Tuesday 19 December 2023

The reason why domestic cats curl up in a ball when sleeping

Domestic cats don't always do it but they often curl up into a ball when sleeping. There are two basic reasons why they do this.

Safety: when they curl up into a ball, if they are a tabby cat - and the tabby cat coat is the original camouflaged coat - they look like a snake. Snakes are known within the animal kingdom to be dangerous. So curling up into a ball protects the cat. Also it provides good camouflage against their surroundings.

Let's remember that all domestic cats back in the day, thousand years ago, were tabby cats. So curling up to look like a snake was effective in those days and that trait has carried through to today even though many domestic cat are not tabby cats.

Heat retention: there are two elements to this. When a cat curled up into a ball the surface area of the cat compared to their volume becomes more favourable in terms of retaining heat. This is based on the principle that bigger animals can retain heat better than smaller animals because the surface area of bigger animals compared to their body mass or volume is lower than for small animals and therefore there is less opportunity for heat to be lost into the atmosphere. This is a well known physical property.

And secondly, when the cat is curled up two surfaces are pressed together and therefore rather than body heat being lost into the atmosphere the heat passes from one surface to the other and warms up the cat.

Conservation of energy: cats sleep for long periods. Adopting a curled up position is helpful in the conservation of energy through minimising muscle usage.

Instinctive behaviour: this is all instinctive behaviour from their wild ancestors.

Spread out: Sometimes they spread out and this will normally happen when the ambient temperature is high and they want to cool off. Alternatively, sometimes when they are on their human caregiver's lap they might spread out because it means the heat from the person's lap has more opportunity to pass upwards into the cat. Once again, it's a way of maximising warmth.

Inherited: This desire to be warm is inherited from the domestic cat's wild cat ancestor which lived and still lives in North Africa and Asia. But in North Africa the temperature is high and the domestic cat has retained the need to live in a high temperature environment. And where they can't they have evolved very dense longhaired coats such as for the Siberian cat. Two other examples are the Norwegian Forest Cat and the Maine Coon to a lesser extent because these coast of America is not quite as cold as Siberia!

In conclusion, the reason why domestic cat curl up into a ball when sleeping is to retain heat and to maintain security.


P.S. please forgive the occasional typo. These articles are written at breakneck speed using Dragon Dictate. I have to prepare them in around 20 mins.

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