Beast Mode is Slate’s pet advice column. Have a question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We love dogs and cats equally, and reserve treats for questions about your turtle, guinea pig, bird, snake, fish, or other beast.
Dear Beast Mode,
I recently moved from the East Coast to the West Coast with my husband and adult male cat. My cat was never food-driven—I’d give him his food once in the morning and once around dinner, and he’d graze all day.
Since we moved, everything has changed. The first few weeks were fine, but now he’s fallen into a routine where he meows, cries, or whines starting at 5:30 a.m. If we don’t get up to feed him, he’ll walk all over us on the bed or on our nightstands until he has us awake. He also ravenously gobbles up all his food every time we feed him now. It’s like he doesn’t understand there’s been a three-hour time difference.
I’m starting to wonder if he’s bored. Our last home was a 1,200-square-foot, two-story town home, and now we are in a 700-square-foot apartment in the city. Maybe he doesn’t have enough to focus on? I’ve been trying to play with him every night to wear him out and keep him busy and happy, and I brought familiar toys from home and a new cat tree to put by our big window, but we are starting every morning off on a miserable note these days. What can I do?
—Time Zoned Out
Dear Time Zoned Out,
I have a friend who refuses to believe that jet lag is real. According to him, the tiredness we feel is due to the power of suggestion, and he can dart across time zones with no ill effects because he doesn’t buy into this groupthink. I should note that my friend isn’t a doctor or a scientist, and his theory is based entirely on anecdotal, personal experience. I also don’t know who stands to benefit from this insidious “jet lag conspiracy.” Big Neck Pillow? Nevertheless, I started to agree with him, and it put me in a no-win situation. When I didn’t suffer from irregular sleep or fatigue during a trip, I attributed it to the power of his suggestion that jet lag doesn’t exist. When I did experience those symptoms, I had no choice but to credit … jet lag. I mention this story because it shows that humans can think about jet lag to the point of distraction. We really should be focusing on your cat.
According to feline behaviorist Ingrid Johnson, jet lag probably isn’t the issue here. “I don’t know if we know for certain [that cats suffer from jet lag], but it’s plausible,” Johnson says. “They do follow a circadian rhythm, and it could have thrown off his clock, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is ravenous all of a sudden.
“I’m not convinced that this is behavioral at all,” she says. “The stress of the move may have just precipitated what was on the horizon all along, which could have been a medical issue like hyperthyroidism or diabetes.” Certain ailments can cause the voracious eating you describe, and you should take him to the vet to get lab work done to check for problems.
But finding a vet in a new city can be daunting. Johnson suggests asking local organizations like the Humane Society for recommendations. You can also show up at a potential new vet’s office and request a tour of the facility to make sure everything is up to snuff. “Some vets don’t like it, and that would be a red flag for me,” she says. “There’s nothing to hide if you’re doing things well and correctly.”
Once your cat gets a clean bill of health (and/or the treatment he needs), you can shift your focus to getting a better night’s sleep. We’ve written about automatic timed feeders before, and these devices are a good option for keeping an early riser out of your bedroom in the wee hours. When your cat returns to grazing, a food puzzle can also keep him occupied and challenged throughout the day.
Otherwise, your increased play schedule is a smart move, as is the cat tree. Vertical space is important, and Johnson has some other projects and suggestions on her website that will increase the square footage for your little parkour enthusiast.
Cats can take a while to get acclimated to new environments, so be patient. He has a lot to take in, but thankfully he doesn’t have to waste any brain space pondering the nuances of jet lag. Cats are too smart for that kind of thing.