My kitty has been waking me up early every morning begging for wet food. He has dry food available but obviously prefers the wet. I've tried ignoring him, but he will meow for over an hour straight and I eventually must get up in the morning and feed him or I'll be late for work, so the lesson isn't learned and I'm afraid I'm just reinforcing his begging. I'm not sure how to best address this issue. Any ideas?

  • 2
    Does he ever eat his dry food?
    – JAD
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 14:22
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    Cats are always in charge, that's the lesson here. And you are gradually learning this lesson...
    – user8045
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 14:22
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    when we were kids, our cats would bother us in the morning before we woke up (we fed the cats, not our parents). What worked for us to get through the period where we were retraining them to expect dinner at a different time was to keep a small, toy watergun beside the bed! If the cat meowed, they got a quick spray - and left us alone!
    – Nova
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 17:15
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    Wet food is better for cats, though teeth problems are always a concern no matter what. In the wild, normally cats get all their moisture from their prey.
    – ErikE
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 23:41
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    Pharap must be one of the cats we suspected are infiltrating this site. Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 22:40

6 Answers 6


We had the same problem with our cat. Here's how I solved it (and @Nova did too, once).

When he first came to live with us, he was fed in the morning when I got up and left the bedroom. But one day he became emboldened, and he decided he’d be fed when he wanted to be fed, which was earlier than my regular wake-up time.

Accordingly, he’d wake me up to make that announcement. I found that I didn’t agree with this new policy.

So, starting on the second day of his new behavior, when he'd meow in the morning for his food, I responded by getting out of bed immediately and spraying his face with water from a squirt bottle. The immediate nature of the response was critical because it never allowed him the opportunity to meow repeatedly, which would have reinforced the unwanted behavior.

Then I went back to bed. If the meows repeated (which they did for a few more days, gradually tapering off day by day) I'd respond in kind with another squirt, sometimes chasing him down to ensure he didn’t avoid it.

He soon understood that the result of this early morning meowing wasn't food, but water to the face. Within four days, the meowing had stopped completely. Now, more than a year later, he just waits quietly, and when I open the door he greets me happily and gets his food.

If you don’t mind the dedication to getting out of bed immediately and consistently (along with the somewhat enhanced level of corrective action) this may do the trick for you. Good luck, and remember YOU are the boss, not the cat.

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    If you put the squirt bottle near your bed, you don't need to get out. Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 21:40
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    Note that this only works if your cat strongly dislikes being sprayed with water. Some relatives of mine have a cat who doesn't seem to mind it. Tempted to -1 for the last sentence, though. =)
    – jpmc26
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 1:57
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    @MansNotHot this is a well known joke, that it's actually cats who decide to bring up humans as pets/slaves ;-)
    – Kromster
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 9:22
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    I used to put my cat in the basement. It worked wonders because he didn't like it. It did not take long to learn that I misinterpreted his meows while we are sleeping to mean 'please put me in the basement'.
    – Joe
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 15:19
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    Has your cat ever meowed since, for any other reason?
    – Ruslan
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 20:21

Change the time of feeding him the wet food. Right now, the cat knows if he meows enough, he's going to get the wet food. The only way to stop the behavior is to not give into it.

When the cat stops meowing in the morning, you can go back to feeding him the wet food in the morning. Otherwise, you have to deal with the meowing.


Option 1:

Give in, feed him, then go back to bed. He's happy because he gets food, you're happy because he's not meowing anymore. Learn to live with waking up a bit early and then going back for a lie-in.

Option 2:

Get a timed feeder as mentioned by @Valorum in the comments. An excellent investment.

Cat feeders

Option 3:

Be determined. Get some earplugs. Ignore your cat when he meows. It will take determination but eventually he will learn that he doesn't get breakfast until later.

You can reinforce this by providing special treats with the breakfast like a bit of raw chicken. Perhaps even alternate between getting up and feeding him but not giving him chicken and lying in bed for longer and giving him chicken with is breakfast.

A guide provided by @dexgecko from the 'American Association of Feline Practicioners' (henceforth AAoFP) supports this option. From page 30:

The easiest passive intervention is to absolutely ignore the undesirable behavior, as long as medical problems that might cause this behavior have been ruled out or treated. If the client’s response to the cat’s behavior has contributed to the problem, the behavior may fade if the response ceases. For example, if the cat meows to be fed at 3:00 AM and the client complies, the cat is inadvertently rewarded both with food and attention. This teaches the cat an undesirable behavior that may also contribute to obesity and decrease the quality of the relationship between pet and client. Clients must ignore the cat completely when it meows in the night, even if this means banning the cat from the bedroom until the habit is broken. A few initial rough nights may prevent a prolonged behavior concern.

Said guide can be found here:

Importantly, do not spray your cat with a water bottle.

Squirt bottles cause cats stress and teaches them to not trust you.

In spraying the cat in this situation you are punishing the cat for perfectly natural behaviour. Cats naturally wake up earlier than most modern humans do.

Cats respond better to positive reinforcement than to punishments.

Once again referring to the AAoFP's guide, this time from page 29:

Animals—including cats—learn best by being rewarded. Punishment does not teach the desired behavior.

Some references detailing the possible negative effects of the squirt bottle approach:

Option4: (last resort)

If you really must use a 'punishing' approach to solving this problem, consider using sound instead. There are lots of different sounds that cats do not like and it's easy to rig up a device that can play sounds remotely. You can either use a remote control (but be careful the cat doesn't see it), a motion sensor (but remember to turn it off when you get up so your cat isn't permenantly afraid of going in your bedroom) or perhaps a microphone with some AI software set up to detect your cat's meow (if you're technically inclined enough to be able to pull that off).

Be very careful about what sound you choose. Certain sounds can actually be painful for the cat's sensitive ears, especially high-pitched sounds. A safe bet is the sound of a snake hissing or a plastic bag rustling (which sounds similar to a snake's hissing). Cats don't like hissing noises because they hate snakes and instinctively know that hissing noises are something snakes do to scare other animals.

Make sure you get good quality sound that encompasses the full audio range though. Certain sound formats strip out the frequencies that humans can't hear, but cats depend on some of those frequencies. If those frequencies aren't there, it's more likely to confuse the cat than scare it away.

From experience, some cats jump at the sound a toaster makes so that might be another suitable one.

Also make sure that the sound only plays in the morning and not during the day so that your cat learns your room isn't safe only at certain times.

An article about sounds that cats do not like:

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    Adding onto your disapproval of punishment, this guide from the American Association of Feline Practitioners (written by actual researchers, not just bloggers) warns that punishment in general hurts the bond between you and your cat. At most, you would intervene in the undesirable behavior in a way that doesn't scare the cat, then "redirect the cat to an alternate behavior".
    – rovyko
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 4:46
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    @dexgecko Which section specifically? There's a lot of information in that PDF.
    – Pharap
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 11:41
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    @Pharap - Good question. Pages 29 and 30. "Passive interventions " directly covers OP's question: For example, if the cat meows to be fed at 3:00 AM and the client complies, the cat is inadvertently rewarded both with food and attention. This teaches the cat an undesirable behavior that may also contribute to obesity and decrease the quality of the relationship between pet and client. Clients must ignore the cat completely when it meows in the night, even if this means banning the cat from the bedroom until the habit is broken.
    – rovyko
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 17:07
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    @dexgecko Thank you. I have added both that passage and a quote from page 29 emphasising that punishment is not effective with cats, and have credited the resource as your suggestion.
    – Pharap
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 17:49
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    @cas If you're sticking with dry food, make sure he also has water available as cats can be prone to dehydration. Cat's bodies are ~80% water compared to 50-60% in humans. Also, cats like their food and water to be separate for various reasons and running water is often better than still water, especially if your cat is going to be left alone for most of the day (the water will go stagnant after a while), so something like a small fountain (e.g. 'Drinkwell') might be a good investment if you have the room and can afford to run it. Otherwise sounds like a suitable plan.
    – Pharap
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 1:01

Set a time for feeding him the wet food, and stick to it. This doesn't have to be an actual time on the clock (your cat does not know the difference between 7:59 and 8:00), but rather a "cue" in your schedule. My cats know they will not get their morning food until I've gotten up, used the bathroom, and cleaned their litter box, so they don't start bothering me for food until I'm out of the bathroom. They get their afternoon food when I get home, and their last feeding is after I have gotten ready for bed, so again, they have a cue of when to expect their food. These are cats fed only on wet, who never have kibble available, and yet they have learned when to expect food and only meow when I'm actually preparing it.

You don't give a good reason for withholding the wet food until he annoys you enough, and by withholding until he annoys you enough you're definitely reinforcing the behavior you don't like. If you're withholding the wet food because you think it's a "treat," consider the health advantages from feeding wet, which is much closer to their prey than dry (when's the last time you saw free-range kibble out in the woods?), and start giving it to him on a schedule.

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    This is the correct answer. Meowing for food early in the morning is perfectly natural and instictive. Punishing a cat only causes more problems. Cats respond to positive encouragement. Spraying a cat with water is just horrible! Absolutely the wrong thing to do and cruel. Cats do not understand punishment. They think you are attacking them. Positive encouragement short circuits behaviours without damaging the relationship between you and the cat. Your answer works. I have had many cats throughout my life and have worked through this problem quite a few times. Cheers!!
    – closetnoc
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 20:28

Wet food is the preferred diet for your feline kitty. Dry cat food was developed as a kind of "fast food" alternative for pet owners. It was intended to be used sparingly but has unfortunately become the default for many pet owners.

The feline gastrointestinal system is highly specialized, unlike our own and that of canines. They process protein for energy almost exclusively. Protein digestion requires a good amount of water, making wet food ideal. There's also the taste to consider. Cats don't have the same taste buds we humans do and generally prefer the experience of eating wet food.

Some kitties are more vocal than others. Breeds like Siamese, Tonkinese, and Burmese are extremely vocal and social. These breeds, and others, will wake you up in the morning regardless. Cats are also schedule based and perform the same routines regularly. It can be difficult to change them, but with consistency and patience it is possible.

There are brands that sell single serving (wet food) products which are ideal for pet owners with only one cat. I'd make a recommendation, but that's not what this site is about. Talk to your veterinarian who will recommend healthy and affordable products for your cat.


My advice is stop with the wet food altogether and start only feeding dry in the morning and at night (just a handful each time). Don't let him have food in his bowl all day or he'll ignore it. That's what I do with my Russian-blue cat and I've never had a problem.

My cat will sometimes try to wake try to wake me up just before my alarm goes off but I never get up until I want to because training goes both ways. (They're very clever if you reward a behavior once they keep doing it so only reward the behavior you want.) I get up, make a coffee and feed him, his dry food is always completely eaten up and his bowl empty. So he gets a fresh batch (just a handful no more, and he's a big tall lad, cats are very efficient). In the evening he gets his second bowl (just a handful of dry food).

I did once try wet food, but weaned him off it after trying it a few times when he was a kitten. As he's an indoor cat it means his litter tray is much less "whiffy" and easier to scoop (the dry food I give him is also "low odour") and he drinks his water bowl because the dry food makes him thirsty.

There are other advantages: he wont suffer from dental disease at the same rate as other cats as wet food is more damaging to teeth and gums. I took him to the vet a week ago for his yearly vaccinations and he got top marks for health and they praised me for the dry food only diet.

Cats are like kids, they need rules and discipline to thrive. It will make you happier too. He may complain for the first few days but stay strong and he'll adjust in a week. Their survival instinct is strong and they learn quick.

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    many cats are poor drinkers so atleast one of the meals shuld be wet food if your cat do drink too little. Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 8:41
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    As long as you ensure his drinking tray is always available, (s)he'll drink when thirsty. And they'll get thirsty when their body needs it. I don't think that's worth worrying about.
    – Gloweye
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 10:01
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    It's absolutely worth worrying about, as most cats have a poor thirst drive and even low-level dehydration can cause urinary crystals, and blockages that can kill them. It's also a myth that dry food is good for dental health. Cats do not chew dry food (and when they do bite down, it shatters, it doesn't "scrape their teeth clean), anyone who's cleaned up cat vomit can see that. And if eating crunchy food cleaned teeth, we could all trade our Crest for Doritos.
    – Allison C
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 13:18
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    The measured feeding is also a good suggestion. Open feeding not only makes Dry Food more boring, but can dramatically impact the health of the cat if they are constantly feeding
    – blurry
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 16:18
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    @Stevernator Vet Nutrition is still a developing field; my prior vets recommended dry for my cat with severe urinary problems for "dental health," up until his dental checks that were great. My current vet has had no complaints about my all-wet diet for my young cats (his only recommendations were caloric), and their dental health has been equivalent to that of cats fed kibble. Some cats do fine on kibble, but that doesn't make it the ideal food for an obligate carnivore that tends toward a low thirst drive.
    – Allison C
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 13:42

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