Why Do My Cats Cuddle Up for Catnaps? The Science Behind Feline Snuggling

The Bond Between Cats

Cats are actually very social creatures, despite their sometimes independent nature. Cats that are littermates or get along well together will often sleep curled up together for companionship and comfort. Research shows that most cats and dogs that live in the same home will sleep together at least occasionally, if not always (Menchetti et al., 2020). Sleeping together allows cats to experience the comfort and familiarity of being near another cat they know well. It can also help meet their social needs and reduce stress.

Cats choose to sleep near each other for some of the same reasons that lead them to congregate in groups or colonies. Sleeping together provides cats with a sense of safety in numbers, allowing them to watch out for potential threats. Cuddling up also allows cats to share body heat. This can be especially important for kittens and on colder nights. Overall, when cats sleep together it is a sign that they have bonded and formed positive social relationships.

Sources:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7449504/

Cats Are Social Creatures

While cats are often portrayed as solitary, independent creatures, they are actually quite social animals when it comes to other cats they know. In the wild, cats are solitary hunters and do not naturally live in groups like some other species. However, feral and outdoor domestic cats will often form small colonies or social groups with familiar cats from the same territory (https://www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/behavior-of-cats/normal-social-behavior-in-cats). These groups share hunting grounds, shelters, and help protect each other’s young.

Even though they hunt alone, domestic cats are still highly social creatures that enjoy being around other cats they recognize and feel comfortable with. Cats use various vocalizations and body language to communicate and maintain social connections. Many cats happily share territory or a home with other familiar felines. Given the choice, most cats prefer having regular social interaction and playtime with their fellow furry friends over being alone.

Safety in Numbers

In the wild, cats instinctively sleep together for added protection from predators and other threats. By sleeping in a group or pile, cats can keep watch over each other and watch for any potential dangers in their surroundings. If one cat detects a threat, they can alert the rest of the group. Having multiple sets of eyes and ears on alert provides security and allows for earlier detection of any approaching predators. This behavior continues even in domesticated house cats. Sleeping together gives cats a sense of safety in numbers that they would have out in nature.

According to a study conducted by The Humane Society of the United States, cats are most relaxed when sleeping with other cats they are familiar with (https://www.cats.org.uk/media/1022/eg11_cats_living_together.pdf). The close presence of their feline companions provides a feeling of security and reassurance. Additionally, the study found that cats who sleep alone or separated from other household cats tend to be more anxious and uneasy.

Shared Body Heat

One of the main reasons cats will sleep curled up together is to share body heat and keep each other warm. Cats have a higher average body temperature than humans at around 101-102°F. To maintain this temperature, they rely heavily on behavior like curling up in tight balls or pressing against other cats or objects. Sleeping together allows cats to combine their body heat, which helps regulate their temperature and keep them comfortably warm (1,2).

By cuddling and sleeping in physical contact with one another, cats can maximize shared body heat. The smaller the ball two or more cats curl up into together, the more heat they can retain. Mother cats will often use this technique to keep their kittens warm as well. So when you see your cats snuggled up asleep, they are likely just trying to stay nice and cozy!

(1) https://www.uk.sheba.com/blog/bonding-care/cat-sleeping-on-bed

(2) https://www.quora.com/Why-do-my-cats-hang-out-where-it-is-warm-For-example-in-front-of-the-oven-when-it-is-running-On-top-of-the-clothes-dryer-when-it-s-running-Are-they-truly-cold

Comfort and Familiarity

Cats often sleep pressed up against or cuddled up with another cat to gain a sense of comfort and familiarity. Sleeping together reminds cats of their days as kittens in the litter when they would nuzzle up to their mother and siblings for warmth and security. According to research, the act of touching while resting increases feelings of wellbeing and comfort in cats (https://www.reddit.com/r/Pets/comments/qx8ihu/why_does_my_cat_sleep_right_next_to_me_when_the/). Curling up with a littermate or cat friend that they know well allows cats to feel relaxed and reassured as they sleep.

Cats that choose to sleep touching or extremely close to one another likely share a very close bond and relationship. The physical contact while sleeping promotes security, feelings of companionship, and contentment. It also helps cats maintain their social group scent and facilitates bonding through touch. Overall, sleeping pressed together provides cats with a sense of belonging, safety, and happiness.

Limited Space

In a small household, cats may end up sleeping together due to limited space. According to an article on Quora, one cat needs about one quarter of the bed at night, regardless of bed size. This suggests that in a constrained environment, cats are prone to sharing the available sleeping areas (source). An informative article by Meowa notes that while there is no definitive rule, experts recommend providing at least 200 square feet of living space per cat. With less area available, cats have fewer options for sleeping separately and will be inclined to sleep together more often (source). Overall, limited space encourages close sleeping quarters for cats out of necessity.

Medical Reasons

Sometimes there are medical causes for why cats choose to sleep curled up together. Older cats or those with arthritis may find sleeping next to another cat provides added warmth and support for their aching joints. The extra body heat from a feline companion can help ease muscle soreness and pain. Additionally, the actual physical contact and pressing against each other can provide a gentle massaging pressure that is soothing. Cats that are ill or recovering from an injury or surgery may also seek out the comfort of a companion to sleep with for both warmth and emotional support. The presence of another cat nearby can help reduce stress and anxiety in a sick cat. So if you notice an older cat or one recovering from illness start to sleep snuggled up with another cat companion, it may be to gain some relief from their medical ailments.

Reducing Stress

Sleeping together can help reduce stress and anxiety in some cats. Cats are known to be comforted by touch and the presence of their owners, which can have a calming effect. According to research from Healthline, sleeping with their owners releases oxytocin in cats, reducing cortisol levels and promoting feelings of well-being. The warmth and security of sleeping beside their trusted human companion can soothe cats that tend to be more anxious or stressed. Simply having that closeness and contact through the night can lower a cat’s blood pressure and heart rate, easing any nervousness, fear or tension they feel. For cats that
get separation anxiety, sleeping together with their owner allows them to remain comforted and reassured.

Maternal Instincts

Mother cats have a strong maternal instinct to nurture, protect and care for their kittens. One way they do this is by sleeping with their litter. The warmth of the mother cat’s body provides essential heat to help newborn kittens regulate their body temperatures. Very young kittens lack the ability to control their body heat, so they rely on their mother cat’s warmth for survival.

Sleeping together also provides comfort and familiarity. The close contact helps soothe and relax the kittens while they sleep. Hearing their mother’s heartbeat and breathing is calming. The mother cat’s presence makes the kittens feel safe and secure.

In addition, mother cats will position themselves protectively around the kittens while sleeping. They may curl their body around the litter or place a paw over them. This protects the vulnerable newborns from potential predators. Mother cats are very defensive of their young. Sleeping together allows them to be alert and ready to defend the kittens from any possible danger. As the kittens grow bigger and more independent, the mother cat will gradually give them more space while sleeping.

According to the Reddit thread “Queen laying on her kittens?” on r/felinebehavior, mother cats may unintentionally lay on top of kittens while sleeping near them. It’s important to monitor this behavior closely and gently move the mother if necessary to prevent accidental smothering (1). However, in most cases, a mother cat’s strong maternal instincts compel her to nurture and protect her kittens, even while sleeping. The close physical contact of sleeping together is an important part of their maternal bonding.

1. https://www.reddit.com/r/felinebehavior/comments/gvif7w/queen_laying_on_her_kittens/

When to Be Concerned

While it’s normal for cats to sleep pressed together, there are some instances where this behavior may indicate an underlying issue that requires veterinary attention:

If you notice a previously solitary cat suddenly seeking out a companion to sleep with, it could signify anxiety or stress. Drastic changes in sleeping habits may coincide with introducing a new pet or family member, moving homes, or other environmental changes that are causing insecurity.

Elderly cats sometimes start sleeping huddled for added warmth as their bodies have a harder time regulating temperature. If your senior cat wasn’t previously a cuddler, this change could indicate deteriorating health.

Cats that don’t get along well suddenly sleeping together can also be a red flag for illness. The companionship may provide comfort from pain or distress. Monitoring for other symptoms is wise in this scenario.

As always, note any major shifts in behavior or habits in your cats. Sleeping together is normal cat behavior, but sudden changes may warrant a veterinary examination to pinpoint the underlying cause.

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