Cats are famed for their love of napping, and getting enough beauty sleep is a top priority. A snoozing feline is undeniably adorable, but sometimes it could indicate a possible problem. So, it’s important for pet parents to understand common cat sleeping positions when sick.
So, we’ve created a guide that helps differentiate the different types of sleeping positions in cats (including those positions that might indicate something is wrong).
These curious creatures also love to bend their bodies in all kinds of positions, which sometimes can give pet parents a clue as to how they’re feeling.
In this article, we’ll explain some cat sleeping habits, including positions that could be helpful for pet parents to know.
9 Cat Sleeping Positions When Sick & What They Mean
Although they usually spend most of their time sleeping, it’s possible that an overly tired cat (lethargic) is not feeling their best. On average, cats sleep for between 12 to 16 hours per day.
If you notice your fur baby sleeping more frequently or in an unusual position, it could tell you that they’re not feeling well (physically or mentally). As such, you should monitor your kitty’s sleeping behavior, especially if you spot other signs of illness or pain (we’ll talk about that later).
1. Cat Curled Up in a Ball
Sleeping curled up in a ball is one of the coziest positions and is common in colder months. But why do cats sleep in a ball position?
Cats lose the most heat through their footpads and ears. So felines often curl up as tightly as possible and tuck their ears and paws close to their bodies to keep warm (especially during cold weather).
However, it could also be a sign that your cat’s body temperature has dropped below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which could lead to hypothermia.
If you think your cat might be cold, try moving their bed to a warmer area. If they’re wet, be sure to dry them off. You can also offer soft blanket or a warm cat bed for them to snuggle in.
The ideal room temperature for cats depends on their specific breed (eg long or short-hair), age, size, and health condition of your cat. But generally, you’ll want to keep it at around 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Note: If cats are in pain, you might also find them curled up in a small, enclosed space like a box. As cats feel more secure in tiny spaces, they generally hide while waiting for the pain to pass.
2. Cat Sleeping Flat on Stomach
Generally, this isn’t a cat’s go-to position, especially during deep sleep. But, you could occasionally find your feline lying flat on its stomach with all four paws outstretched.
This adorable position is known as splooting and helps to stretch the hip joints and ease muscle tension.
It could also mean that a cat is too hot. By lying in this position and having as much contact with a cold surface as possible, they can decrease their body temperature.
Here are a few ways you can help your pet cool:
- Rub your cat with a damp washcloth
- Use a small fan
- Always make sure they have easy access to freshwater and shade (if outdoors)
- Use a pet cooling mat
- Make sure your cat is well-groomed
- Keep cool flooring uncovered
Did you know it’s possible for cats to suffer from heatstroke? Below we’ve listed some signs of heatstroke in cats:
- Breathing with their mouth open (like panting in dogs)
- Extreme lack of energy (lethargy)
- Difficulty moving
- Loss of consciousness
If you think that your cat has heatstroke, take them to a veterinarian immediately!
Sleeping With Paws Outstretched
A cat sleeping with its paws outstretched resembles a cute flying position. Divided cat paws can help cats quickly escape if they feel threatened. As such, it also indicates that the cat might feel vulnerable due to sickness.
The Loaf Position
When cats lie on their stomach with their paws and tails tucked under their belly, it’s known as the cat loaf position. This position is common for brief naps and is usually a sign of your kitty getting a comfy rest.
However, it could also indicate discomfort in your cat’s paws. Common paw problems include:
- ingrown claws
- Foreign objects stuck in paw pads (such as nails, glass, splinters or seeds)
It’s important to inspect your kitty’s paws, especially if you notice them limping. Remember, it’s better to wait for your fur baby to wake up before touching their paws.
If you discover a wound, contact your veterinarian for advice regarding proper cleaning and treatment.
3. Sleeping Flat on Their Back
If you have an affectionate cat that’s loving during the day and then sleeps on its back, it’s usually no concern. In fact, it may suggest that your cat feels secure and trusts you by leaving its paw pads and belly exposed.
On the other hand, if your cat is sleeping flat on its back, it can also indicate that it feels threatened or vulnerable. By lying in this way, the cat has both its claws and teeth ready to protect itself.
If a cat displays warning signs such as prolonged periods of hiding and aggression, it could suggest that they feel the need to be on high alert or that something is upsetting them. If you can, check for potential sources of disturbance such as other animals or people, and try to distance them from your cat.
If you can’t determine the reason for your cat’s change in behavior, contact your veterinarian to arrange a check-up.
4. Cat Sleeping With One Eye Open
Cats are highly intelligent animals, and the ability to sleep with open eyes is another genius trait (called unihemispheric slow-wave sleep). It occurs when a cat sleeps with one eye shut and rests one half of its brain while the other half is fully conscious.
Although it might seem a bit strange, it’s common for a cat laying down to do this when resting.
However, sick cats may also sleep in this way due to eye-related problems, which can have other signs such as:
- Fluid (discharge) from or around the eye
- Excessive blinking.
A common eye disorder that cats suffer from is conjunctivitis. However, it could be more severe conditions like corneal ulcers, uveitis, or glaucoma.
If you think your cat could be suffering from an eye problem, contact your veterinarian immediately
5. Cat Sleeping in Fetal Position
This position provides cats warmth like the cat curling up in a ball pose. As the fetal position helps cats retain heat, you may find your feline sleeping this way during cold days.
However, it can also indicate that the cat isn’t feeling well or is injured. The fetal position can also suggest that a cat is protecting the parts of its body that sustained an injury. Monitor how well your kitty moves after waking up to check for discomfort or injury.
When your cat is awake, you can try to look for injuries or painful areas. Possible minor injuries include dry or cracked paw pads and trapped splinters. If you can’t see a physical problem, but your cat doesn’t allow you to touch its paws, it’s best to consult your vet for an in-depth examination.
6. Sleeping on Their Side
Generally, a cat lying on its side suggests a relaxed and happy kitty. It is a vulnerable position and often indicates that your cat has a normal body temperature.
Cats tend to hide in pain, so they usually don’t sleep this way when they’re unwell.
However, there are exceptions, and side-sleeping is not always good. A cat lying stretched out on one side could indicate that it is having difficulty breathing or experiencing muscular pain.
In this case, cats prefer this position over others that may put pressure on their lungs, like lying flat on their stomach or curled up in a ball. You will hear your cat wheezing or breathing deeply if your cat has breathing issues.
Other signs that you should be wary of include:
- Panting (like in dogs) or open mouthed breathing
- Difficulty getting into their litter box
- refusing to run or climb.
If your cat constantly sleeps on its side in addition to some of the symptoms above, it’s best to contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.
7. Cat Sleeping in Meatloaf Position
The cat meatloaf position looks similar to the loaf position. It is when cats lie hunched with their backs arched upwards and paws tucked underneath their body. They will also have their heads pointed down with their chin on the floor.
Although it seems like an innocent and cozy pose, sick cats often sleep this way. If you notice that your cat is breathing irregularly in this position, you should get your fur baby examined.
8. Sleeping With Other Cats
If you have a few cats in your home, finding them cuddled together is extremely endearing. Cats that grow up in the same household often form an unbreakable bond. They will sleep together and groom each other.
Finding two cats sleeping together is not concerning. But if one is awake while the other cat sleeps, it could indicate an underlying problem. It may suggest that the snoozing kitty asks the other to watch over them.
Although cats can be loving to their furry friends, they’re also territorial and independent. So if your cat is seeking help from the other, it may suggest they’re desperately searching for protection.
9. Cat Sleeping in the Same Position
Cats enjoy sleeping in various positions, from curling up tightly to lying on their side. These cuties love snuggling up in all kinds of ways.
So, if you notice your cat lying down and sleeping in the same position all the time, it could suggest that your kitty is sick.
For instance, if your cat is sleeping curled up in a ball in a warm area all the time, it may indicate that they are constantly cold. On the other hand, if your cat curls up during one nap and sleeps stretched out on the next, there is little cause for concern.
Similarly, constantly sleeping with their eyes open can indicate that cats have an eye condition rather than just practicing unihemispheric sleep.
So, it’s important to monitor the frequency of your feline’s sleeping poses, particularly when accompanied by other signs of sickness.
Knowing all your cat’s habits, routines and activities is an excellent way to spot problems earlier and improve the chances of recovery in the case of illness.
Other Signs That Your Cat May Be Sick
Felines rarely reveal when they are in pain. Some might say that they see it as a sign of weakness. That’s why it’s especially important to monitor your furry friend’s routines, such as their sleeping habits.
Although it’s a good start, noticing changes in your cat’s sleeping habits isn’t the only sign of a sick cat. In this section, we’ve described some other signs and symptoms to look out for.
Disclaimer: please note, the following sections are to be used as a guide only. If you think your pet may be sick, contact your veterinarian.
1. Changes in Behavior
If your cat is usually very active during the day, then reduced activity could be a sign of illness. Another sign of stress in sick cats is excessive vocalization (meowing). So, if you find your cat trying to communicate with you more than normally, it’s best to investigate further.
Other behavioral changes include growling, hissing, being resistant to touch (if they usually enjoy it), and purring for no reason.
2. Change in Appetite
A change in appetite is a common sign of disease in cats. For example, a reduced appetite could be a symptom of gastrointestinal problems, infections, dental issues, or cancer. On the other hand, an increased appetite could indicate that your cat is suffering from diabetes mellitus.
It’s always best to monitor your pet’s feeding habits and contact your vet immediately if you have any concerns.
3. Reduced Grooming
Cats enjoy a good pamper session and spend several hours cleaning themselves daily. So when their self-grooming stops, it could be a sign that something is wrong.
When a cat is feeling stressed, it may result in reduced grooming. However, a cat getting all scruffy might signal something more severe.
A possible reason for changes in cats’ grooming behavior is that it might be causing them pain. Some of the underlying issues for this could be swollen joints, arthritis, and dental problems.
Alternatively, excessive licking can also signal that your cat is in pain. Your cat may be trying to bring relief to the affected area.
4. Decreased Activity Level
Lethargy is a common sign of a sick cat, especially if it’s a relatively active breed. Cats with low energy levels tend to be less playful and sleep more frequently.
Common causes of reduced energy in cats are infections and fevers. If your cat seems a bit down and shows a lack of response, it could be because all of its energy is going to its immune system to fight off the particular problem.
Your cat could also experience low energy due to sore joints or injuries. It’s best to consult your vet if you notice a significant reduction in activity or discomfort.
Sick Cat Sleeping Positions FAQs
How do cats sleep when they are in pain?
Cats in pain may sleep more or less than usual. Cats in pain may also seek warmer places to rest, such as a sunny spot or heating pad.
Do cats lay on their backs when sick?
Sometimes cats’ sleeping positions when sick can differ from their regular ones. Many cats will stretch out all the way, flop on their sides, or even roll onto their backs when relaxed and comfortable.
Should I let my cat rest when sick?
Sleep is the best way for a cat’s body to heal itself. You may want to put your sick cat in a closed-off section of the house. This ensures your kitty will get rest and not be distracted.
Final Thoughts on Sleeping Positions of a Sick Cat
Unwell cat sleeping positions when sick could simply be a personal preference. However, pet parents should ensure their little fur baby isn’t suffering. One way you can do this is by paying attention to their sleeping habits and being aware of sit cat sleeping positions.
A cat will subtly show signs of sickness, so keep a close eye on its body language and behavior. For more information on feline sleeping habits, check out this guide on why cats sleep with one owner.
Meet the Veterinary Expert
Charlotte recently became a doctor and studied at the University of Zagreb, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. She’s volunteered in her university’s obstetrical clinic, and equine clinic, and is dog mum to 14-year-old Chiki. Charlotte loves to travel and has completed externships in Austria, Spain, and Belgium.