Cats spend up to 16 hours a day sleeping. The older the cat, the more time it will spend resting. While cats do have preferred sleeping spots, they like to vary where they rest. This is a feline survival instinct developed in the wild that has carried forward to life as domesticated house cats.
Applied Animal Behavior Science surveyed 1,177 cats and discovered that most felines had 5 preferred sleeping areas. Wild cats regularly move their nests and colonies to avoid detection from predators. Cats also sleep in different locations to claim territory, enjoy privacy, moderate their body temperature, or react to stressful experiences.
You may find that your cat sleeps in some strange places, but these are areas that your cat trusts. It could be that the area is quiet because people do not frequent it, or it’s quieter because it’s at the rear of the house.
Why Do Cats Change Sleeping Spots?
It is common for cats to sleep in different places in the home. The optimal sleeping area for felines will meet the following criteria:
- Small, enclosed space
- Warm (without being hot) and devoid of draughts
- Quiet and private
- Previously claimed territory
- Far enough from litter and food to avoid direct smells
Cats frequently change their sleeping location as a matter of survival. Felines can’t afford to become too predictable. If they sleep in the same place all the time, predators will know exactly where to look.
Cats only feel comfortable sleeping in a territory that they have claimed. This is usually done by scratching or marking with scent. To cement this claim, the cat will then sleep in the territory. A prolonged period of time in one space makes the cat’s scent even stronger.
Your cat will be looking to claim as much of the home as possible. This is so that the cat always feels like it has a safe space to retreat. In this instance, the territory could apply to an entire room or a small corner.
You will notice this behavior more in busy houses. If you have children, your cat may grow overwhelmed by noise. If that happens, the cat will retreat to somewhere it knows is quieter.
This behavior will become more pronounced if you have other cats. In a multi-cat household, the territory will need to be divided up. Upon getting a second cat, you may find that your existing cat sleeps all over the house. This is a land-grab for territory.
Cats are mesopredators. This means that they hunt and kill smaller animals but are also prey to apex predators. This gives cats a unique perspective. They understand how it feels to be the hunter and hunted.
Cats turn this to their advantage when choosing a sleeping position. Cats understand that, if looking for mice, they should check the locations that rodents sleep. While cats enjoy hunting moving prey, they are not averse to gaining an advantage through surprise.
As a result of this, wild cats change their sleeping position regularly. Cats fear that a coyote or fox will learn where they sleep and ambush them. Cats also leave a distinct scent behind when they sleep. By regularly finding new terrain, the cat is not easily tracked by predators.
Domesticated cats experience no such risks. All the same, house cats will regularly change their sleeping location. Thousands of years of instinct cannot be undone, no matter how welcoming a home environment is.
Cats may change their sleeping area for privacy. Few things agitate a cat more than having its sleep interrupted. If cats believe that children, house guests, and other pets know where to find them, they will feel less secure.
This will lead to a cat sleeping in different hiding places. Many cats claim an elevated location as a sleeping area, such as on top of a closet or cat tree.
Cats run a standard body temperature of between 100.5-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Being warmer or colder than this temperature makes a cat feel uncomfortable. All breeds differ, but a room temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit keeps most cats happy and contented.
According to Science, a cat’s body temperature drops while it sleeps. If its temperature is below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, hypothermia is a risk.
During the winter months, cats will gravitate toward warmer sleeping spots. These could be places where there are artificial heat sources, such as on top of radiators and in front of fireplaces.
Cats cope with being too cold than being too hot. Cats have small sweat glands on their paws, and heat leaves cats’ bodies through their ears. If a cat is too hot for a cat, it can take a while to cool down. Signs include:
- Elevated heart rate
- Restlessness and constant pacing
- Discoloration of the gums
To combat this, your cat will sleep in a cool location. Kitchens and bathrooms with tiled floors become favored areas.
Your cat may have a chronic pain condition, such as arthritis. However, the cat thinks that its bed or the sofa is responsible for the discomfort it feels. Your cat will change its sleeping position to feel better.
As The Journal of Small Animal Practice explains, your cat may not limp nor appear lame. It will try to avoid showing symptoms, considering them a sign of weakness. Signs that your cat is arthritic include:
- Hunched posture
- Uncharacteristic aggression and irritability
- Refuses handling
- Thin, wasted muscles
Set your cat up with one primary bed. This should be low to the ground and in a quiet area. Provide the following for added comfort:
- A soft bed that is easy to climb into
- A source of direct warmth
Cats remember frightening or traumatic events. If a neighborhood feline bullies a cat, it will avoid certain streets in the future. The same also applies to the home. Your cat will recall something frightening and attribute it to a location.
Cats can be startled and stressed by many things. Some of these are avoidable, and some not. Loud noises are among the main triggers for cats. These could include:
- Television sets and radios
- Loud conversations and shouting
- Roadworks and street noises
- Car alarms and horns
Your cat will not always understand that these noises come from outside. Your cat may believe that sleeping in one location attracts noise. If this is the case, it will look for a new sleeping location.
Your cat’s negative experience may not be related to noise. It may be connected to a sensation or memory. Examples of this include:
- Flea or ear mite infestations
- Physical trauma (i.e. tail being stepped upon)
- Strong smells or aromas
- Fighting with another cat
These incidents will be intrinsically linked to a location in your cat’s mind. This means the cat will no longer feel safe sleeping there. This will lead the cat to look for a new place to rest and recuperate.
Changes to Home Layout
Cats like things to stay the same, especially the layout of the home. If you have remodeled your home or moved furniture around, the cat will need an adjustment period. This will cause stress initially. Your cat needs to relearn its terrain and decide on the most comfortable resting spots.
Placing your cat’s bed in a previous location may not be sufficient. The changes to the surrounding area may upset your cat. For example, moving certain furniture could have created a draught.
If your cat has a minor illness, it may start sleeping in different locations. A cat with a urinary tract infection, for example, will want to stay close to a litter tray. This means the cat may reject its usual bed.
If a cat is feeling very unwell, it will become increasingly withdrawn. Your cat will likely give all humans and other pets a wide berth. A feline will want to sleep in a cool, dark location if it fears physically vulnerable. Such places may include:
- The backyard (under bushes)
- Garages and sheds
- Under cars
- Cellars or basements
The New Zealand Veterinary Journal describes “inappetence and non-specific decline” as key signs that cats are seriously ill. If you’re concerned that your cat is unwell, check your cat’s sleeping position.
Cats will often change their sleeping area. This is usually just a case of a feline following its basic instincts.