February 26, 2023
by Robyn Paterson
You awaken from a peaceful slumber to the sound of your Bengal cat's loud yowl. Stumbling out of bed, you nearly trip over the Bengal to determine the cause of your feline friend's distress. Nothing appears to be wrong. You must get back to sleep, so the cat must be silenced. You do the first thing that comes to mind - fill the food bowl with food. Over the next few nights, the same cycle repeats itself. You awaken to your cat's yowling, tend to its needs, and try to return to sleep. This is no way to live life. How can you make it stop?
Your Bengal cat is awakening you in the middle of the night because it needs something. You must determine what it needs and provide for it at a more appropriate time. If this is a change of behavior, the first thing is to rule out any health issues that could be underlying.
Being that we are talking Bengals, the cause of the midnight meowing is likely to be rooted in either food or boredom. For high-energy cats, these are the most common causes of behavioral problems. All Bengals are high-energy cats.
Why Food a Likely Cause of Midnight Meowing
As high-energy cats, Bengals have a higher-than-average metabolism. This means their body burns more fuel than the average cat. Bengal cats need more than the daily recommended dosage on all food packaging.
This is especially true for young male Bengal cats. Male Bengals between the ages of 6 to 18 months are growing like weeds. During this timeframe, they may eat up to twice the food they will eat as adults. If you are experiencing behavioral problems with a male Bengal within this stage of life, increase the food you are offering.
How and when you feed your cat may be contributing to the problem. Cats should not be free-fed or fed first thing in the morning. Free-feeding disrupts their natural body rhythm, which is to hunt (and expel energy) before they eat. Ideally, you want to feed your cat after a play session several times a day, with the largest portion being fed before you go to bed at night. By feeding the largest portion before you go to bed, your Bengal cat will be satisfied and more settled throughout the night.
In addition, you never want to make feeding the cat the first step in your morning routine. When you get up in the morning, make coffee, eat breakfast, shower, etc. Do just about everything that you do daily BEFORE you feed the cat. This way, the cat does not associate you're getting out of bed with it receiving food.
For a more detailed explanation of why food is a likely candidate for causing the midnight meowing, please read What and How You Feed May Affect Your Bengal Cat's Behavior.
Why Environment is a Likely Cause of Midnight Meowing
Bengals are high-energy cats. Most of their behavioral problems are rooted in the environment and the amount of stimulation the cat receives. Most people think this can't be the problem because they play with their cats daily. You may, indeed, play daily, but if the cat is exhibiting behaviors you are not happy with, it likely needs more stimulation than what you are currently providing. A cat's natural territory is many times larger than a house. A cat living outdoors will patrol, hunt, and climb all throughout its territory. If we do not provide enough things for our Bengals to do in our homes, they will likely exhibit unwanted behaviors.
Every Bengal needs an enriching indoor environment. For a Bengal, this means lots of vertical space with sturdy, tall cat trees. It is best to create a walkway around the upper level of your home with a combination of cat trees and cat shelving. Because Bengals descend from the leopard cat, which lives in the tree canopy of Asian forests, they tend to need an enriched vertical habitat. A window perch strategically set in a window where there may be wildlife to watch provides not only additional vertical space, but also the mental stimulation of watching for wildlife, which utilizes a Bengal's mental energy.
A Bengal cat needs both vertical space and mental stimulation. You should have a set of Mind Puzzles that you rotate, so your Bengal cat has something to challenge its mind regularly. It is amazing how intensely exercising the mind alleviates behavioral problems in intelligent cats. If you are up for it, daily clicker training will help eliminate the midnight meowing and create a very satisfied cat.
A cat wheel provides the outlet for how much patrolling a cat would naturally do outdoors. Cats can walk over 5 miles daily if needed, and feral cats patrol an average of 5 acres. Cat Wheels help take the burden off you to ensure your cat gets the daily physical energy outlet it needs.
Adding a catio allows your Bengal cat to be in nature, which can help to reduce his stress levels and promote relaxation. Bengals are curious creatures and love to explore their surroundings. A catio provides them with a stimulating environment that they can explore, climb, and play in. It stimulates the mind, and if there is an ample enough enriched space, the body also.
The last and most crucial aspect of creating an enriching environment is playtime. As a Bengal owner, you should consider daily playtime necessary for your cat's care. It is as essential as it would be for a dog owner to walk a dog daily. Bengal cats do best with a play routine. Then they know what to expect each day, so they won't ask for playtime at times that are inconvenient for your schedule, especially in the middle of the night. You must be playing with your cat to the point of panting during your play sessions.
To review, creating an enriching environment for your Bengal includes the following:
If you are experiencing behavioral problems with your Bengal cat, you cannot pick and choose what enrichment you wish to provide; you need to go all-in.
Ignoring Unwanted Behavior
The final step in eliminating the midnight meowing is to ignore the behavior. This step is the hardest for many pet parents. Stick in a good set of earplugs and let the peaceful night of sleeping begin. You should expect your cat's behavior to get worse before it gets better. If you live in an apartment or condominium, you may want to let your neighbors know that you are working on behavior modification with your cat, and he is likely to make noise for the next week to ten days. The persistency and volume commonly escalate during the first week the behavior is ignored. This is when many people make the mistake of giving up. It will get worse before it gets better. Giving in to them once will set you back to the start again. You must not reinforce their unwanted behavior by responding to it. Within two weeks of ignoring the behavior, the midnight meowing should be reduced by 75%. If you are not reaching the mark of a 75% reduction rate by the two-week mark, you need to re-evaluate your food quantity, daily routine, and environmental enrichment. Remember, ignoring the behavior will not work if you have not provided enough food and enrichment. If you tried some of the enriching tips but not all of them, you need to do more.
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