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Ask A Vet: Why Does My Cat Sleep All Day?

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Everyone knows that cats like to sleep. Let’s face it, it’s not called a “cat nap” for nothing! Many times when I look for my cat, he is dozing.  He loves sunbeams and chairs especially. Chairs in sunbeams are an addiction to him. People believe that cats sleep during the day because we are gone, and I suppose my cat is more likely to be bored when I am not there to entertain him – but that is not the only reason that cats sleep all day. Have you ever wondered why?

Animals depend on their internal clock, sometimes called the circadian rhythm (from the Latin circa-about, day-dia).  People also have circadian rhythms, and this can dictate whether someone is a “morning person” or “night person”. We have also learned to modify our natural tendencies: think about people that work night shifts and sleep during the day. History would suggest that our ancestors should not be active during the night when predators lurk, but animals stay even more true to their evolutionary roots than humans do.

Domestic cats are not genetically very distant from their early feline ancestors and they have stayed true to their roots in their behavior as well. Cats are considered crepuscular which means they are most active at dusk and dawn. It is thought to be an adaptation that allows them to be awake and active when the nocturnal predators are not, thus reducing their chance of becoming dinner. So being most awake and active at dawn and dusk may explain their sleep timing, but what about the ALL day part?

Aside from your cat preferring to sleep during the day, it is also normal for your cat to sleep a lot. Desert cats, like the Near Eastern Wildcat, (which has been identified as your cat’s closest wild relative¹) sleep in the heat of the day as a self-protection from sun and overheating. Even though our cats are spared the extremes of temperature and sun that their ancestors and wild relatives endure, their genetic map still tells them that they need a lot of sleep.

You can expect your cat to sleep a lot and especially during the day because he is listening to the primal lullaby of his genetic material telling him that he should!

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  1. Driscoll CA, Menotti-Raymond M, Roca AL, Hupe K, Johnson WE, Geffen E, Harley EH, Delibes M, Pontier D, Kitchener AC, Yamaguchi N, O’brien SJ, Macdonald DW. The Near Eastern origin of cat domestication. Science. 2007 Jul 27;317(5837):519-23. Epub 2007 Jun 28. PubMed PMID: 17600185.

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