See this adorable face? She's lucky she's so cute, because this is the face of a waker-upper. Do you have a pet that wakes you constantly—and usually on the nights that you are the most exhausted? I'm a reluctant expert in how to handle an animal waking you at all hours of the night. I've got some great tips to try out on your night-crawling cats and dogs, and would love to hear your suggestions as well!
1. First, rule out any medical problems. This was our initial issue. Skin allergies and tummy troubles had our chihuahua, Grady, up all hours of the night begging for relief. When we finally got the medical issues sorted out (as much as possible, at least) the waking in the middle of the night had become a learned behavior, which was a new problem! Get those medical issues issues in check! Watch for consistent scratching, borborygmus (very loud stomach gurgling), frequent need for bathroom trips, or excessive water drinking. These are all subtle signs that your pet might need to see a vet.
2. Wear your pet out. So your medical issues are all off the table, and your cat or dog really is just waking you up — seemingly for the fun of it! Time to wear your pet out. Take dogs on long walks pre-bedtime or play with cats and dogs for at least thirty minutes before turning in. If you are away from home all day, sometimes the last thing you want to do after an exhausting day is start playing a game of fetch — but this is important to animals' psyche and well-being. Dogs and cats are often at home all day snoozing, and when their owners come home, they are ready to play! Another fun (albeit, expensive) tip: I have some close friends who swear by their "doggie daycare." That way, their pup is all worn out from tearing around with other dogs when they get home from work.
3. Feed them later at night. If your little buddy is waking you up in the middle of the night and begging for food, follow my veterinarian's tip and administer smaller meals throughout the day instead of one or two large ones. Feed them their last meal right before you go to bed — and hopefully your fur kid will sleep through the night.
4. Consider a late night, mechanical feeder. That didn't work? Consider a late-night mechanical feeder. This option is not for everyone, but does work with little guys like mine who need a constant snack schedule for tummy troubles. If your dog or cat is begging you for food in the middle of the night (and genuinely needs it, either for his stomach or for your sanity), they will learn that the mechanical feeder is the one to bug — NOT you! If you have a Houdini on your hands, this one might not be the right decision, as you may wake up to a broken mechanical feeder and a very satisfied pet.
5. Lock them out of the room or put them in a crate (dogs). I know, this one is so easy to say, and in some cases, does not work. In my case, locking Grady out of the room would aggravate her stress/tummy troubles and I'd end up with even more of an issue — but for some pets, it just might work. However, we have had success with the crate, even right next to our bed. Although it's probably too late for those of you with anti-crate dogs, for those thinking about getting pets in the future — the crate is your friend! Establishing a positive relationship between your new pet and his crate is imperative to sanity in the future.
6. Consider natural remedies (but ask your vet first!). This one does work to an extent, but please consult your pet's veterinarian. Low-dose melatonin and other pet herbal remedies can help your pet relax and leave you alone during the night, so that you can get some sleep.
Good luck, all you pet parents! You're doing a great job!