Anyone who’s ever been owned by a cat or five has almost certainly found themselves unable to move because a cat has settled comfortably between their legs and has no intention of leaving that cozy little nest. Why do cats do this, and what can it mean? Should you let it happen? Read on to learn more about this kind of catnap.
Pecking Order and Marking
It’s no secret that cats are territorial animals. When they settle on or between your legs, they’re claiming you as part of their territory. Aww, isn’t that cute? Of course it’s cute, but it’s not necessarily sweet and innocent. Your kitty is not only claiming you as its very own, but it’s also showing you who is, quite literally, on the top of the pecking order – and it’s not you.
Your little ball of fluff is demonstrating that it can climb on and over you whenever it wants to, and we all know that’s true. It is what it is, though, and your cat nestling between your legs when you both sleep is just establishing the way of the world.
Your cat is also marking you as its own personal territory in an age-old way that all other cats in the world understand intrinsically. Cats have scent glands under their whiskers, and these glands secrete pheromones that essentially serve as the cat’s brand, so to speak. Kitty probably rubs against your legs before settling down between them, and this is its way of putting out the “do not disturb” sign.
Safety and Protection
Other reasons why cats like to sleep between your legs are very similar to the reasons why cats must be in empty cardboard boxes. Cats were born to be hunters, and cats – even cats that get all their food from a can – are programmed to hunt and hide. The little hammock between your legs at night provides both cover and visibility, making it the ideal feline hunting blind.
Conversely, in the wild, cats are prey as well as predators. They don’t want to be prey, of course, so they try to conceal themselves, especially when they sleep. The space between your legs feels safe to them; they know that they are hidden so they feel safe enough to sleep. Stephen Zawistowski, science advisor for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, confirms that “cats like boxes because they are cryptic animals; they like to hide. And a box gives them a place of safety and security.” Well, your legs in your bed aren’t quite the same as an Amazon.com box, but they do represent the same kind of security.
Comfort and Closeness
It isn’t all mercenary, though. Of course, your cat companion does genuinely want to be close to and cuddled up with you. This is one of the ways that cats show their affection and show that they consider you to be part of the family. A cat’s first memory is likely sleeping surrounded by its mother and its littermates, and it subconsciously seeks to recreate that sense of being nurtured by snuggling between your legs.
Claire Bessant, author of The Secret Life of Cats, notes that while catnapping can happen at just about any time or any place, cats only sleep deeply when they feel safe, and they feel safest when they are literally surrounded by their owners. Catological.com behavioral expert Emily Parker confirms that “While sleeping, cats are at their most vulnerable. Therefore, cats typically find safe places to sleep where they feel protected… She feels protected, warm, and safe if she knows you’re around, since you’ve established a bond of trust.”
Also, practically speaking, you’re warm. Cats like to be warm; in fact, they need to be warm since their body temperatures are several degrees higher than those of humans. UC-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine postdoctoral fellow Mikel Delgado explains that “Cats’ thermoneutral zone – where they’re not expending any energy to cool off or get warm – is between 85 and 100 degrees,” which is, not at all coincidentally, probably the exact temperature of the sheet hammock between your legs that your cat has settled into.
Your thighs are close to your body’s core, and there are several major blood vessels in your legs, so the space between them is likely to be significantly warmer than the rest of the room or even the rest of the bed. This is just one more reason why it’s the perfect cat bed, even if it keeps you from being able to get up for a glass of water or bathroom break in the middle of the night.
Should You Let Your Cat Sleep with You?
Have you met a cat? If a cat really wants to do something, they will. Luckily, as long as both you and your cat are healthy, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t let your cat sleep between your legs at night.
In fact, it’s likely good for both you and your furry feline friend. Animals can actually release oxytocin, which is a feel-good hormone, when they are in physical contact with their owners, and being petted by their owners lowers cats’ blood pressure.
Kitty isn’t the only one who benefits from this contact; cuddling with a cat or other pet reduces cortisol and stress levels in humans. It’s also been reported in Scientific American (and many other highly reputable sources) that “cats purr during both inhalation and exhalation with a consistent pattern and frequency between 25 and 150 Hertz. Various investigators have shown that sound frequencies in this range can improve bone density and promote healing.”
If you’ve ever thought that cuddling with your kitty and hearing it purr was therapeutic, you were right! This kind of closeness and contact with your cat is healthy for both of you. So, as long as your legs don’t cramp up, you should absolutely continue sleeping with your cat if you both want to!