Are Cats Really Nocturnal? Know The Facts

Is your cat laid around all day because it is lazy, or is it because your cat prefers to be awake at night?

Was Garfield never really that lazy, or was he just a late-night raver who needed to sleep it off during the day? 

To summarise; cats are not actually fully nocturnal they are instead what is known as crepuscular. This means that they are most active when the sun is setting and when the sun is rising, the reason for this is because their prey commonly comes out at twilight when there is sufficient light to see but the partial darkness helps to hide them.

Did Humans Make Cats Nocturnal?

The question of whether cats are nocturnal surely goes right back to the beginning. When humans decided to domesticate the cat, how was it decided that cats were nocturnal?

The Ancient Egyptians are thought to be the first to domesticate the cat, although evidence of earlier human/cat bonding has been found. It is unlikely that in those ancient times, the cat was put out at night and that the idea of a cat being nocturnal is a much more modern assumption. 

While most animals being domesticated were kept indoors or penned up, it was likely seen that cats could fend for themselves better than dogs and could be left to their own devices.

Also, even the most affectionate of cats retain a certain aloofness, so there is always a sense that a cat is more independent than dogs are.  There is even cause to debate whether the cat is truly domesticated.

are cats nocturnal?

Popular Culture Fosters the Idea That Cats Are Nocturnal

Not only did humans make the assumption that cats are nocturnal, they constantly reinforce the idea.

There are many references in pop culture that support and perpetuate the idea that cats are nocturnal.

Here are just a few:

  1. The musical “Cats” in which most of the action scenes happen at night
  2. The Disney movie “The Aristocats” sees Thomas O’Malley the Alley Cat playing in a jazz band at night with his nocturnal feline buddies
  3. There is the poem, “The cat that walked by himself” by Rudyard Kipling
  4. The “Cat’s Protection League” by Roger McGough sees cats that run a protection racket that terrorize cats after midnight
  5. Crookshanks, Hermione’s cat in Harry Potter, gets up to all sorts of mischief after dark, which includes letting Sirius into Hogwarts castle
  6. Literature throughout history has had cats accompanying witches on their broomsticks at night

Are Cats Getting a Bad Rap?

Cats are seen as lazy and unloving, but what if they are just tired? What if you are coming home from work and your cat is simply tuckered out from a night of singing?

Would you like somebody bursting into your bedroom at 4am and complaining that you are not as affectionate as a dog?

Does your cat become a little more affectionate and active at night? Is your cat itching to go outside at night?

Does your cat seem to come home in the evening?

What if your cat is coming home because it has been snoozing all day in the sun? 

So Are Cats Nocturnal?

Not really! Cats are crepuscular. A creature is known as crepuscular because they are most active when the sun is setting and when the sun is rising.

Cats are believed to be crepuscular because their prey only comes out when the sun is low because it offers the cover of darkness while allowing the prey to still see.

Why Do Cats Come Home at Night?

In some cases, it is because your cat gets bored when it gets too dark, and in many cases it is because your cat’s buddies have gone in at night. But, the most common reason why nocturnal/ crepuscular cats come home at night is because that is the time you feed them.

Some cats have the sort of personality where they do not fancy going out at night or staying awake at night; they would rather hang around the garden during the day, harassing the pigeons and clawing at the apple tree.

Cats in Heat Become More Nocturnal

It is unclear why female cats in heat become more nocturnal. They are the ones who go out singing through the night.

These are the same cats who for the rest of the month are happy to sit at home all night playing with your pyjama cord. Yet, when their hormones hit, they sleep during the day and go out trawling the streets at night.

That is not to say that your cat will not try to find a little loving during the day. This is especially true if your cat already has relationships with cats in your local area. 

Can you “de-nocturnalize your cat?

Although most cats eventually learn to let sleeping owners lie, it can be an area of conflict if you have a cat that wakes you up at 3am wanting to be let in or patting at your duvet wanting to play.

The nocturnal nature of cats is a source of fascination for scientists and animal behaviourists and there are multiple studies on the subject. 

One theory is that humans have actually reinforced the idea that cats are nocturnal. It became habitual for us to let cats out at night, thereby imprinting the idea that it was normal. 

Continually kicking your cat out at night will reinforce the idea to the cat that it is normal. One study has shown that cats can be brought into line with their owner’s lifestyle hours by behavioural imprinting. 

Cats can develop patterns of activity and rest that closely mirror those of their owners –  in effect, the cat’s circadian rhythm comes into line with their owner’s circadian rhythm. 

Ways  to change your cat’s nighttime behaviour: 

  • Increase your cat’s activity during the daytime. Exercise and activity will make your cat more tired at night. Play with your cat as much as you can. All-time spent being active will interrupt those long naps that cats are famous for. 
  • Feed the cat their food just before bedtime. This should keep hunger at bay and reduce the feeling of the need to hunt. 
  • Ignore your cat’s calls for attention during the night. Don’t yell at them or throw a slipper. You might consider confining kitty to a part of your home where it is easy to not see or ignore their please for attention. 

In or out? Join the debate

The contemporary school of thought is that it is not a good idea to let cats out at night.

Some animal charities have rules that they will not allow you to adopt a kitten/cat from a shelter if you intend to let it out at night. Many cat welfare organizations believe a cat should not be left out all night

There you have it. The cat’s out of the bag. Cats are nocturnal because we make/allow them to be. 

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