selective focus of a kitten on the books

Why do cats lie in uncomfortable things? 

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We seem to spend much of our time trying to work out why our black cat does the strange things she does. Sitting on and inside uncomfortable things is just one of those. 

She’s got several comfortable cat beds that we’ve bought her over the years, including one that looks like a cosy little igloo. Periodically, she’ll sleep in these during the winter, but she also likes sleeping inside things that we don’t think look all that plush. 

We’ve caught her inside delivery boxes, recycling crates, grocery bags, lying on wires and cables, lounging on keyboards, over open hardback books, remote controls, and rucksacks.

But why do cats lie in uncomfortable things? 

Cat behaviour is in their DNA

It’s easy to forget that cats aren’t that domesticated. Much of what they do is instinctual and hard-wired into their DNA. They’re acting as if they’re still living out in the desert environments they originated from rather than living a plush life in someone’s house or apartment. In the wild, cats must be vigilant for other predators, picking the places they rest and sleeping carefully. We touched upon this in a previous post about why cats sleep on the corner of the bed.

Cats like to see what’s approaching them, and they also want to have a quick escape route. Uncomfortable as something may seem, a cat will sit inside it if it offers a cat a good vantage point and a fast getaway. There’s also a theory relating to camouflage in the wild. Cats often sit on things to blend into their environment. Sitting on something that breaks up a uniform surrounding can help animals to hide from predators scanning that area. If something is left on the carpet, for example, a cat might feel safer sitting on that, believing it’s harder to see (thinking about it, they probably would be harder to see amid trees or rocks). 

As for cats lying inside uncomfortable things, it may also be because it’s a safe and small space. Cats would naturally seek these places out in the wild. Discomfort is relative, too, because maybe your cat thinks climbing into these places is uncomfortable; they might find it a wonderful place to rest or observe from. 

Cats use pheromones

Cats also like to mark their territories with pheromones. These chemical markers are a cat’s way of ‘tagging’ specific items and areas within a territory as being ‘safe’. Cats deposit pheromones on surfaces using their foreheads, cheeks and paws. You’ve undoubtedly witnessed this behaviour regularly with your cat — the head bumping and cheek rubbing. Depositing pheromones on things helps cats feel secure, and you may remember that we wrote an article a short while ago about how using pheromones can help a cat feel more secure in a new home or how using synthetic pheromones can help cats with general, or travel-related anxiety feel calmer. Lying on and in uncomfortable things may be a way of marking those items as theirs.  

Cat fur is comfortable

One thing that we think is worth remembering too is that cats have thick fur, so when they sit on things, they’re not feeling the object as keenly as if we sat on it. Cats can just lie down, and they’ve pretty much got a built-in cushioning system. 

Cats want our stuff

Cats may also lie about these things because they’re important items to us. Our cat definitely enjoys lying on the things that we pay attention to our telephones, our laptops, and the remote control, for example. It’s how she lets us know that she’s there and ready for fuss or some food. Sometimes we think it’s also because she’s a little diva and clearly thinks she’s more important than whatever work we’re trying to finish on our computers. 

Ultimately, what we think of as uncomfortable and what our cats think maybe two very different things. After all, cats have a lot of fur-padding and pretty much wherever they sit or lie should be pretty soft. Using these areas as a place to relax or observe makes sense, especially if they also want to mark these items with their own scent. And as easy as it is to forget that our spoiled little fur babies are actually still pretty wild, and sitting inside and on uncomfortable may be a way to blend into surroundings (even if that makes them look pretty ridiculous on patterned carpet or linoleum!).