Why do cats seem to like uncomfortable positions?

I think the question – which I found on social media – refers to domestic cat sleeping and snoozing in what appears to humans to be uncomfortable positions or on uncomfortable surfaces. I know that my cat doesn’t mind sleeping on my duvet with cables underneath him. You would have thought that he would avoid the cables and pick a nice smooth bit of duvet but he doesn’t because he doesn’t mind. The cables just don’t bother him.

Cat sleeps in weird place
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

So sleeping on what appear to be uncomfortable surfaces simply don’t bother most cats. They don’t find them uncomfortable. I think this is about human perceptions. It’s about what we expect to be uncomfortable which is different to what cats regard as uncomfortable.

Belly up sleeping is in the family
This looks like a mother and her kittens. The kittens have copied their mother. You’d have thought that they’d feel vulnerable but no. The home must feel very secure to them. Image in the public domain.

The difference between cats and humans probably comes about at least partly because cats have a lot of fur all over them (tell me something new!) which must soften the impact of irregular objects below them so they barely feel them and partly because they are very flexible which may help slightly. Perhaps the biggest factor is their mentality which is inherited from their wildcat ancestor. Perhaps this observation is the key: wild cats rest and sleep in nature where all the surfaces are likely to be rough with stones and twigs. They’ve evolved over eons to accept it.

Cat lying across two chair arms resting and enjoying it.
Tough Guy. Image in public domain.

The second issue in the question is why cats sleep/rest in uncomfortable positions looking somewhat distorted. This is because they are very flexible. They don’t mind again. To us they look like uncomfortable positions but to the cat they aren’t. It points to a different attitude between cats and people which is unsurprising seeing as we are different species of animal.

I’ve seen a cat sleeping on clothes hangers with clothes below. Perfectly comfortable. They probably liked the smell from the clothes because they reminded them of their owner.

Skateboard Cat
Skateboard Cat

And cats like boxes because they are reassuring enclosed spaces. They particularly enjoy boxes because they like the pressure from the side walls of on their bodies. Once again this is reassuring to them in my opinion.

Cats like a roof over their heads when there sleeping. This is not an absolute requirement. They will sleep in a variety of places but a roof over the head is nice. That’s probably why the commercial market manufactures igloos for cats. They have a small opening and the roof over the top to provide the cat with a sense of privacy and security.

Cat on a computer keyboard
Cat on a computer keyboard. The area is warm because of the computer. The cat is seeking that warmth more than they are seeking their owner’s company in my view. The picture is in the public domain.

Another factor might be warmth versus physical comfort. If a place is very warm and cosy, a domestic cat is likely to accept the imperfections in the surface below her because overall the place is very comfortable thanks to the warmth. On this topic, cats like to sleep in an airing cupboard if one is available in their home. And laundry baskets also make a nice bed. Although neither of these places automatically mean that the cat sleeps in uncomfortable position (as perceived by humans!)

On a more technical note, there’s the matter of thermoregulation! They have a higher body temperature than humans averaging around 100.5-102.5°F (38-39.2°C). They like higher ambient temperatures to help conserve body temperature. This might translate to curling up very tightly in a small space which looks uncomfortable to us but helps them to stay warm.

Liquid Cats

As mentioned, cats are very flexible. Their flexibility extends well beyond ours which can make their positions look uncomfortable to us. These positions would be uncomfortable to us! There may be a stretching element in the positions that a cat takes up as sometimes it may be away for a cat to stretch their muscles, ligaments and tendons.

And moving away from sleeping and resting, to activities, cats like to observe because of their inquisitiveness and in the interests of their security. They like to take up vantage points to monitor their surroundings. Sometimes these positions might be tricky and look uncomfortable but they will be a nice strategic spot from the cat’s perspective.

Extreme version of cat drinks out of faucet, looking for running water
Extreme version of cat drinks out of faucet, looking for running water. Photo: Pinterest

Each cat is an individual just like humans. Some cats might be predisposed to taking up apparent uncomfortable positions while others might never do it. It’s important that cats are allowed to be themselves and that their caregiver provides them with appropriate and comfortable resting areas where they can relax without straining their bodies.

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