Why Your Cats Curl Up

See why your cats turn around in a circle before sleeping.

Cats curling up make for good photo ops but ever wonder why they do that? Via manintino/Thinkstock

Shortly after we turn in for the night, Annie jumps up on the bed, gives each of us a nose tap and makes her way to the foot of the bed.  She walks in a circle, curls up into a ball with her eyes on the door. We think she is waiting for Eddie to join her but she might simply be keeping watch.

Walking in a circle and the curling up into a ball might have more to do with evolution than just being Annie’s routine. These two reasons might explain why.

  • Scientists think circling is an instinctive behavior hard-wired into our cats. Their wild ancestors needed to flatten down grasses in order to make a comfortable resting area. Your cat might paw at the blanket or floor in another instinctive move to remove any objects that might be in the way such as rocks, twigs or leaves. In Annie’s case, she might need to remove a few of her toys but no debris from her chosen resting place.
  • Sleeping curled up provides a feeling of security for your cat. With her paws drawn in and her nose tucked into her tail your cat’s vital organs are not exposed giving her an added sense of safety. This curled up position also helps your cat stay warm by conserving body heat. You know that shiver you get crawling into bed when the sheets and blankets are cold? Your cat is trying to avoid that same discomfort. Annie is lucky we turn on our electric blanket about an hour before bedtime to protect her from the chill of the night during the cold winter months.

Later in the night, Eddie joins Annie. Eddie doesn’t walk in a circle or curl up in a ball.  He stretches out as long as possible. We think Eddie may feel protected by Annie who is the more vigilant of the two. At some point in the night, they both stretch out perhaps because they are too warm and need to cool down or they both feel safe in their surroundings enabling them to relax and sleep more soundly.

Annie is the first cat we have lived with that walks in circles before lying down. I think she might be closer related to her wild ancestors than Eddie.  Annie is far more interested in watching birds, squirrels and rabbits while Eddie prefers to play with toys.

Annie curls up into a ball to nap in the afternoon sun and Eddie is most often seen sleeping on his back with his legs in the air like he doesn’t have a care in the world.  Maybe he doesn’t need to worry as long as he knows his guardian Annie is keeping watch while he sleeps.

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