What Do My Cat’s Sleeping Positions Mean?

Behavior September 20, 2021
cat sleeping positions what do they mean

What Do My Cat’s Sleeping Positions Mean?

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cat sleeping positions what do they mean

We know that cats sleep a lot, possibly even up to 20 hours a day, but what do their various sleeping positions mean? Some positions can look pretty awkward and uncomfortable to us, but to cats, they may carry a specific purpose. In this article, we explore the different positions your cat might adopt while snoozing and whether there is anything you need to be worried about.

Normal cat sleep

Cats sleep an average of 16 hours a day, with some snoozing a bit less and some a bit more than this. They sleep as a way of conserving energy, which allows them to stalk and hunt prey during their waking hours. Of course, domestic cats don’t need to hunt to find food, but this instinct is still present and so they sleep on the off chance that they will need to expend lots of energy later.

What do different sleeping positions mean?

Curled up in a ball or crescent

This position is one of the most commonly seen in cats, and it’s as cozy as it looks! Cats adopt this position to keep themselves warm, with vital organs (and often their face) tucked away. This position is sometimes referred to as a crescent or a croissant, due to the curved shape your cat’s back makes.

Belly up

cat sleeping belly up

If your cat often sleeps with his belly upwards and legs splayed or in the air, this means he is feeling extremely secure and comfortable. Only cats that feel safe will sleep like this as it leaves their soft underbelly exposed. It’s nice to see your cat fully relaxed and happy in his environment in this way.

The cat loaf

This position is so called because your cat assumes a boxy shape, looking very much like a loaf of bread. Your cat will be upright but with his paws curled comfortably underneath him. Cats in this position are happy enough, but not fully relaxed. They will likely be having a quick doze rather than a proper deep sleep. They can get up from this position quite quickly should they need to.

Sleeping on their side

Some cats will look like they’ve just flopped over on their side for sleep. In this position, your cat will be flat on his side with his legs stretched outwards. Most cats that snooze like this will be relaxed and comfortable in their environment, as they are leaving their tummy exposed again.

Dozing with eyes partly open

These cats are still trying to keep a watch on what’s going on while also getting some rest. They may be sleeping upright with their eyes half-open. These cats are concerned about a potential threat, such as new people or animals in your home, or perhaps they themselves are new to the household. They will be able to wake up and jump into action fairly quickly if they need to.

Sleeping with legs stretched out forwards

This position is sometimes referred to as the superman position! Your cat will be on their tummy with their front legs stretched out in front of them, and their hind legs stretched out to the back. Your cat will be very relaxed if he’s in this position, which means he’s feeling very secure in his environment.

Sleeping sitting up

Some cats will doze off while sitting upright or propped against the arm of a sofa. Chances are they were trying to stay alert and keep their eyes on their surroundings, but tiredness took over. They might have a quick nap and then go back to being on guard again. Just keep an eye on your pet, as some brachycephalic (flat-nosed) cats may sleep sitting up because they can breathe more easily and freely this way. If your cat is having breathing difficulties, you will need to contact your veterinarian for advice.

The contortionist

cat sleeping in a funny position

Some positions are just hard to describe! Their head may appear at an awkward angle to their body, with their legs all over the place! Your cat will have picked the position that is most comfortable for them, and usually indicates a very relaxed and content cat. Don’t disturb them, just let them sleep in the way that they feel is best.

Sleeping up high

Cats can sleep in some strange places – for some, choosing a perch up high seems to be their preference. While sleeping on a shelf, the top of a sofa, or a windowsill might not look particularly comfortable for us, for cats it can help them to feel safe. Up high they are less at risk from being accidentally disturbed, or even worse, attacked by other animals while they are off their guard.

Sleeping in a shelter

Sleeping in a box or tucked away under a bed, or in a cozy cat den may indicate that your pet doesn’t want to be disturbed. It makes them feel safer, and more able to switch off. Some cats might do this if they are feeling worried about new people in their home or other pets, especially if they are boisterous or aggressive.

Sleeping on you

This is a sign that your cat trusts you and feels safe in your presence. It shows that your cat has a good relationship with you. It also has the side benefit of giving them some extra warmth from the heat your body is giving off. Many cats will seek out a warm lap for this reason, especially in the winter months. Cats may sleep curled up next to other pets too, again for similar reasons.

Sleeping in the sun

cat sleeping in the sun

This should be an obvious one! Cats can often be seen snoozing in a sunny spot on a windowsill or sofa, or even out in the garden. This is because they enjoy the extra warmth from the sun – just like us, they enjoy sunbathing. Just take care if you have a cat with white ear tips that they don’t burn – consider a pet-safe sun lotion if your cat spends a lot of time sun-worshiping.

Do I ever need to be worried about the way my cat sleeps?

Probably not! Most cats will sleep in a position that best suits their needs at that particular time. If he’s in a deep sleep and looking peaceful, then chances are he’s feeling very comfortable and relaxed, even if that wouldn’t be our position of choice!

However, if your cat is sleeping much more than usual, or doesn’t seem their normal self during their waking hours then make sure you take them to your veterinarian. It’s best to get them checked over, just in case there is an underlying issue.

Conclusion

The way your cat sleeps mainly tells us how comfortable they are feeling. A cat that is very happy with their home and the people in it will adopt some of the super-relaxed positions we described earlier. Remember, try not to disturb your cat while they are resting, no matter how cute they might look! They need those 40 winks to be able to play and hunt later.

FAQs

What does it mean when your cat sleeps with their back to you?

This is actually a sign of trust. Your cat doesn’t feel like they need to keep an eye on you, and they have confidence that you will not disturb them or hurt them while they sleep. Take it as a compliment that your cat is so relaxed around you.

How do cats choose who to sleep with?

Cats will usually naturally migrate to the person they feel most relaxed and comfortable with. This may be their primary caregiver (the person that feeds them and plays with them the most), but this isn’t always the case. Cats will tend to go for someone that is quiet and calm, and who will let them snooze undisturbed.

How do cats sleep when they’re sick?

This very much depends on what type of illness your cat is suffering from. In some cases, your cat may sleep much more than usual, because they feel tired and drained. But other times they may have a more restless sleep because they are uncomfortable or feeling nauseous. If your pet is unwell, it is important to let them rest when they want to, but you should also take veterinary advice to stop the problem from getting any worse.

Why do cats stretch their arms out when sleeping?

If your cat is sleeping with his legs stretched out he is probably feeling very relaxed, which is a nice thing to see. Some cats will sleep with their legs stretched out in front and behind of them (in a superman flying pose), whereas some will sleep with their legs stretched to one side. Either way, your cat is usually feeling content when sleeping in this position.

Rebecca is a companion animal vet who has always had a passion for writing and client communication. Since her graduation from the Royal Veterinary college in 2009 she has gained a wealth of experience in first opinion small animal practice, in both clinical and managerial roles. She currently works in the South West and deals with a variety of routine and emergency appointments, but particularly enjoys medicine cases. Outside of work and writing, she enjoys spending time with her family, including her bouncy flat coated retriever George!
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