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Can Animals Get Insomnia? Foiling Furry Insomnia

by | Aug 3, 2012 | Cat Behavior & Care, Dog Training & Care | 10 comments

Can animals get insomnia? Maybe you also need tips for foiling furry insomnia with your pets won’t sleep.

Last night, I couldn’t sleep, suffering from insomnia. So I got up, climbed the stairs to my office, and worked on the piano score of KURVES, in preparation to share with other theaters (yee-haw!). While I typed, Seren kept me company and decided it was the purr-fect time to play. She woke up Magic, who had been snoozing at the foot of the stairs. So even once I was ready to sleep, the “fur-kids” had lost the urge.

Do Pets Get Insomnia/

Cats normally sleep up to 16 hours a day and almost never have problems sleeping. Dogs rarely have trouble sleeping, either. They get plenty of naps while you’re at work. They have plenty of energy to stay awake at night to guard the house, play, and pester snoozing owners.

In a house with both cats and dogs, the pets may keep each other awake playing throughout the night. Cats are most active at dawn and dusk when mice would be foraging. Nocturnal antics are most common in kittens and usually decrease when the cat reaches 12 to 18 months of age.

When you must arise for work early each morning, midnight games stealing sleep won’t thrill you. There are several methods you can use to prompt pets to sleep on your timetable. Here are some tips that work for Magical-Dawg and Seren-kitty.

  • Schedule playtime a half hour before bedtime, and wear out your pets so they’ll crash when you do. Chasing the ball for dogs, or a flashlight beam for cats works well. Magic loves to play hose-tag during these hot steamy days, and Seren adores chasing Da Bird fishing pole toy.
  • You can also provide a late night meal to keep pets from pestering you at 3 a.m. to fill the bowl. That helps with cats especially. Seren will be quick to complain if her bowl falls empty.
  • Slow, calm, instrumental music can soothe and help lullaby pets to sleep. It works for people, too. Learn more about music and pets here. Actually, slow calm music works well for me, too. I reserve The Chieftains rollicking music for when I need energy, and play my cello CD’s to help me concentrate or snooze.
  • The timekeeper hormone melatonin tells us when to sleep and when to wake up and has been used in people to treat jet lag and sleep disorders. Some veterinarians recommend using it to help pets sleep, too. Melatonin is available at health food stores (not quite as tasty), but you’ll need to ask your vet for the proper dosage.
  • Milk contains the chemical tryptophan that helps promote sleep. A quarter cup of warm milk as a bedtime snack may help pets snooze more readily. However, some dogs and cats don’t digest milk easily so nix the snack if diarrhea develops. The fur-kids are quick to point out that tryptophan is also found in turkey.

Do your pets never hit the snooze button when you need your beauty rest? How do you deal with the late night high jinx? Please share suggestions. I may need to invest in earplugs.

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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!




  1. Marcia

    This info helps, Amy. My cat doesn’t have a problem sleeping but I’m considering bringing home a kitten from a litter my daughter’s cat had. He may keep me up at night.
    The next to last one born had some issues. He’s 8 weeks old now and not as well developed as his 1st and 2nd born sisters. He had trouble holding his head up until a week or so ago. He’s still not very coordinated but does play with the other kittens and seems to be getting enough to eat. They are just getting switched over to food and a litter box. so I’ll wait until that routine is established, but I worry about his mental state. My daughter affectionately calls him Dumbo because he’s not as ‘with it’ as his sibs. Have you seen this before and do you think it’s something he’ll outgrow?

    • amyshojai

      Breeders tell me they see this pretty often. Sometimes the kitten finally catches up with the siblings. Remember that during a breeding, conception can take place over a period of a couple of days, but usually ALL the kittens are born at the same time. So it’s not unusual for some variation in development. My guess is that by the time they’re weaned, all the kittens will be closer in development.

      And yes, there are differences in mental acuity and physical dexterity between kittens within the same litter, just as there might be differences between human siblings. In my experience the very smart kitties (and dogs, too!) can be more of a challenge because they seem to question and find their own ways of doing this. Even if a kitten isn’t the sharpest pencil in the box they can be very sweet, and make wonderful companions.

      • Marcia

        Thanks so much, Amy! That makes me feel a lot better about his growth. My daughter just told me he had no problem with litter ‘training’ and switching to kitten food. He’s mostly Maine Coon and part domestic short hair. He’s grey and gold with blue eyes. Very pretty and very sweet.

        • amyshojai

          Awww, that’s good news! He sounds lovely. When you get him, I hope you’ll share SQUEEEE! kitten pictures.

          • Marcia

            I definitely will!

  2. Brenda

    I thought I had the answer but that was last week.
    Mostly Oscar isn’t disturbing us if he is well fed and has plenty of food in his dish and confidence it will be filled again when he is ready. He comes and says “good night” and isn’t heard from again unless/until he runs out of food or has some other issue. This training took awhile though. We keep him pretty busy from late evening right up until bedtime.

    I would advocate AGAINST melatonin for pets or humans. U.S. supplements are not regulated properly and there were some horrific tales one Dateline (or one of those news shows) some years back about deaths and serious liver (I believe it was liver) problems from some. Lead is also often in supplements. (There is a great book on the topic, but the title has momentarily left my head.)

    • amyshojai

      Hi Brenda, Your caution is right on target. It’s true that supplements aren’t regulated as well as prescription drugs–but then, prescription drugs get recalled and have overdose issues as well. It’s important to remember that “natural” does not equal “safe.”

      Poisonous mushrooms and a snake’s bite are both natural, after all. 🙂 This is why I always recommend veterinary advice with such things. There are studies available in the literature that often vets have access to that laypeople don’t, so they’re in the best position to advocate for our individual pets. Thanks for the comment and caution!

  3. ExclusivelyCats

    Must admit my gang has always been good about sleeping through the night (wish I was that good). I think the nighttime snack is key, between 9 and 10 here. If she’s chilly, Tekla will hop up on the nightstand and want to dive under the covers. Mollie will come to visit if she hears us during the night, and Pully, the orange alarm clock, lets me know when it’s 7 a.m.

    • amyshojai

      Hi Sally, it doesn’t happen often with Seren. But once she gets wound up, look out! I do think she’s losing some hearing, because her sweet voice has become more strident especially at night. She never has had that distinctive Siamese yowl, but it’s getting growly the older she gets. Holy cats, she’s 15!

    • amyshojai

      Seren will tell us, night or day, when she sees the bottom of her food bowl. She does not like a “happy plate” LOL!


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