Tag Archives: sleep

Q&A: Kneading

Q: Do cats understand that kneading people hurts them? Why do they do it?

A: Kneading, also colloquially referred to as making biscuits, is first done when they are tiny kittens, kneading their mother’s tummy to stimulate milk flow. Like the meow, this is a neotenic behavior, which is a behavior that begins in kittenhood, and spills over to adulthood.  We often see these neotenic behaviors in domesticated animals like cats and dogs. There are some other reasons for this behavior, which I’ll get into at the end.

It sounds like you need to clip your cat’s claws regularly. That’s always been enough for me, and I’ve always had at least 2 cats. I have 4 right now.

If that isn’t enough, use Soft Claws on kitty’s claws so that it doesn’t hurt. If you need help, a vet tech at your local vet’s office should be able to show you how to do both, as can a cat groomer, if there’s one in your area. Having a blanket handy is also a good strategy. Cats learn quickly that a blanket in the lap is an invitation to cuddle.

Cats have very thick skin and fur, so this doesn’t hurt when they do it to each other. Mom never complained about it, so it makes sense that they think this is a great way to bond and show affection.

Like many humans, cats can sometimes have difficulty understanding something that is out of their realm of experience, especially when they’re young, or if you aren’t closely bonded with them.

You might say, “My cat does this to blankets as well, so does it love that blanket too?” Well, no. Wild cats (both big and small) also tamp down a nice bed of leaves and/or grasses to make a comfy bed and double check that there are no pokey objects or critters that will disturb them. This is likely what kitty is doing when she kneads her blanket or her bed.

This also declares ownership. Cats (domesticated, wild, big, and small) have scent glands in their paws, so they are also claiming ownership of that comfy spot they made.

 

Q&A Midnight Terror

Q: How do I get my cat to fall asleep at night?

A: What time are you wanting the cat to sleep? Is it waking you up in the early hours, not sleeping when you go to bed, or something else? How old is the cat? How long has this been going on? The details really matter here. Without them, I can only cover generalities.

Cats sleep (usually a light doze) most of the day and night, and are active at dusk and dawn, which makes them crepuscular, not nocturnal.

If your cat is spending most of the day or night awake, then it is likely suffering from feline insomnia, and you need to get the cat to the vet. There are many issues that cause insomnia, especially in young cats (<3 years), but it can happen at any age. The older the cat, the more urgent it is to seek vet care for feline insomnia. It carries several health risks, both short and long-term.

Adult cats sleep 14–16 hours on average. Seniors and kittens sleep a little more than that. The average adult cat is only lightly dozing for 75% of that time, with the remaining 25% in deeper stages of sleep. Seniors and kittens spend much more time, 40–60% of sleeping time, in deeper sleep.

In nature, predators sleep more than prey. They don’t have to spend all day eating plants in order to get the energy they need, so they reserve their energy for hunting.

Since cats are crepuscular, they are most active during dusk and dawn, but many house cats will change their sleep schedule to work around their human’s sleep schedule. You should not encourage this behavior, though. It can lead to obesity, cardiac issues, stroke, and over a period of years, can increase your cat’s chance of dementia later in life.

If this issue is just a matter of the cat making noise as you’re trying to get to sleep, then here’s what you should do:

Play with the cat until it is exhausted. We’re talking panting heavily, completely worn out kitty. Like this (it should be noted that this was the second time in half an hour that Stiles did this. We only filmed the second one):

Then feed the cat. After all that play and food, kitty will be primed for a loooong nap.

Establish a routine, and stick with it every night. Have a schedule to do everything at the same time. Your bedtime routine will help the cat prepare itself for sleep as well, even if most of your routine (brushing teeth, locking the doors, putting on your pajamas, etc.) doesn’t include the cat. They are very observant, and they will pick up on it very quickly.

Similarly, have a routine in the morning. If you have time to play with the cat before you go about your day, you should do so. At least 15 minutes 2x a day is the minimum exercise requirement for an adult cat. Younger kitties will need much more. When they aren’t sleeping or eating, they should be playing. That’s how their brains are wired.

Do Cats Dream?

Even though cats are in more than a third of households in the U.S., there is a great deal that many people don’t know about them. One of the most interesting is how cats helped usher in the Golden Age of sleep research.

Cats of all sizes are obligate carnivores, so they must hunt to survive in the wild. Like most predators, they save their energy for their peak hunting times, which are around dusk and dawn. The fact that domestic cats are still so closely related to their wild cousins, and therefore retain those behaviors even when humans supply the food, makes them good subjects to study if we want to learn more about sleep.

Cats, just like humans, dream in stages. We can study animals’ dreaming states just like we do with people in the sleep lab: attach a bunch of electrodes and monitor the brain activity through EEG, visual monitoring, as well as pulse and bp. We can also switch off the paralysis during REM sleep to see what they do when acting out dreams.

Further reading:

Do dogs and cats really dream?

What do animals dream about?

REM Sleep in Cats

Behavioural and EEG Effects of Paradoxical Sleep Deprivation in the Cat

Mechanisms underlying oneiric behaviour released in REM sleep by pontine lesions in cats

A Brief History of Sleep Research