Beast Mode is Slate’s pet advice column. Have a question? Send it to email@example.com.
Dear Beast Mode,
I have a 13-year-old cat who has grown increasingly vocal with me as she has aged. She is a food-centric little beast (she’s on a diet to keep her at a reasonable weight), and she is extremely loud before both of her feeding times. On the weekdays, I need to get up at 6:15 a.m., but I love to sleep in on the weekends. This is something Princess doesn’t quite appreciate.
Of late, the weekends have become a nonstop cryfest until I wake up, and when I recently locked her out of my room as punishment, she howled for an hour outside and scratched at the door.
Am I doing the wrong thing by locking her out of the room when she cries this way? Is there any possible way for her to understand the concept of the weekend?
—Early Cat Gets the Whine
Dear Early Cat Gets the Whine,
Cats don’t have weekends. Now, I know what you are thinking: If that’s the case, then why does Garfield hate Mondays? Garfield creator Jim Davis actually explained this during a 2014 interview:
Garfield does not have a job, Garfield does not go to school, and every day is the same. Nevertheless every Monday is just a reminder that his life is the same old, same old cycling again, and for some reason, even though his life is pretty much the same every day, on Mondays specifically, awful things tend to happen to him physically.
It’s a very fun cartoon.
Princess doesn’t suffer the same existential misery as Garfield. She has a pretty nice life, and she certainly has no qualms about letting her personal chef know when it’s time to eat. You may not be able to get her to read a calendar, but there are a few steps you can take to quiet things down on weekend mornings.
Changing a pet’s behavior usually involves lots of patience. These issues are often deeply ingrained, so quick fixes are rare. Luckily for you and Princess, this particular problem can be solved without needing to address her behavior, and it’s all thanks to robots.
“What I would do is purchase a timed feeder,” certified feline behavior consultant Ingrid Johnson tells me. These devices automatically dispense food into a bowl, and Johnson recommends putting one far away from your bedroom on weekends and setting it for Princess’ normal breakfast time. “The cat will hear the feeder pop open and then run to the opposite side of the house to eat. And they didn’t have to wake Mom up to make that happen.”
Easy! If you want to spend the money. You can find some models on Amazon for about $40, though it’s possible to spend more than $200 on an automatic feeder. But if you’d rather not invite a cat-feeding robot into your home, there are other ways to wean Princess off her morning schedule. Just keep in mind that it will have to happen gradually.
“If the work schedule during the weekdays allows it, she can start inching out her morning feeding schedule,” Johnson says. “For example, do a couple of other things first before feeding the cat. Eat breakfast, drink your morning coffee, get ready for work, and then feed her, so you’re pushing back that time.” This is a simple solution, though Johnson acknowledges that delaying the cat’s breakfast by half an hour might not revolutionize your weekends: “I know for me, personally, that’s not sleeping in.”
Princess is probably having some trouble adjusting to her new diet, which may account for the screaming. “Some of it may be habit, just to wake Mom up and get attention,” Johnson says. “But if it’s truly food-related and hunger, then we might be restricting and meal-feeding too strictly.” Talk to your vet about the possibility of leaving food-dispensing toys around the house while you are gone as a way to space out her meals and keep her occupied during the day. It’s also wise to check for any medical issues, as her whining could indicate an underlying issue. “Thyroid disease can make cats hungry and obnoxious,” Johnson says.
Otherwise, give that automatic feeder a try. The device may save your weekends. If only there were a machine that could cheer Garfield up.