My old cat Jason used to follow the sun when it came to napping. He favored my mom’s room in the morning — the light was best in there then — and gradually made his way down to the dining room just in time for the afternoon matinee.
It was how he organized his day, and he seldom varied the pattern.
At night, Jason slept in the cellar. He would carefully select a sock from the dirty laundry basket and hop into the clean laundry basket with it. Apparently, the sock was Jason’s teddy bear or security blanket.
A little over a month ago, there was a very involved, very interesting discussion in one of my online groups about cats and their nighttime rituals.
Wendy Ratza says that Wren, her Blue Abyssinian, “is usually ready for bed before me. She starts with her Aby/Border Collie herding technique, giving me gentle (and occasionally not-so-gentle) bites on my ankles and calves.”
Some nights, Wren waits for Ratza. Other nights, the cat heads up without her. She “waits on the corner of the bed, facing the door, as if she were my protector.” Once her human is in bed, this cat has a nighttime habit of dragging her favorite wand or fishing toy along with her.
Ratza usually wakes up to find all sorts of cat toys in the bed and, one time, Wren’s fishing toy wrapped around her foot.
Other people had similar stories. Paula McMillan Saussy Gustafson’s cat, GiGi, “brings her favorite green toy in every night and has a lengthy conversation with it, then jumps up on her pink blanket and/or gets under the covers upside-down with her feet stuck in the air.”
Some cats make a big point of curling up to their humans as close as they can get. Joris, Jacquelyn Babush’s first Aby “slept right with his cheek on mine, up on my pillow.” My Dawnie used to burrow under the covers next to me, making a little cave for herself.
This video shows Nugget the cat and his preferred sleeping spot under the covers:
At first, the cats in these stories come across as being very much like furry toddlers, bringing their toys into their parents’ bed and wanting to cuddle. But there’s a little more to it than that.
2 Paws Up for Routine
Cats love routine, and they take their daily and nightly rituals very seriously.
Sometimes too seriously for their own good. An Ohio State University study found that healthy cats often displayed “sickness behaviors” — refusing to eat, vomiting frequently and soiling outside their litter boxes — whenever there were “unusual external events” or changes in their environment. These changes could be anything from a slightly later feeding to a pet sitter or different caretaker coming in.
Both the healthy and the chronically ill felines used in the study had, according to the university’s Research News, “the same number of sickness behaviors in response to unusual events, and both groups were at more than 3 times the risk of acting sick when their routines were disrupted.”
An Ancestral Response
Sleep is a critical part of a cat’s life. It has been estimated that they sleep 16 to 18 hours a day. That means that your feline is fully awake for maybe one-third of its life.
“The sleep-centered lifestyle revolves around your cat’s ancestral ways,” maintains The Daily Cat. “Hunting excursions would interrupt long naps. These were often unsuccessful, requiring conservation of energy. Or if successful, they would promote rest for digestion, similar to how you might feel tired after consuming a filling, meaty meal.”
Looked at this way, a lot of the bedtime stories told earlier make sense. Wren’s watching for imaginary predators goes back to when her ancestors had to make sure that their territory was safe from real ones before bedding down for the night. Dawnie’s homemade “cave” was another such atavistic safety measure — cats in the wild have always appreciated the shelter and protection that real caves offer.
Why Change the Pattern?
Sometimes, despite their love of the familiar, cats will suddenly change their sleeping places. This, too, can be explained by going back to their roots. Their wild ancestors would shift dens periodically as a precaution.
Our cats do the same when they need a respite from other household pets or from us, their much-loved but dimwitted humans.