Kittens can be a handful and they’re often most active at night leading cat owners to wonder if a kitten can sleep in a carrier overnight. It can take some time for a kitten to calm down (check out: When Do Kittens Calm Down? (how to calm them)) but you don’t need to sacrifice sleep while your cat is in the kitten phase.
Let’s take a look at whether or not putting a kitten in a carrier overnight is a cruel thing to do, and what some other options are.
Can a kitten sleep in a carrier overnight?
A kitten should never be locked in a carrier overnight. Most crates and carriers are too small to accommodate everything a cat needs during the night. Even if the crate is big enough for their food, water, a bed, and a litter box, they will be within inches of each other, which isn’t ideal for a cat.
Crating a cat for a short period of time for a veterinarian visit or during transportation is much different than crating them at night so you can sleep.
Why you shouldn’t put a kitten in a carrier overnight
Carriers are designed to keep a cat safe during transportation for a short period of time. Keeping a cat in a carrier or small crate overnight is not recommended for the following reasons:
Cats are crepuscular
Crating a cat for several hours during the night goes against their natural instincts to roam during twilight hours (crepuscular).
As cat owners, we provide our cats with many luxuries. They aren’t exposed to predators daily, don’t fear for their safety, and don’t have to hunt for food as they would in the wild.
However, they’re animals, and it’s important to remember we’ve turned cats into house pets for our pleasure, not theirs.
The closer you can mimic a cat’s natural lifestyle, the happier they’ll be.
And a cat would never be confined to a tiny space for eight hours each night if they were allowed to live in their natural habitat.
Cats have a polyphasic sleep pattern
A cat’s sleep cycle is much different than ours. They have a polyphasic sleep pattern, meaning they don’t have one long sleep like humans; they sleep in multiple segments throughout the day.
Imagine if you were locked in a drawer or closet all day and couldn’t leave to take a walk, look out the window, or expel pent-up energy.
Although you’re only planning to put your kitten in the carrier overnight, they don’t sleep for 8 hours straight; they need to be able to run around at night.
Locking them up all night is the equivalent of you being locked up during the day when you want to go outside or go to the kitchen for food.
Your cat will have the urge to get up and roam around during the night, no matter how much you try and train them to sleep the entire night.
A carrier is much too small for a cat’s necessities
Just as you don’t want to eat your meals next to a toilet, neither does your cat.
A carrier or small cage isn’t big enough for food, water, a sleep area, and a litter box.
In the wild, a cat would eat, drink, sleep, and go to the bathroom in very different locations.
Their water sources and food sources are typically in different locations. And a wild cat will eat away from where they rest as they don’t want what’s left of their prey to attract predators. The same goes for where they urinate and defecate; they don’t want their scent to attract predators.
When you place your kitten’s food, water, bed, and litter box within inches of each other, it goes against their natural way of living.
But Vet Clinics keep cats in cages overnight
One may argue that veterinarian clinics and animal shelters keep cats caged for long periods of time.
This is true, but we must remember these are not ideal living conditions for a cat. Animals are often in life-threatening situations when they’re brought to a clinic or shelter. The option might be between the cat being euthanized or held in a cage for a week or two until they’re adopted. So a less-than-ideal living situation in a cage is the better option.
The crates in clinics and shelters are much bigger than a cat carrier (typically a clinic’s cage is 4 feet by 2 feet), and one cat will often have two compartments they can go between, so the litter box has some separation from bedding/food/water. (Source)
Where should a kitten sleep?
At night, a kitten should sleep in a safe room with a comfy bed or blankets, and enough room to roam around and play. The room should also have a litter box, food, and water, keeping several feet between each item.
Although not ideal, even a bathroom is better to keep your kitten in overnight, rather than a carrier.
That will give your kitten more space to roam around and you’ll be able to place a litter box in one corner, food and water in another, and a comfy bed in another.
If your kitten is still tiny, don’t place the litter box in the bathtub, as they may have a hard time jumping up on the ledge to get into the tub. It may also make it hard for them to find the litter box.
Ideally, you can dedicate an entire bedroom to your kitten, until they grow out of the destructive phase.
Your kitten’s room should be:
- Safe – make sure there’s nothing your kitten will get into and hurt themselves.
- Warm – your cat should have a warm cozy place to sleep.
- Well-used – a dark, damp basement that no one ever visits will feel like a punishment room to your cat.
- Litter box – provide the correct number of litter boxes and scoop them daily.
- Food and water – cats would naturally hunt prey during twilight hours so they’re likely to get hungry while you’re sleeping.
- Toys – your kitten will look for something to play with so providing toys will ensure they’re not turning one of your possessions into a toy.
- Scratching post / cat tree – your cat needs something to scratch. A scratching post or cat tree ensures they’re not scratching carpets, walls, furniture, etc. and building bad habits.
You do not want them to feel like the room is a punishment. This can lead to unwanted behaviour, such as peeing or pooping outside the litter box. Your cat will also become stressed if they’re forced into a room they hate to be in each night.
Stress has the same impact on a cat’s body as it does on a human’s; illness. A stressed cat will inevitably develop health issues, which will require expensive vet visits.
A happy cat is a healthy cat.
Putting a cat in the basement
Leaving a kitten downstairs at night is okay as long as the space is safe for them and you’re not putting them down there within the first few days of bringing them home.
When you first bring your kitten home, a bedroom or bathroom is a more appropriate space than an entire basement. Basements are often too big for a tiny kitten, with too many smells and too many nooks and crannies they’ll feel they need to explore. They’ll end up feeling overwhelmed.
The first day you bring your kitten home, they’ve likely just been taken away from their mom, siblings, and/or an environment they were comfortable in. Chances are, they’ll be scared in a big, dark basement by themselves all night.
It’s encouraged to set up a safe room in a spare bedroom when you first bring your kitten home.
Once your kitten seems comfortable around you and in their safe room, you can let them explore more of the house. Keep some doors in the house closed to start, and slowly open more and more space.
When your kitten is comfortable roaming the entire house, they’ll be in a better position to stay in the basement overnight.
However, there are a few keys to putting your kitten downstairs at night without causing them stress.
1 – Make the basement safe
Make sure there aren’t things they can knock over, small spaces they can get stuck in, or anything they can harm themselves with.
Items on shelves should be securely in place and anything they might try to climb that has the potential of falling over should be removed. Cleaning supplies and toxic items should be removed or secured in a cupboard.
Also, ensure there aren’t any spaces your kitten could crawl into and have a hard time getting out of.
We’ve had cats that have (somehow) found a way into the basement ceiling and made their way into the upstairs through a kitchen cupboard.
Cats are crafty so don’t assume a hole or space is too high, too small, or too hard for them to reach.
2 – Make the basement fun
If you plan to use the basement as a long-term solution for your cat at night, make sure to turn it into a cat space.
Add lots of toys, a scratching post, a cat tree they can climb, and hopefully there’s a window they can look out of.
Also, make sure that you spend time with them downstairs playing.
Your cat should want to hang out in the space even when they’re not being forced to.
3 – Make the basement communal
If the basement isn’t a common space, your cat is not going to appreciate being put down there every night. Cats are social creatures and they want to be around you and other members of the household.
Cats will often find a quiet space to sleep, but it won’t typically be in a dark, damp basement that nobody ever visits.
If you want your cat to willingly spend time in the basement, and not see it as a punishment, be sure to spend time there with them.
Set up a space that you like to hang out in and spend time with your cat down there. You should also be going to the basement several times a day to play with them.
If your cat never runs into you in the basement, they won’t enjoy the space and may get stressed each time they’re forced to be down there.
Can you crate a cat during the day?
You should not crate a cat during the day. A cat needs space to run around, play, eat, drink, and use the litter box, all in separate spaces.
Forcing a cat into a small crate for several hours during the day will lead to an unhappy and unhealthy cat.
You may also be interested in:
- Do Kittens Sleep Through the Night? (how to get them to)
- Can you Crate Train a Cat? (When it’s never okay)