It is in the DNA of domestic cats to go out at night to hunt, to be inquisitive, to do what evolution has programmed them to do. It is part of their being and their character.
Domestic cats are crepuscular – hunt at dawn and dusk. However, domestic cats will be active at pretty much anytime of the day or night that suits them. I find that the late afternoon is the time when my cat is the least active.
The early hours of the morning, say around 3am to 6 am are the times when he feels the strongest urge to go hunting. It is their life.
It is so noticeable to me now that I have moved home and have to keep my cat inside for the time being while I build a garden enclosure. My cat is strongly motivated to do what evolution has created inside of him: explore, hunt, take risks, live dangerously (he does not recognise the last two but they certainly exist in human society).
Evolution has created these urges because the prey of the domestic cat is active at these times. A domestic cat has more chance of successfully catching prey in the early hours of the morning. Perhaps prey (the mouse) is active in the early hours of the morning to avoid being caught by a cat but the cat has defeated this attempt to be safe.
There is not much more to say really. The short answer to the question: Why do cats want to go out at night? is: Because the wild cat ancestor of the domestic cat, the North African Wildcat has evolved to hunt at night to increase success rates of catching prey and surviving.
We know that anatomically the domestic cat is designed to hunt in dark conditions. Their eyesight is very sensitive to light allowing them to see better under low light conditions.
When I see this urge in my cat to go out and explore I see the less successful aspects of the domestication of the cat (yes, I don’t see cat domestication as a great success nowadays, I am afraid). Modern human society is not well suited to the domestic cat for the simple reason that there is too much traffic and too many humans who are nasty towards cats. Traffic is the biggest killer of the cat. If a cat dies at the hands of another predator it is arguably natural. Yes, it is sad and the cat’s owner will be upset but this how cats are programmed to live.
Domestic cats are not designed to sit on top of a sofa or on a windowsill looking at the world go by. They are designed to struggle to survive because that motivator is still very strongly inside them, inherited from their wild cat ancestor. Are we meant to squash that out of the cat’s psyche?
I have gone of topic I am afraid but it is a topic dear to my heart. I feel that modern cat domestication has turned into somewhat of a failure as human population grows rapidly with the consequential massive increase in roads and traffic. Roads and traffic are the greatest enemies of the domestic cat.