be totally out of step and indeed diametrically opposed.

And even if a cat is sleeping when their owner is sleeping at dawn, because a cat has very sharp and sensitive senses they may pick up sounds and activities outside which urge them to investigate. Small sounds that humans can’t hear can pique cat’s curiosity and prompt them to wake up and wake their owner at the same time.

Full-time indoor cats come to mind here. As there is no opportunity for a cat to go out to hunt, it is more likely, I would argue, for a full-time indoor cat to synchronise their circadian rhythms with those of their owner. It’s likely that they will adapt to their owner’s behaviour more than if allowed outside because once outside they become wild cats again. It means that indoor/outdoor cats are more likely to retain their wild cat inherited nature which includes crepuscular activity.

Arguably, domestic cats might be slightly confused with their owner’s disinterest in being active at dawn and dusk. This is because adult domestic cats regard their owner as their surrogate mum! The problem isn’t just at dawn when a cat might wake up their owner; at dusk their owner is sometimes settling down for a spot of television and a quiet time.

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