Why does my cat sleep with me?
You bought her the fancy bed: the one shaped like a pineapple. And also, the big plush puffball bed that “experts” said was calming. And the cat cave, handmade out of wool in Nepal, too, just in case she liked that one better. And where does your cat sleep? In your bed, with you.
You are not weird. Your cat is not weird. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that around 62% of pet owners in the United States allow a pet to sleep in bed with them. You and more than half the cat and dog owners in the country have pet hair on their pillow, and most of them love it.
Why does your cat choose to sleep in bed with you?
Everyone thinks they know the answer to this question. “Because your cat loves you!” “Because cats are territorial!” “Because it makes a cat feel safe!”
Well, any of those theories might be true. They certainly sound reasonable. But we don’t know what cats are thinking. I like to answer questions about cat behaviors with facts. What do we know for sure about our cats that may apply to the question of why they sleep in our beds with us?
Cats need more warmth than our homes provide.
Some cats are social sleepers
Cats derive security from us
Is it a good idea to allow a cat to sleep with you?
Is it safe to sleep with your cat?
Does sleeping with a cat disturb your sleep?
Are there other reasons not to allow your cat in the bed?
What are the benefits of sleeping with your cat?
If you already allow pets in the bed, I don’t have to convince you of the benefits. In fact, you’re probably already looking forward to bedtime so that you can snuggle with your furry loved ones.
Sleeping with another living thing, whether human or animal, brings warmth and comfort and a sense of security. It protects against loneliness, depression, and anxiety. Pets are good company, in the bed or anywhere else.
A study conducted in 2020 in Brazil involving more than 16,000 cats and their owners concluded that sleeping in the same bed was one of many activities that pets and their owners do together that contributes to a strong human-cat bond. And that is no small thing.
Other studies have shown that petting an animal raises blood levels of oxytocin (the “feel-good” hormone) and lowers the stress hormone cortisol. Snuggling with your pet at night can actually lower your blood pressure.
You may have allowed your cat into the bed for her comfort, but if you allow her to stay there it could be for your own health.
Who should NEVER sleep with a cat?
You should never allow a cat to sleep with a child under four or five years old, and especially not with a baby.
A loving cat who is only trying to snuggle with your small child for warmth could inadvertently smother the baby by sleeping on her chest or face. If the cat is startled, the baby could be bitten by the surprised cat, or scratched as the cat scampers off.
Keep the baby’s bedroom door shut. Don’t allow the cat to sleep in the crib or toddler bed even if the child is not in it. You don’t want any bad habits to develop, nor do you want a one-time slip-up to result in tragedy.
Can you make your cat sleep in bed with you?
You can’t (and shouldn’t) try to force a cat to sleep with you. Cats are entirely their own “people,” with their own minds, and their own preferences. Some cats feel a need to sleep on a high perch, like a jaguar draped across a tree branch in the Amazonian rainforest. Others, who may take after their cave-dwelling wild-cat ancestors, seek out modern-day caves, like that far corner beneath your bed.
If you haven’t noticed, you can’t MAKE your cat do anything, and even if you could, would you really want to? Any relationship worth having is built upon mutual respect. If your cat is comfortable on the bed with you, and you are comfortable with him in your bed, then all is well with the world and you can stop reading this section.
If your cat would rather sleep at the top of the bookshelf in the study, then that is who he is. Grabbing him from his favorite sleeping spot and plopping him on your bed is not only disrespectful to him, it’s unlikely to result in him spending three seconds on the bed, let alone the whole night.
Are there things you can do to let her know that your bedroom is a nice place to be, just in case she hadn’t yet considered your bed a sleeping spot? Certainly! Start by keeping your bedroom door open during the day, so she feels free to explore the bedroom and the bed on her own timetable.
Make the bed look extra-inviting at naptime. Keep a comfy blanket on the bed for cuddling into, or lift the corner of the comforter into a little tent to allow him to discover the warmth and coziness of the bed on his own.
But for the sake of your relationship with your cat, don’t force it.
What should you do if you don’t want your cat to sleep with you?
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The best way to discourage a cat from sleeping with you is to never start by allowing it. It’s easier to never let the cat in the bed than to try to evict him later.
If it’s too late for that, try to suss out what your cat is getting from the co-sleeping arrangement. If your cat is snuggling with you at night for warmth, try getting her a heated bed. I like this K&H Heated Bed which comes in two sizes and warms gently to your pet’s body temperature when she uses it.
If you have a food-motivated cat, you can try to break the bed-sleeping cycle by using a timed cat feeder, like this model by PETLIBRO. Set it to go off every hour or two all night and maybe your cat will start spending more time around the feeder than in your bed. If you get lucky, it might break the cycle.
If none of these easy methods work, you may have to ban the cat from the bedroom completely. Does that mean you’re going to get any peace? Probably not at first. Some cats will meow all night out of frustration.
Whatever you do, don’t reward the meowing because it will only entrench the behavior more deeply. Don’t give in “just this once” and let the cat into your room. Doing so is giving the cat what animal behaviorists call an intermittent reward. An intermittent reward is actually worse than giving your cat a special treat for performing an unwanted behavior.
Even negative consequences, like loudly shouting, “quiet!” are still rewards. In fact, anything that is not absolutely nothing will reinforce the meowing outside the bedroom door.
If you find your frustration building, do yourself a favor and seek the advice of a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. Find one in your area by consulting the Animal Behavior Society’s Directory. The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists is another good resource.
How do cats choose whom to sleep with? Why does my cat sleep with me, and not my spouse?
Do we know the minds of our cats? We do not. We can only guess at their motivations.
We can, however, make some educated guesses about their behavior.
If cats derive a sense of security from those they bond with, as researcher Vitale found in her study about cat attachment to humans (above), it is possible that a cat may choose to sleep with the person they are most bonded with. Feral cats in colonies will only social-sleep with members of their own cat “family.” In other words, it’s unlikely that a cat will sleep with just anyone.
If you’re the source of security – if, for example, you’re the one who typically feeds your cat – it’s possible your cat may choose to sleep with you, and not your spouse.
There could be more practical reasons why a cat chooses one family member over another. Maybe the person who feeds the cat is also, unfortunately, the most fidgety sleeper in the house. Your cat may find that annoying.
Maybe someone in the family leaves the bedroom door open for the cat to come and go, while other members shut the door for the night, trapping a restless cat in or out.
Maybe one member of the family reliably rises to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, and talks to or plays with the cat for a few minutes along the way – something that the cat really enjoys.
Be your own cat’s best observer and try to investigate, in a methodical way, the reason for your cat’s behavior.
Why do cats sleep on your head? Or on your chest?
Your heat-loving cat may be seeking out the warmest places on your body to snuggle up to.
A 2007 Chinese study on skin temperature and thermal comfort showed that the warmest parts of the human body were the head, chest, and abdomen.
It’s just possible our cats were a few steps ahead of the scientists.
Want to learn more about cats and sleeping? Read, "Why does my cat sleep so much?"
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