Ferberizing the cat

We have a lovely cat. A good-natured cat. A cuddly cat. Truly, he is the Spongebob Squarepants of catdom — happy-go-lucky and ready to call the world his friend. It’s hard to imagine a better cat.

Looking decorative during daylight hours / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Except around 4 a.m.

Over the past month or so, Bowie has developed a new routine of trying to get in to our bedroom in the dark hours.

We keep him out because of our allergies. Although he’s  less allergenic than most cats, we’d still prefer not to inhale fur while we sleep. And he has plenty of nice nighttime options: The couch. The rocking chair near the heating vent. The bathroom rug. The other couch. Becca’s bed — in fact, Becca loves to have him sleep with her.

But around 4 or 5 a.m., there’s a scratching on our bedroom door. Then more scratching. A few piteous mews. Still more scratching, which by now is starting to sound like zombies risen from the grave and hankering for our flesh.

Then more mews, and maybe a long pathetic sigh.

And then — WHOMP!  he hurls himself at the door.

I’m awake, so I get up. He’s thrilled. He purrs. He falls all over my feet. He doesn’t want anything as mundane as food; he’s got a full bowl. He wants company, or he wants to be let out.

That’s fine if it’s 5:30, which is when I need to get Becca up for school anyway. But sometimes it’s 4:30. Last night, it was 2:30 and 4:30. And even a leisurely 5:30 wake-up whomp is not particularly welcome on weekends.

What to do? Maybe my friend Gina-the-pet-goddess will advise. Otherwise, I just have to fall back on my experience as a parent, which presents three options:

  • Sucker mommy. I.e., keep getting up to let him out at 4 or 5 a.m. This is the kind of parenting strategy that makes conservative Republicans crazy.
  • Water gun. Okay, so I never squirted Becca as behavioral conditioning. But it worked at teaching Bowie to stay off the kitchen table. Still, it seems cruel when his only transgression is seeking our company.
  • Ferberize the cat. Back when Becca was an infant, one of the trendy parenting books was by a child development expert named Ferber, who offered advice for getting babies to sleep on their own.

Ferberizing your baby meant learning to ignore their crying for progressively longer periods of time, so they would become more and more able to put themselves to sleep. We tried it, and honestly, it was harder on the mom than on the baby. It worked.

I think.

(In reality, Becca was not that hard to put to sleep and both Sam and I were too exhausted ourselves to really remember what happened back then.)

In any case, it seems to come down to three not-really-great options. Maybe I learn to steel myself to piteous mews and Ferberize the cat?

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12 Responses to “Ferberizing the cat”


    Wonderful , i loved this…just remember that a water gun can take a kids eye out…causing great harm…so no water guns on cats unless it’s those little old fashioned weak ones…Great story…i just love your insistant cat !!!!! oxoxxoxoxoxo


    I loved the compassion and warmth in this story !!

  3. Meg Spencer Dixon Says:

    I had a similar issue when my then-new spouse refused to let my cats sleep in our bed (as they had done in my single days). My solution: I gave the cats a lovely bedroom of their own, with all of the necessary comforts and conveniences. Each night, after putting the cats to “bed” I closed the door to that room. They may have tried to seek my company at some point during the nights, but their bedroom was far enough away from ours so that I was unaware of it.

  4. Kaveh Says:

    I don’t know much about cat behavior, but until you find a solution, maybe fasten some thick padding (like foam) on the outside of your bedroom door, something that he won’t scratch, or at least it would make it inaudible, and maybe even the whomp would get softer! Then Ferberize away!

  5. Susan Says:

    Our solution is earplugs for the light sleeper who is disturbed by the insistent cat. The sleeps-like-the-dead one (me) doesn’t hear Percy when he pounds on the door. A little padding on the side of the door so that it doesn’t rattle also helps. Good luck.

  6. Carolyn Said Says:

    Our cats do this too. One day a friend gave us a birthday balloon – one of those mylar helium jobbies that bob a little bit in even the non-breezy indoors. We noticed the cats watching it with looks of terror and then running frantically out of the room. (Of course, our cats are giant scaredy-cats.) So if they give us too many 3 am wake-up calls, we get a balloon and tie it to our door knob. Like a scarecrow, but it’s a scarekitty.

  7. Janice Dean Says:

    I have had similar problems as an adult and also with my cats growing up, and tried some of the strategies above with varied success. I think Carolyn’s balloon suggestion is clever–my cats are also terrified of balloons, but I think that if you just leave a balloon outside all the time the cat will become habituated to it; I, personally, wouldn’t want to get up to tie a balloon on the doorknob, but maybe you would. The advice I would give you is to *not* get up when the cat starts making noise at the door. You can’t even get up and move around the bedroom because the cat will know you’re up. On the, now thankfully rare, occasions when my cats still scratch at the bedroom door early in the morning, Danny and I just lie in bed quietly and hope to fall back asleep. Laying quietly doesn’t let the cats know we’re awake, so we are not rewarding the scratching behavior, which means they don’t keep doing it day after day. Regardless, I hope you can find a solution that works well and soon!

    • Janice Dean Says:

      P.S. Sorry for the two long comments recently. I guess I’ve been in Midlife Bat Mitzvah withdrawal. Also, your cat is beautiful!! :-)

      • Ilana DeBare Says:

        Janice, please don’t apologize! I love your comments and there can’t possibly be too many of them. I hope your knee is better and you are up and about.

  8. Lisa F. Says:

    Cats are social eaters — they like to wake you up so that you will be with them when they eat. I’ve found that providing food in or near (immediately outside) the bedroom helps them feel like they are close enough that they don’t wake me up any more.

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