Cats can change completely at night time. Well behaved cats who are happy to be indoors suddenly want to go out and play or hunt, and indoor cats become super friendly and want to sleep with their owners...or on top of them! And how do cats know what time it is anyway? Here are the answers to some FAQs about cats and night behaviour, sleeping, and time...
Cats are creatures of the night. Actually, to be more accurate, they are most active at dawn and dusk, and creatures like this are called 'crepuscular'. So cats tend to sleep in the daytime, and once the sun sets, they become very lively. In practice, this means that when owners want to go to bed, or at least wind down for the evening, many cats are just waking up and are ready for a good game.
There are a few things you can do to minimise this tendency. Try playing energetic games with your cat an hour or so before bedtime, and with any luck you will manage to tire him out. You can also try feeding him his largest meal a short time before bedtime. This will take advantage of the natural tendency of both cats and people to feel a little sleepy after a meal.
You way also find that cats will change this habit over time. They will gradually stop pestering their owners to play at night, and get used to the fact that when it gets dark, humans go to bed, and they are expected to do this too. But this may take quite a long time to establish.
This is really for the same reasons that cats want to play at bedtime. Cats are pre-programmed to hunt when the sun goes down. This is when the small mammals which make up their prey are most active, and cats cannot be seen so well in the dark by these prey animals. Also, cats have eyes which see better in the dark than ours do. All in all, they are designed to be night time hunters.
However, it is quite a good idea to keep your cat in at night, even if he has free outside access the rest of the time. The problem is that cats cannot be easily seen by car drivers at night, and cats concentrating on hunting are highly likely to ignore cars and be less careful near roads than they are in the daytime. So however much it annoys your cat, try to get him in at his last mealtime, and don't let him out afterwards. He will eventually accept this new way of doing things, and become less insistent about night time hunting.
Cats which get used to being indoors and sleeping at night tend to become very attached to their owners. Often this manifests as a desire to sleep right on top of them! This is not surprising. Think about it – it is warm, comforting, and rather like being a kitten back with their mother. When we persuade our cats to stop hunting and playing at night, we are in a way urging them to return to kittenhood – so this is what they do.
The best way to stop your cat doing this, if you don't like it, is to keep her out of the bedroom of course. But if you are happy to have her there, but not on top of you, simply remove her and gently place her somewhere else, preferably next to you so she still has your warmth and comfort. Cats are intelligent animals, and eventually she will get the idea.
There is a certain type of cat that does this. I have one of them. She avoids me most of the time during the day, but when I lie down to sleep, she suddenly decides she loves me, rubbing against me and purring, even pawing at me to be stroked.
This is partly because cats find us less threatening when we are lying down. It is also, as mentioned above, that your cat is reverting to kitten-like behaviour. Many cats avoid people, even their owners, when they are out of doors, are fairly friendly in the house, but especially friendly when their owners are in bed. Look at it from the cat's point of view. Outside in the wide world, people can be dangerous. Indoors, well, they might be OK... But a human lying down appears quite safe, and even a nervous cat is willing to interact with her human in this safe situation. Make the most of it, especially if your cat is normally nervous, as a timid cat will especially appreciate this.
You might wonder, after reading all of the above, how on earth cats know whether it is day or night. And do they know more than this? Can cats actually tell the time, and if so, to what extent?
Cats certainly react to changes in the light signifying day and night; they are programmed to do this. But cats can often do much more. If you feed them precisely at 6 pm each day, they will usually be waiting for you every day at 5.45 pm. I remember seeing a bunch of stray cats which were fed by a volunteer every day at exactly noon; they were all gradually congregating from about 11.30 am, waiting patiently. And cats often know at what time their owners get home from work or school.
How do cats do this? I don't think anyone knows. They seem to have a kind of sixth sense concerning time. It can even go further than this. I once arrived home from a two week holiday to find my Persian cat, who hated getting wet, waiting for me in the rain at the end of the drive, and clearly knowing I was coming. There are a lot of things we don't yet understand about cats, and this is one of them.