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Why Do Cats Fold Their Paws?

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I’m sure we’ve all noticed that our cats have their own quirks and strange behaviors, but one thing that seems to unite most cats is their ability to turn themselves into a fluffy loaf of bread.

While these cat loaves come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re all ridiculously adorable, almost every one of them involves your cat carefully folding their paws underneath them.

Why do cats do this and what’s the significance of folding their paws? A cat that’s relaxed and comfortable will usually tuck their paws under them. This position still offers them mobility if they want to quickly stand up and move, and folding their paws is also an efficient way of preserving their body heat.

If you want to know more about the kitty-loaf position, then we’ve got you covered!

Let’s get started!

Reason 1: For Body Heat Preservation

Just like humans, animals have different techniques to regulate their body temperature according to their environment. A cat’s normal body temperature is 101.0 to 102.5°F (38.3 to 39.2°C), while the normal human body temperature is 98.6°F (37°C), which goes to show why cats always look for the warmest spot in the house.

While you may see your cat stretch their body into infinity during the warmer months, they’ll do the exact opposite when it’s cold. Our feline companions will sleep in our beds, look for warm blankets, shed, or replace their coats with thicker ones just to keep their temperature from falling.

Extremities like our fingers or your cat’s paws lose heat faster than other areas of the body. Just as people are quick to get cold hands outside, our cat’s paws are more likely to get cold when compared to part of their core.

By tucking in their paws that are more delicate and aren’t covered in fur, they’re able to protect them from the cold- or at least warm them up. This way they preserve their body heat, without spending any energy, and if you take a look at their tail you’ll probably see it curled around their body.

So, it’s not unusual for a cat to shift into this solid bread-like mass when it gets cold, and as the day progresses this pose slowly but surely will turn into a rolled-up ball.

Reason 2: A Sign Of Comfort

One of the things I truly love about my cats, and cats in general, is their ability to find the most comfortable places to be lazy. They always end up sleeping among the softest of bedsheets and blankets or simply sitting in a box with their paws folded in.

Mikel Delgado, a cat researcher at UC Davis, tells us that “generally speaking, a cat who is lying with their paws tucked underneath them is considered relaxed. They aren’t preparing to defend themselves or run away.”

When you see your cat loafing in their favorite spot, be it the cat tree by the window, on your bed, or even next to you, take a moment to observe them. They might give you a few slow blinks in return, to let you know they’re relaxed and happy, and in some cases, they might even untuck their paw to let it rest on your leg.

Reason 3: Your Cat Is Alert

Both of my cats seem to loaf in two different ways, the oldest will use this pose as a sign of deep relaxation which slowly progresses into a state of sleep, while the youngest sits by the window, with his paws and tail tucked in, and listens to the birds chirping, or our neighbors arguing.

You can notice that your kitty isn’t in a completely relaxed state, but they’re listening to the surroundings instead, taking in every sound. Their ears will twitch, and occasionally they will open their eyes to look at the possible source of that sound.

Taking the form of a fluffy loaf of bread gives your cat an advantage, they’re still alert and suspicious of their surroundings. If they do hear an interesting noise, or something fearful comes their way they can quickly tuck their paws out and run for the hills.

Unless of course, they’re anything like this cat, that seems to have forgotten how to go from loaf to cat!

You can also test it out, simply make a noise that will catch their attention, a whistle perhaps, or grab their favorite toy and watch as they quickly rise to play with you!

Reason 4: It’s A Do Not Disturb Sign

Sometimes, you just need some time to relax and recharge your batteries. Cats can be quite similar and whenever they’re sitting down, with their paws tucked in and their eyes half-closed, they might be in need of that space.

This loaf of bread position, no matter how cute it is, isn’t necessarily an invitation for us to cuddle with them. Instead, it can be their way of communicating to us and everyone else that they don’t want to be the center of attention, I know shocker!

So, if you’ve noticed your cat instantly running away from you the moment you touch them or come near them don’t be offended. Simply let your feline loaf of bread have their moment of peace, and when they’re done I’m quite positive they’ll be running back to you, meowing about how they’ve missed you!

Reason 5: They’re Uncomfortable

Some cats will try to take on a typically comfortable position even if they aren’t feeling very well. If your cat seems to be lethargic, spending all their day sitting with their paws tucked in, then they could be in pain or feeling sick.

Delgado also states that “a cat who is still perched on their paws may be in pain, so it’s good to know if the paws are totally tucked.” That’s why make sure to check your cat’s paws if you see them acting suspiciously, or pulling them away from you. If you’re not sure what might be causing such discomfort make sure to take your cat for a check-up.

How To Tell Which Reason Applies To Your Cat?

By now, you’ve probably realized that folding or tucking paws isn’t so straightforward. Not only will cats do this when they’re happy, comfortable, and calm but they could also be tucking their paws when they’re uncomfortable. 

So how can you tell which is which? 

By learning to read your cat’s overall body language! Mastering your kitty’s tools of communication, which are the ears, eyes, tail, overall body, and meows you should be able to understand what mood your fluffy companions is in, especially when they’re in the loaf of bread position.

Whether you’re a new or seasoned cat owner, try to observe their ears. When a cat is relaxed their ears are at their usual angle pointing up and slightly to the side, but if something catches their attention, they’ll perk up their ears, or they’ll twitch them to establish where that noise is coming from. Flattened ears, on the other hand, is a sign of a scared or angry kitty, and a common signal that they want to be left alone.

Paying close attention to your cat’s ears will help you understand if they’re focused on watching the birds or just in a state of relaxed bliss. 

Our feline companions also use their eyes to showcase their emotional state. As some reports state “with the act of narrowing the eyes appearing to be associated with positive emotional communication in a range of species.” Make sure to observe their body in different situations. A scared kitty will use a flight or fight stance in which their body looks and feels stiff, their tail is either tucked between their legs or stands upright and fluffed out.

Soft or partially closed eyes will let you know that your cat’s tucked paws are the result of a relaxing day while alert eyes with tense postures suggest that even though your kitty is in a relaxed position they may be ready to move. 

Sometimes cats can seem relaxed, but once we touch them, they wag their tail like a whip which is their way of telling us that they are in need of some personal space. Meows can also help you understand what your cat needs, a chirping or purring meow usually is a sign of playfulness and affection, while a drawn-out meow might mean that they’re hungry, and a yowl can be a sign of anger.

Of course, with time you might realize that you and your cat share a different kind of understanding, and John Bradshaw, the director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol in England explains  that “many cats and their owners gradually develop an individual “language” that they both understand but that is not shared by other cats or owners.” In any case, if you’re approaching your kitty when they’re comfortably lounging with their paws tucked in, knowing what this pose means can help you recognize the reaction that might follow.

Do All Cats Tuck Their Paws In?

While most of us have seen our cats loafing around the house, there are of course cats that prefer different ways of sitting, and this doesn’t mean your cat doesn’t know how to preserve their own heat, and it certainly doesn’t mean your cat isn’t comfortable.

Our feline companions are individuals, and you’ll find plenty of cats that would rather spend their lounging hours, sitting or lying in different positions. Some cats, like the Maine Coon breed are usually spotted with their front paws crossed instead, which is almost the same as folding their paws in, only instead of a loaf of bread they’re simply majestic!

Then of course there are the cats that like to sit with their paws straight out, sphinx-style!

Closing Thoughts

I think we can all admit that cats are unique and their behaviors and habits are often puzzling and not easy to explain. I mean who knew that a simple sitting position such as the iconic “loaf of bread” could tell us so much about our feline companions!

Most of you probably have your own theories on why your cat loves to cosplay as a loaf of bread, so let us hear all about them!

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