Initiating sneak attacks at night after a day of peaceful naps and play times is perhaps one of the strangest habits that cats have. Unfortunately for us, nighttime aggression is frequently unprovoked and typically leads to scratches and a disrupted sleep schedule.
There’s always a reason that your cat is attacking you, and knowing why will help you solve the problem. This list explains the seven most common reasons and how to solve them.
The 7 Reasons That Your Cat Attacks You at Night
1. Anxiety or Fear
Cats get scared or anxious just like we do, and some of them will protect themselves by lashing out. If they’re a rescue animal, they might have had a bad experience at night and are naturally warier when the lights are off and everything’s quiet.
Maybe there’s a thunderstorm and they’re already on edge. You mumbling something in your sleep or moving suddenly might have startled them. They might even pounce on you because you screamed at a scary part of a late-night movie.
If it’s a fear-related response that’s causing the aggression, it’s vital that you don’t yell or punish your cat. Scaring them further will only make their reaction worse. Instead, you need to reinforce non-aggressive behavior through desensitization and give them plenty of places to hide.
2. Attention Seeking
Some cats will attack you as a way to get your attention, particularly when they know that it’s a surefire way of getting a response from you. Maybe they feel left out because a new family member arrived recently, or perhaps work’s been busy and you’ve been spending less time at home.
Either way, if your cat is feeling neglected, attacking you at night might just be their way of saying, “I’m here! Pay attention to me!” When you’re sitting on the couch with an evening movie or tucked into bed, it might be the only chance that they have to try to get your attention at all.
A bored cat will seek ways to entertain themselves. They can and often will resort to climbing the walls—or at least the curtains—if necessary. Practicing their hunting skills is one of the ways that they can alleviate boredom, and if they don’t have more suitable targets, they’ll practice on you.
While some cats stick to attacking your feet or your shoelaces throughout the day, others will quite happily pounce on you at all hours of the night. If they step into the room in search of something to do, your unassuming form under the comforter might be too tempting to ignore.
4. Learned Behavior
Aggression can be a learned behavior, and your cat likely doesn’t realize that their actions are hurting you; they just think that they’re playing. In some cases, you can accidentally teach your kitten that attacking you is okay.
It’s understandable, of course: The first time that they pounce on you at night or attack your wriggling toes is adorable and deserves a smile and a head scratch. However, your kitten will see your response as positive reinforcement, and it’ll quickly become a habit.
Your kitten attacks you at night for the same reason that they pounce on each other and their toys: They’re teaching themselves how to hunt. Fortunately, you can gently encourage them to practice their skills on more suitable targets, especially at night when all you want to do is sleep.
If your cat has randomly started attacking you at night, it might be a sign that you need to visit a veterinarian as soon as possible. Aggression can be a sign of pain, and your cat might have an injury that they’re hiding or be suffering from arthritis.
Their habit of attacking you at night might be because you rolled over and jostled them in a way that hurt. Maybe your sleepy petting session meant you accidentally touched a painful part of their body.
Pay attention to how your cat behaves during the day. If they show other signs of pain, such as low appetite, whining, limping, or lethargy, a trip to the vet is in order.
6. Crepuscular Activity
One of the things that many people dislike about cats is how active they are at night. They’re frequently believed to be nocturnal, but they’re actually crepuscular. Being naturally more active at dawn and dusk, they’ll likely want to play with each other or their toys or otherwise disturb you while you’re sleeping.
You need to help them adjust to your schedule. Unfortunately, if you get up to try to calm them down or play with them to tire them out, they’ll be more likely to attack you again the following night. They’ll see your attention as a positive thing and keep at it. You need to ignore nighttime mischief and reinforce playtime during the day instead.
Whether you have an indoor or outdoor cat, they are a hunter. While an outdoor cat will have plenty of targets to direct their hunting instincts at, your indoor feline doesn’t have the same access to wildlife or stray leaves.
Unfortunately for you, your sleepy fidgeting to get comfortable might awaken your indoor cat’s hunter’s instincts. While you might know that it’s your foot moving beneath the covers, your cat will see it as an enticing thing to pounce on and will likely end up sinking their teeth into your big toe.
How to Stop Your Cat Attacking You at Night
Once you know why your cat is attacking you at night, it’ll be easier to determine how to stop the behavior. It can be as simple as closing the bedroom door if you have one, or it might require a more dedicated approach. For the best results, try a combination of the following tips.
Close the Door
There are a few reasons that not letting your cat into your bedroom is a good idea. It can help create a cat-free space if you have allergies, and it can help you get a good night’s sleep if your cat is more active at night. Shutting the bedroom door is the easiest and most reliable solution to the problem of your cat attacking you when you sleep.
If you’re worried about missing out on your nightly kitty cuddles, though, shutting the door isn’t the only solution. The others just take more time, dedication, and perseverance to work.
Encourage Daytime Play
Your cat might be more active at different hours than you, but that doesn’t mean they can’t adjust to a schedule that matches yours. You can help by encouraging them to be more active during the day.
If you work from home, take plenty of breaks throughout the day to play with your cat. Training them to walk on a leash and taking regular walks can help wear them out too.
If you leave the house to go to work or school, you can encourage playtime during the evenings before bedtime instead. Playing with your cat is a great way to direct their attention to more suitable targets, like a wand toy or a jingle ball.
Feed Them Before Bedtime
Eating immediately before bedtime might sound strange, but it can work wonders for your cat. Many cats will curl up for a nap after they’ve eaten, which is perfect if you want to sleep too.
By giving them food immediately before bedtime, you’ll be encouraging your cat to go to sleep afterward. With a full belly, they’ll be happy to curl up on your pillow or their bed and sleep instead of attacking you.
Make a Safe Sleeping Spot
If your cat attacks you because they’re feeling anxious, it might be because they don’t feel safe on your bed. In this case, providing them with a quiet and comfortable place to sleep can help. This can be a simple cat bed in a quiet corner of the living room or a cat tree with sheltered condos. Making sure their cat bed is cozy, soft, and warm is a surefire way to encourage them to curl up for a nap.
Encouraging playtime throughout the day doesn’t always require your presence. Providing a variety of activities for your cat includes setting up toys or objects that they can play with on their own.
You can set up a cat tree or a perch by their favorite window, use a puzzle toy to challenge them to work for their dinner, or get a battery-operated toy that will move without you around. The more your cat has to do around the house, the less likely they will seek out other targets to expend their energy on and the more tired they’ll be at night.
Reinforce Good Behavior
Ignoring your cat when they’re getting into mischief is a difficult task, but it’s necessary if you want to teach them not to disturb you when you’re sleeping. Instead of getting up and scolding them when they attack you during the night, focus on reinforcing non-aggressive play habits during the day.
By giving them attention and treats when they play nicely, you teach them which targets are more acceptable. It’ll take time and patience, but soon, you’ll be able to enjoy a quiet, restful night’s sleep.
Being pounced on at night by a ball of fur, teeth, and claws isn’t fun for anyone—except maybe the feline culprit. Your cat might be bored, in hunting mode, or simply seeking attention. This list covers seven possible reasons that your cat attacks you at night, and we hope that it helps you solve the problem so you and your kitty can enjoy peaceful nights together.