by Barbara George,Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
There is an amazing range of cat beds, and patterns for making your own, in an enormous range of styles, sizes, designs, and colours. So why do cats prefer the box or bag the bed came into the bed itself?
A cat’s natural instinct is to be safe, and to know what is happening in the immediate environment at all times, even when sleeping, which makes the choice of sleeping space important. Some factors cats use to choose a place to sleep are safety, weather, and position, with comfort an optional extra.
Cats are vulnerable when sleeping, so safety is the highest priority. An enclosed area is preferred, enclosed on 5 sides, so that there are no surprise attacks, and only one opening to defend. High places are preferred, as not all predators can climb as well as a cat.
Keeping cool in summer, warm and dry in winter, and out of the wind, means changing sleeping places according to the seasons. Cats will curl up in winter and stretch out in summer, if the space allows.
Individual preference and availability govern the choice of surface to sleep on. Soft furnishings are popular in cold weather, and for cats that have arthritis issues, while hard surfaces tend to be cool. Hard surfaces are firm and known, where soft surfaces, such as duvets, have a strange and unnatural feel as the cat’s paws sink into it. This can put cats off jumping on the bed.
Most cats have a selection of sleeping places which they use under different circumstances and for different reasons.
Using one place constantly means that it acquires the smell of the cat. Instinct remembers there are predators out there who can smell a cat, so they move to another place periodically, to stay safe.
Sometimes the sleeping place becomes dirty, hot, cold, or infested with fleas and parasites, which is a good reason to move to a new, clean, one.
In multi-cat homes territory is often disputed, and good sleeping spaces are highly-prized territories. Competition for the best spots can lead to aggression, while some cats will refuse to use a spot in which another has slept.
If a predator is sensed in the area, cats are more likely to move to another place. This is also the reason that cats generally don’t sleep where you put them, or their beds – because you know where they are, their instinct tells them they are unsafe there!
Many cats sleep on the bed with their owners. They see us as their security (even though we’re fast asleep and they are on alert!), trust us to keep them safe, and we provide warmth. The bed is where we spend a fair amount of each day, so it is considered our prime territory, and it contains our scent, both of which make it an important place for our cats. Cats that lie on your pillow or sleep on or around your head, are benefiting from the warmth we lose from our heads, and our heads move less than our arms and legs, so they have less disturbance.
Wild cats would have to check for sharp objects, removed undesirable material and unwanted insects or snakes before settling down to sleep. This instinct is the reason cats circle, knead, and scratch before lying down. In hot climates cats sleeping on the ground will scratch away the grasses which are hot from the sun, to lie on the cool ground underneath.
When cats find a satisfactory place to sleep, they will naturally position themselves in such a way as to be able to hear any noises in the environment, some even keep their noses and whiskers free to catch air movements and smells. Even while they are asleep, they are on alert for any potential danger.
To contact Barbara, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Where Cats Sleep
Cats sleep, anywhere,
Any table, any chair
Top of piano, window-ledge,
In the middle, on the edge,
Open drawer, empty shoe,
Anybody’s lap will do,
Fitted in a cardboard box,
In the cupboard, with your frocks-
Anywhere! They don’t care!
Cats sleep anywhere.