Why Does My Cat Use Me as a Pillow? The Surprising Science Behind Your Kitty’s Sleepy Cuddles

The Bond Between Cats and Their Owners

Cats can form strong emotional bonds with their owners that are similar to human attachments. Research from Oregon State University using a standard test of attachment found that most cats show signs of a secure attachment to their owner, while some show insecure attachment styles. This indicates that cats view their owners as a source of safety and security, much like human children form attachments with their caregivers.

The researchers concluded that cats do have the capacity to form bonds with their human caretakers. While these bonds may manifest differently than in dogs, they nonetheless signify a meaningful relationship. When securely attached, a cat is more likely to greet their owner at the door, snuggle up next to them at bedtime, and exhibit distress when separated from them.

Cats Feel More Relaxed and Comfortable When Touching Their Owners

Physical contact with their owners releases oxytocin in cats, which reduces stress and promotes relaxation. According to a 2021 study published in Hormones and Behavior, when female cats interacted positively with their owners, including touching, petting, and being held, their oxytocin levels increased significantly (Johnson et al.). Oxytocin is known as the “love hormone” or “cuddle chemical” because it facilitates social bonding and feelings of affection. In cats, oxytocin helps forge the bond between pets and their owners.

In addition to oxytocin release, cats simply find the scent, warmth, and touch of their owners soothing. Curling up beside or on top of their humans while sleeping allows cats to soak up these comforting stimuli. The physical closeness serves as a source of security and tranquility for cats. It satisfies their instinctual need for contact and social belonging.

Touch Helps Cats Feel Protected

One of the main reasons cats like to touch their owners while sleeping is because it makes them feel safe and secure. In the wild, cats are vulnerable when they sleep, so they developed instincts to sleep in hidden, protected spots. Domestic cats retain this instinctual need for security when sleeping.

When your cat sleeps next to you with a paw touching you, he knows you are there to alert him to any potential danger. Your touch allows him to relax completely and get the deep sleep he needs. Cats also have sensitive whiskers that detect even the slightest movements. By maintaining physical contact, your cat can monitor your movements and get warning if you are about to get up.

As experts explain, “Cats get a feeling of security by sleeping while touching you. They have a very light sleep and wake up easily, so they can react quickly in case of danger” [1]. So your cat’s desire to touch you while sleeping comes from a natural instinct to feel safe and guarded.

It’s a Social Behavior for Bonding

One important reason cats like to touch their owners while sleeping is to encourage social bonding. The act of cuddling releases endorphins in cats, which promotes positive feelings and reinforces bonding behaviors. Touch is an important way for cats to deepen connections with their human families.

According to cats.com, when cats nuzzle, cuddle and rub up against their owners, it releases oxytocin in both the cat and human. This hormone promotes feelings of affection and attachment.

Cats see their owners as part of their social group and family. According to catster.com, cats will frequently sleep touching their owners as a sign of companionship and closeness, just as they would sleep piled together with sibling cats in the wild.

Some Cats are More Affectionate Than Others

Cats exhibit varying levels of affection and need for touch based on factors like breed, age, personality, and upbringing. According to experts, certain breeds like Bengals, Ragdolls, and Siamese tend to be more people-oriented and seek more interaction than independent breeds like the Abyssinian (source). Kittens that are frequently handled and cuddled often grow up to be more affectionate adults, while feral cats unused to human contact may be more aloof.

A cat’s individual personality plays a major role in how much physical affection they desire. Confident and outgoing cats will actively seek attention, while timid and skittish cats prefer their space. A cat’s energy level can also impact their need for touch. Very active and playful cats tend to crave more stimulation and interaction.

In general, cats that were positively socialized with humans from kittenhood, either through handling by breeders or time spent with their mother and littermates, are most likely to seek out physical affection (source). These early pleasant experiences help form lifelong bonds between cats and their human families.

Touch Can Provide Comfort and Relieve Anxiety

Cats enjoy being petted and touched by their owners, as this interaction provides reassurance and reduces anxiety or stress levels. Gentle petting releases oxytocin in the brain, which is associated with feelings of bonding and pleasure. A 2010 study from Cornell University found that physical interaction with cats helped boost moods and decrease anxiety in humans[1]. The benefits go both ways – petting and stroking cats has been proven to lower heart rates and decrease behavioral signs of stress in felines as well[2].

Touch from a trusted owner can offer comfort to an anxious or frightened cat. Being petted releases endorphins that help cats relax, and shows the cat that no immediate danger is present. Sick cats may also seek more affection and physical contact to help cope with discomfort or pain. Surveys of cat owners report decreases in negative moods and worries after petting their cat. So next time your cat curls up next to you or nudges your hand to be petted, go ahead and provide some soothing strokes. This not only strengthens your bond, but also provides benefits for both you and kitty.

It’s an Instinctive Behavior

This tendency to touch while sleeping is an instinctive behavior that originates from when cats lived in the wild. Feral and outdoor cats often slept together in piles or touched one another while resting to share body heat and stay warm https://www.petmd.com/cat/general-health/cat-sleeping-positions-and-what-they-mean. Being in close contact with other cats also provided protection and security, as the group could more easily detect potential predators. Touching helped signal that all was well, and that they could sleep soundly without worry.

Even though pet cats no longer face the same threats and temperature regulation issues, the instinctive need to touch while sleeping persists. Domesticated cats have inherited this behavior from their wild ancestors, leading them to seek the same comfort and security from touching their human companions that they once did from other cats. So when your cat reaches out a paw or snuggles up close while sleeping, it indicates that they feel safe and comfortable with you.

How to Encourage or Discourage This Behavior

If you want to encourage your cat to sleep touching you, make sure to give your cat plenty of affection throughout the day. Petting, brushing, and playing with your cat will strengthen your bond and make the cat more likely to seek out contact when sleeping. You can also try rewarding your cat with treats when he chooses to sleep next to you, which will reinforce the behavior. According to this WikiHow article, doing a play session right before bedtime is another great way to encourage cuddling at night.

If your cat’s touching is disruptive to your sleep, there are some things you can try to discourage it. Make sure your cat has appealing beds, cat trees, and toys to sleep with instead of you. Place these items near your bed to tempt your cat to sleep separately but nearby. Some cats also find calming beds with warmers or heartbeat simulators soothing. You can also try gently moving your cat when he tries to sleep against you, and reward him for sleeping elsewhere.

When to Seek Help from a Vet

While some clinginess is normal for cats, excessive or sudden clingy behavior may be a sign your cat is unwell or struggling with anxiety. Cats often become more attached to their owners when sick as a source of comfort. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, some ill cats become more clingy and demanding of attention, while others simply become crankier. Zoetis Petcare notes that medical issues like hyperthyroidism or cognitive dysfunction can cause clinginess in senior cats. Constant need for touch when it’s out of the ordinary for your cat can indicate an underlying issue that needs veterinary attention.

If your cat’s clinginess seems extreme or has developed rapidly, it’s a good idea to have them assessed by a vet. The vet can check for any medical problems causing your cat distress. They can also determine if medication or behavior modification may help address clinginess related to anxiety or stress. Getting to the root cause with professional guidance can relieve discomfort for your cat and restore balance to your bond.

With an attentive vet’s help, you can get your clingy kitty the care they need to feel relaxed and secure. Patience, routine and affection will continue strengthening your special bond.

Keeping Your Bond Strong

One of the best ways to maintain a strong bond with your cat is to set aside time for daily interaction and play. Cats thrive on routine, so dedicating even just 10-15 minutes a day to focus exclusively on your cat can strengthen your relationship tremendously.

Make your playtime engaging by using interactive toys like feather wands, laser pointers, treat balls, and more. Get your cat running, jumping and fully stimulated. This quality bonding time will satisfy your cat’s natural hunting instincts and energy needs.

It’s also important to give cats attention on their own terms when they seek touch from you. Pay attention to your cat’s body language – if they rub against you, crawl into your lap, or expose their belly, they are looking for affection. Make sure to pet or cuddle them when they initiate in order to positively reinforce the bonding behaviors.

With daily playtime and responding affectionately to their requests for touch, you can maintain a close lifelong bond with your feline companion.

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