Are Cats Nocturnal?

Cat sleeping

It isn’t uncommon for cat owners to be woken up by their cats at night. As a result, it is natural for them to wonder whether their feline companions are nocturnal or not. The answer to that question is a bit more complicated than what one might expect. However, the gist of it is that cats are crepuscular as a whole, though it is very much possible for individual cats to be something else. In this, cat owners and cats are very similar. After all, humans are diurnal. Even so, there are plenty of people who practice some other pattern for one reason or another.

What Are Cats Anyways?

Generally speaking, animals are described as being either diurnal, nocturnal, or crepuscular. Diurnal means that the animal is active during the daytime while nocturnal means that the animal is active during the nighttime. As for crepuscular, it indicates a species that is active during twilight, which can either dusk or dawn. Thanks to that, it is important to note that crepuscular animals can be either matutinal, vespertine, or both. For context, the first term indicates activity before sunrise while the second term indicates activity after sunset.

It isn’t particularly mysterious why animals would be one of these things. Simply put, most animals seem to need rest in much the same manner as humans. As a result, if they have an on-period, it makes sense for them to have an off-period as well. Naturally, each of the three options has its own particular upsides and downsides, thus making it better-suited to some species than others. In fact, it is interesting to note that primates seem to have switched back and forth, though of course, these switches happened on a time frame so broad that it possesses no intuitive meaning for humans.

In any case, cats have a lot of behaviors that were carried over from their ancestors, which is similar to how we have a lot of behaviors that were carried over from our ancestors. Being crepuscular is an excellent example of those things. Out in the wild, it would have provided various benefits to those feline ancestors. For example, it would have made them active at around the same time that a wide range of suitable prey animals were active. Something that would have been very important because cats are obligate carnivores that need to eat meat for their continuing survival. Similarly, it would have made it easier for them to avoid predators that targeted them while still providing enough light for them to spot prey. Something that would have been necessary because cats were never apex predators. Of course, that is true for cats as a whole. Our feline companions are quite adaptable. Thanks to that, cats are capable of being something other than crepuscular. To name an example, it is common for pet cats to be more active during the daytime because that is when they interact the most with their cat owners. This isn’t something that every single cat can do. However, it is something that enough cats can do that makes their adaptability very clear.

Could Cats Become Something Else Over Time?

As mentioned earlier, it is very much possible for animals to change from being one of these things to being another one of these things. After all, evolutionary pressure is always in effect, meaning that it is always encouraging animal populations to move in a direction that makes them better-suited for their particular circumstances. As a result, it is fun to think about whether cats will change from being crepuscular to being something more convenient for humans in the long run.

The idea isn’t exactly that far-fetched. Humans have domesticated a wide range of species, with the result that the domesticated versions that exist in the present time often show enormous differences from their wild ancestors. To name an example, corn is famous for possessing very little resemblance to the teosinte grass that it started developing from about 9,000 years ago. The domesticated product is something like 1,000 times the size of its wild ancestor. Moreover, its edible parts are very accessible, which should be obvious to anyone who has ever removed the husk from an ear of corn after it has been steamed to perfection. Meanwhile, interested individuals apparently have to peel teosinte grass by hitting its corn equivalent with a hammer. In exchange for which, they can expect just 5 to 10 kernels, which are very hard and nowhere near as tasty as their domesticated counterparts. Similarly, other domesticated plants have seen the same kinds of changes. The domesticated peach has a much bigger proportion of edible flesh to not so edible stone than its wild ancestor. Moreover, it is both sweeter and juicier, which are in addition to it coming with a much softer skin. Meanwhile, the domesticated watermelon has undergone so much change that its wild ancestor seems pretty much inedible by modern standards. For one thing, the latter is extremely bitter, which doesn’t necessarily deter interested individuals altogether but won’t exactly encourage them much either. For another thing, the latter just straight-up caused inflammation. Something that most people tend to be very unenthused by for very good reasons.

A lot of domesticated animals have seen the same kinds of changes as well. To name an example, history makes it very clear that a considerable portion of domesticated horses became bigger and more powerful under human guidance. After all, a wide range of sources from a wide range of cultures made it clear that the chariot was once the coolest thing on the battlefield. For example, while the heroes of the Iliad tended to fight on foot rather than from chariot-back, they did use those chariots as an important means of transportation from place to place. Similarly, the decisive fight between Arjuna and Karna in the Mahabharata was an archery duel from chariot-back, which is why the fight featured the participation of not just those two heroes but also their respective charioteers Krishna and Shalya. On top of this, one of the characteristics that distinguished a great power of the Bronze Age Mediterranean was its ability to field a large number of chariots, as shown by how the Battle of Kadesh between the New Kingdom of Egypt and the Hittite Empire saw the clash of something like 5,000 to 6,000 chariots in 1274 BC. Even so, humans gradually developed bigger and more powerful horses, with the result that chariots were replaced by cavalry on the battlefield. By the time that Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55 and 54 BC, he was able to describe the native Britons’ use of chariots as an outdated novelty. Something that was connected to Britain’s status as something of a remote backwater in those times.

Similarly, chances are good that interested individuals have heard the stories about how modern turkeys are much bigger than their wild ancestors. In fact, said animals have apparently doubled in size over the last 70 years, which is an interesting reminder of just how fast animals can change when humans intervene. This transformation is particularly notable because turkeys aren’t exactly a new domesticated animal by any stretch of the definition. After all, they were one of the very few domesticated animals that were available to the pre-Columbian Mesoamericans, which is why they played such a prominent role in what has survived of those cultures’ stories. Meanwhile, chickens have undergone an even more dramatic transformation. The average meat chicken is about four times the weight of its predecessor from 1957. Something that has been made possible by their increased efficiency at turning food into meat. This hasn’t been very good for the chickens’ health but this has been very good for the popularity of chicken as a meat.

Having said that, the single best example of how domesticated species can change through human intervention might be dogs. Everyone knows that dogs are descended from wolves, with the result that they have remained so close that they were reclassified as a subspecies of the gray wolf in the 1990s. Even so, there is a remarkable range of dog breeds out there. Certainly, some of them have managed to remain very wolf-like in appearance, possibly because of later breeding with wolves. However, there are also plenty of dog breeds that look nothing like their lupine counterparts. For example, terriers might have some of the same spirit but terriers definitely don’t have the same size, which makes sense because they were specifically created to go after vermin. Similarly, bulldogs were developed for the purpose of bloodsports but have since managed to find new roles for themselves, though their historical role has left lasting signs in their appearance.

Amusingly, modern cats aren’t that different from their wild ancestors. They have definitely undergone some changes, as shown by how they are much friendlier towards humans than their wild ancestors would have been. However, modern cats have remained much the same in other respects. It isn’t 100 percent clear why this is the case. Still, there is speculation that this is because cats were already well-suited for what humans had in mind for them. Essentially, most cats throughout most of human history weren’t the pets that exist in the present time. Instead, they were working animals that served to protect our food supplies from vermin, which were an existential threat in a time when people were reliant on their stored food to make it to the next harvest season. Cats were already well-suited for predating on vermin while posing zero threat to human supplies because of their nature as obligate carnivores. As such, there just wasn’t much reason for them to undergo the same kinds of changes as, say, their canine counterparts. Of course, that has changed with the rise of cat breeding in relatively recent times, as shown by the numerous cat breeds that have been brought into existence within the last couple of centuries. Theoretically, it isn’t hard to imagine humans being capable of changing cats to become more compatible with our own sleep cycle. In practice, it is hard to imagine that being a sufficiently pressing matter for a sufficiently large number of cat enthusiasts. It isn’t unreasonable to think that cats will experience more change because of the increase in human interest in cat breeding. However, predicting how they will change is a much more complicated issue.

What Can You Do About a Cat that Is Keeping You Up At Night?

For people who are being bothered by their cat at night, there are a number of solutions that might prove useful for them. To name an example, it might be useful for them to schedule some playtime with their cat during the night-time in an attempt to tire their cat out, thus encouraging the latter to fall asleep afterwards. Similarly, it might be useful for them to feed their cat during the night-time, which should make their cat less hungry during the night-time while also potentially encouraging them to fall asleep. Alternatively, their cat might not be getting enough physical and mental stimulation during the daytime, so another potential solution would be getting a second cat for them to spend time with. Besides these, interested individuals can also just let their cat do their own thing while working on ways to prevent themselves from being woken up during the night. One way would be keeping their door closed during the night. Their cat might scratch at the door, but they can prevent the potential damage by either keeping their cat’s nails trimmed or installing a vertical scratch pad. Another way would be wearing earplugs, which are a very simple but nonetheless very effective way to keep unwanted noise out.

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