Felines do lots of fascinating things, and the ‘loaf’ is among the most common. But like all kinds of cat body language, the cat loaf position has hidden meanings that you need to understand for your cat to thrive.
Cats loaf because it’s comfortable, and to keep warm. They only do so when they feel reasonably safe. A loafing cat doesn’t feel comfortable enough to flop onto its side, but doesn’t feel nervous. Loafing is a comfortable compromise because your cat can quickly stand up. Your cat may also lie like this to protect one of its forepaws if it’s injured.
If you notice that your cat is loafing, it’s likely that it’s feeling happy and comfortable. But you should also learn why an unhappy cat might loaf.
What Is Cat Loafing?
A cat loaf is when a cat lies down in a particular way. It lies on its belly, and tucks its forepaws underneath its chest. In some cases, you can still see the side of each paw. In other cases, you can’t see the paws at all.
Cats of all ages do this, from kittens to older cats. If you observe your pet for a while, you will see your cat lying in a loaf position sooner or later.
There are different kinds of a loaf. One is where the cat’s paws are flat on the ground, side by side, and your cat is putting weight on them. Your cat might be half stood on its paws, or holding its paws in front of itself like the Sphinx.
The other kind is where its paws are folded, like you fold your arms. When your cat loafs like this, it lies on its belly and doesn’t put pressure on its paws. Both ways of lying are common.
The reason it’s called ‘loafing’ is your cat’s body shape. With its paws folded underneath its body, it takes on a rectangular shape like a loaf of bread.
Cat Sitting Like a Loaf Meaning
Cats don’t sit in the loaf position for no reason. It’s a behavior that has several explanations that make sense. This form of cat body language hasn’t been extensively studied by scientists, so there are no definitive answers. But veterinarians and experienced owners have several ideas.
Loafing normally indicates that a cat is reasonably happy and comfortable. It isn’t happy enough to rest on its back, leaving its belly vulnerable. But it also isn’t tense and nervous. So, loafing is a good thing.
But in certain circumstances, loafing can even tell you something about the health of your cat. So, you have to learn what this behavior looks like, why cats do it, and how to figure out why your cat is loafing.
What does the cat loaf position mean? One reason you might spot your cat lying in a loaf position is that it’s comfortable. Cats love comfort, and pick the comfiest places and positions to lie down in.
While it wouldn’t be comfortable for you to lie on your belly with your arms crossed, it is for cats. Cats have a different skeletal structure which means this is comfortable for them. The cat can choose different ways of loafing to take the pressure off its paws or its belly, for example.
Sitting like this is similar to folding your arms in front of your chest. Sometimes, this is the comfiest way to stand, e.g. if you don’t want to dangle your arms by your sides. This simple explanation is the most likely reason your cat is loafing.
It’s likely comfier for your cat to lie on its side. But loafing is a compromise between being entirely at ease, and being ready to pounce.
2) Happiness and Safety
Cats also loaf when they feel reasonably safe and happy. Cats will sit comfortably and lounge around when they feel safe. But there’s an element of body language here too.
When a cat keeps its paws under its body, its claws aren’t on show. This indicates that the cat doesn’t feel threatened. If it did, it would sit in a position in which it’s ready to pounce.
But at the same time, your cat isn’t completely at ease. If it were, it would flop onto its side and let its belly show. By not showing its belly, your cat stays reasonably secure. It can also stand up quickly: not as quickly as if it was ready to pounce, but quicker than if it were flopped on its side.
This is backed up by the fact that cats loaf in places that they’re comfortable. They’re most likely to do so when on your lap, for example, or in a favorite cat bed. But they are less likely to do so when they’re somewhere uncomfortable or where they’re vulnerable, e.g. outside.
3) Thermoregulation (Conserving Body Heat)
All mammals produce their own body heat using the energy they get from food. They have to do so because a mammal’s internal organs can only operate at temperatures between 95 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Because body heat is produced from the energy found in food, it’s a precious resource. So, an animal will try to preserve its heat. Your cat can do so by keeping its paws under its body when it lies down.
Limbs and extremities lose heat quickly, so keeping them close to the body prevents that from happening. The extremities are further from the heart. The further from the torso an extremity is, the likelier it is that it will be cool. So, a cat’s toes get cold easily.
Again, this is similar to you folding your arms on a cold day. Doing so keeps you warm. You may also notice your cat curling its tail around its back to keep it close to its body, which is for the same reason. So, you’re likely to see your cat do this if it’s cold.
To be clear, these things likely aren’t running through your cat’s mind when it decides to loaf. But these factors are likely to have led to the evolution of this behavior.
4) Injured Paw
Your cat may also hide its paw underneath its body if the paw is damaged. The idea behind this is simple. If the paw is damaged, your cat would rather keep it somewhere it can’t be reached, i.e. underneath its body.
The problem could be something like overgrown claws, which curl back below the paw and make it difficult for your cat to walk. Or, your cat could have a cut or other open wound or crack on its paw pad.
If you think your cat may have hurt its paw, don’t try to pull it out from underneath your cat while it’s loafing. Most cats don’t like people touching their paws, and besides, it could damage the hurt paw even more.
Instead, wait until your cat next gets up. If your cat is limping and doesn’t like putting pressure on one of its paws, then it’s damaged.
5) Seriously Ill
Your cat may also loaf if it’s ill. There’s a particular kind of loafing that you might see if your cat has a condition like chronic kidney disease (CKD). According to the BMJ, CKD is a common disorder in older cats.
Some people call this the ‘meatloaf’ position rather than plain ‘loafing’. The main difference is in the cat’s head. Normally when a cat loafs, it keeps its head upright, looking forward. It does so so that it can see ahead.
But when a cat has a condition like CKD, it may lie on its belly, but with its head stretched out and pointed down. It sits in the loaf position because with its paws underneath its belly, and avoids putting pressure on its internal organs.
Loafing specifically occurs in CKD cats that ‘crash’. Crashing is when the cat’s condition suddenly worsens. Complete organ failure can happen suddenly after a long bout of chronic disease. This kind of loafing is especially common in CKD cats which ‘crash’ frequently.
If your cat is loafing, don’t immediately worry that it’s ill. Cats loaf all the time when they’re healthy. But you should note that while most cats loaf because they’re happy and comfortable, they can loaf when sick, too.
6) No Reason
While cats can be smart, sometimes they do things for no clear reason. If you’ve ever seen a cat yowl or start at something scary when there’s nothing there, you’ll know that already.
As such, your cat might want to sit like a loaf for no reason. Sometimes it wants to lie on its back, and other times on its belly. The same applies to people: sometimes you want to sleep on your back and sometimes on your side, even though both are comfy.
The reason for including this section is to reassure you that there isn’t always a reason for your cat’s behavior. Your cat may be sitting like a loaf because it wants to, and for no other reason.
How to Tell Why Your Cat Is Loafing
While loafing can be a sign of different health conditions, it isn’t always. Most of the time it’s nothing but a sign that your cat is comfortable. But there are ways to figure out why your cat is sitting in this position.
Is Your Cat Happy?
Your cat’s body language and behavior can provide context to its loafing. According to PloS One, cats have more personality than people realize. These personalities can be seen through behavior and body language.
If your cat seems happy in every other way, it’s probably loafing because it’s comfortable and feels safe. So, check for:
- Your cat purring
- Your cat has a relaxed posture and isn’t tense
- Your cat has a good appetite
- Your cat has a healthy appearance, e.g. a clean coat
If all that is so, then it’s unlikely that your cat has a health condition you should worry about.
Your Cat Is Limping And Can’t Walk Easily
If your cat is loafing because its paw hurts, then it will also have trouble walking. It will limp gingerly when it stands up from its loaf position. It won’t easily jump from one surface to another. There may be a visible issue with the cat’s paw.
Your cat may also limp if it’s in pain for another reason. If it has chronic kidney disease, then it will be in severe internal pain which will make it move gingerly, too.
Symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease
Just in case your cat’s loafing is a sign of something worse, keep an eye out for the signs of CKD.
There are others besides loafing, including increased urination and drinking, and excess stomach acid resulting in loss of appetite, vomiting, nausea, lip licking, and teeth grinding. According to the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, CKD is also associated with poor dental health.
If you suspect your cat might be loafing because it’s sick, observe its behavior for a while. Look for the signs above, and any other symptoms that might show that it’s sick.
But rest assured, it’s highly unlikely that your cat is loafing because it’s sick. It’s far more likely that your cat is comfortable, or that there’s no reason for it to sit that way.