Why Do Cats Like Laps?


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If you’ve ever had a lap cat then you’ve probably felt the wonder and excitement, every time your feline companion climbed into your lap to curl up into a tiny ball of fur.

For some, it might be part of their regular routine, the moment you sit down on your couch or in front of your computer your kitty is there to keep you company, while for others it might be a rare but breathtaking occurrence!

So, why do some cats like laps? Some cats enjoy sitting on laps because it keeps them warm, and they feel safe near their owners. It’s also a way for them to show their trust and affection as well as communicate their needs and seek attention from their human.

If you’re wondering why some cats enjoy sitting on their owners while others don’t, we’ve got the answers you’ve been looking for!

Let’s begin!

Reason 1: For Comfort And Warmth

You may have noticed that your cat prefers to snuggle in the softest and warmest places in your home, and your lap is definitely one of them. A cat’s normal body temperature is 101.0 to 102.5°F (38.3 to 39.2°C) which is higher than the normal human temperature, 98.6°F (37°C). This means that our tiny fluff-lords have to put more effort into maintaining it.

Being the smart creatures that they are cats have different techniques to keep themselves comfortable and warm. One of the cutest strategies is the paw tuck, or kitty loaf, which turns their entire body into one warm furball.

It seems that somewhere along the way domesticated cats also discovered that our lap is the warmest and probably the safest place to take a nap on. I mean, they must have realized that along with providing the best kitty kibble we’ll also do anything to protect them or at least emit enough warmth to get them through the winter!

The clothes that we wear might also be part of the attraction since we usually go for soft pajamas, oversized jumpers, or we cover ourselves with woolen blankets that a lot of cats love to knead and bite. Your smell, the steady rhythm of your breath, the noise coming from your keyboard, and of course the occasional stroke, all work together in harmony creating the perfect sleepy environment for your feline companion.

Reason 2: They Trust You

Of course, no one can say no to a cozy spot that’s always warm, but for most cats the owner of the lap they’re about to sit in and sleep is far more important. Adult cats sleep 12-20 hours a day, and during these hours, your kitty is at their most vulnerable. Naturally and instinctively they’ll choose the safest sleeping place for their survival, and for domestic cats, it’s usually their owner.

By choosing your lap as their bed, they show you how safe you make them feel and how much they trust you, and as a cat parent that’s the highest compliment, you can ever ask for! Cats of course have other ways of expressing their affection and they often do so by using the communication skills they were taught as kittens, and the ones they use between their fellow cats.

According to John Bradshaw, a cat-behavior expert at the University of Bristol, dogs change their behavior when they’re interacting with humans, but cats kinda see us as their equals. He explains: “They obviously know we’re bigger than them, but they don’t seem to have adapted their social behavior much. Putting their tails up in the air, rubbing around our legs, and sitting beside us, and grooming us are exactly what cats do to each other,” Bradshaw explains.

So, if you have a soft fluffball spending their time on your lap, you might find them showcasing the love language they had developed with their mother. They’ll most likely purr and knead your lap as well as rub their cheeks against yours, exchanging both of your scents, as two bonded cats would.

Reason 3: For Connection And Attention

I’m sure most cat owners have had people point out to them that cats are aloof, or that they can’t possibly like people, but thankfully science is here to back us up. A study published in the journal called Behavioral Processes showed that when cats had to choose between food, toys, and social interaction with humans, most of the cats chose the latter.

So, when you notice your kitty coming over to sit on your lap while you’re working on your computer, or you’re watching a movie then chances are they’re looking to interact with you. The attention your cat might be craving could be in the form of long petting sessions, or they might want to hear you talk to them while they meow back. Others might’ve found this method successful and they use it to lure you in on a play session or towards their food bowl.

My cat usually jumps on my lap waiting to be groomed and if I don’t obey I’m met with prolonged meows and an intense stare!

Since jumping on our lap can get our kitties anything they want, needier cats will use this technique to get the attention they crave many times throughout the day, while others might do it more sporadically. Kristyn R. Vitale, Ph.D., a researcher and educator in human-animal interaction explains this by saying that, “the current data support the hypothesis that cats show a similar capacity for the formation of secure and insecure attachments towards human caregivers previously demonstrated in children.”

In other words, you can imagine that the cat on your lap is in a way a crying baby, only much hairier!

Why Are Some Cats Lap Cats And Some Aren’t?

Now that we know the possible and most common reasons your kitty might enjoy spending their time on your lap, there’s a big possibility that some of you may not relate to this experience. It seems that cats are truly different in every aspect, but it’s truly fascinating that some cats love to sit on laps and others make it their full-time job of avoiding them.

So, what are the influences behind these contradicting preferences?

Early Socialization

As I mentioned above, trust plays a major role in a cat’s decision on whether to approach a human or not, especially when it comes to sitting on their lap. This sort of bond depends on your cat’s history, their socialization as kittens, their early experiences with other humans, and of course their experience with you.

The socialization period of cats lasts for the first 7-9 weeks of their age, and after that point, it will begin to decline. This period is extremely important because positive exposure to other cats, animals, and of course humans will most likely result in a feeling of safety. If your cat was never exposed to human contact before, they’ll most likely feel scared around them. Traumatic experiences around humans in their early or even late years can easily make a cat weary and distrustful.

When you adopt a kitten you obviously have bigger control over their human-cat interactions and you’re aware of their history. This gives you an advantage to an extent, to train your kitty, gain their trust easily, and cultivate a positive attitude towards lap sitting. This of course doesn’t mean all kittens will grow into lap cats, and shelters have plenty of social cats that will enjoy sitting on your lap at any given time.

Multi-cat Household

Previously abusive owners aren’t the only thing that could be stopping your kitty from approaching your lap, it could also be the power dynamics at play in your multi-cat home. Cats naturally are territorial creatures, “aggression between household cats is more subtle and complex than the conflicts between two outdoor toms. It can be so subtle, in fact, that cat parents don’t notice it.”

So, it’s not unlikely that one of your cats has claimed your lap, and the rest of them are simply not allowed to sit near it. It doesn’t even have to happen after a fight, but it could simply be the smell of the other cat on you and your clothes that are keeping all your other cats away from you.

Cat Breed

My cats are the typical kitties you will find roaming the streets of Greece and they’re super cuddly, but there are breeds that are known to be extra snuggly. If you own a Persian cat, you might be able to confirm the rumors that they’re “the ultimate lap cat,” or if you’re the proud parent of the exotic Sphynx you probably know that they like to keep close to their humans, and the lack of fur might play a major role I this!

Ragdoll, Maine Coon, or Exotic Shorthair, the list of breeds that claim to be cuddly is vast, but it’s important to remember that it most likely depends on the individual cat, as Dr. Dantas points out!

Will My Cat Ever Become A Lap Cat?

Having a cuddly kitty that enjoys spending their leisure time on your lap might sound like a dream come true, but as we’ve established not all cats are like that. It’s important to understand that different cats have different preferences in the way they live their day-to-day life and the way they want to interact with us.

If you’re a new cat owner then you definitely should give your new fluffy roommate some time. Don’t force them to sit on your lap, but instead let them decide if that’s something they’re comfortable with. Kittens might be easily persuaded, but a shy cat will definitely need a gentler approach, otherwise, you risk shaking their newly established trust in you.

For those of you who’ve been living with the same cat for a while now, and haven’t seen any sign of interest in your lap then it’s quite possible you never will. Of course, you can always try and show your kitty that your lap is a great place for them to relax, but there are no guarantees that they’ll ever like it.

What you need to remember is that there are so many other ways you can interact with your kitty, and as a cat parent all you have to do is gently explore their interests, and if they’re not a lap cat now, maybe after all your effort they’ll finally decide to explore that warm spot.

How Can You Turn A Cat Into A Lap Cat?

While forcing a cat to behave in a certain way is never the answer, there are techniques that can help your kitty feel safe enough to sit on your lap, or see the positive aspects of such interaction.

Positive Reinforcement

The reason why positive reinforcement is such a great training method lies in a gene mutation which is related to a cat’s ability to form memories and learn from stimulus-reward learning. To an extent teaching your kitty new tricks while they’re young and adjusting their behavior along the way is easier, but that doesn’t mean older cats can’t be trained, it might simply take a bit more time.

The first thing you need to do when you’re training your kitty is to let them come to you. Use some treats, pull a soft and inviting blanket over your lap, and avoid cluttering the area around you with staff that can distract your cat or scare them off. Make sure there are multiple exit points, especially if they’re shy and inexperienced. If you have more than one cat perhaps separating them will give the lap-hating cat a chance to explore this spot without any distractions or competition.

You could place their cat-bed next to you and slowly lure them into your lap with treats, but make sure that you’re gentle and don’t over-pet them because that, in turn, could irritate them. Then again if your cat gets into a playful mode whenever they’re sitting on your lap, use a toy to distract them.

Notice what kind of textures your fluffy companion prefers, do they stay longer on your lap when you wear a soft bathrobe or do they prefer a woolen blanket?

Cats almost always prefer a warm spot, so you could try placing a self-warming cat bed on your lap to make it extra enticing. This one from FurHaven is my favorite and you check it out on Amazon by clicking here. By placing it over your lap you will keep your kitty extra cozy and warm, and who can say no to that?

Remember this experience has to be positive if you want your kitty to keep coming back. If you keep your cat on your lap while you clip their nails or give them medicine then it will be very hard to change their mind that this once frightening or stress-inducing spot will give them serenity and pleasure.

Finally, pulling your kitty onto your lap or keeping them against their will is not part of the positive reinforcement method and it will only lead to distrust. So, try to be patient, accept the things you cannot change, and try appreciating your fluffball’s personality as it is!

Will My Kitten Stay A Lap Cat?

As you’ve probably realized by now forcing a cat to do things our way doesn’t work, but you can set the proper foundations that will help your kitty see how much fun it is to be a lap cat. Raising a kitten makes training an easier task, and following the positive reinforcement method should get you the results you’re looking for. You can use small and tasty treats or even a bouncy toy to show them that your lap is a spot they can approach, and get exciting experiences from.

This kitten definitely knows that there’s nothing better than a lap game!

That being said, some cats outgrow the lap-cat faze or they’re simply not interested in spending their nap times sitting on their owner’s lap, but I’m sure they have other ways they’d like to interact with their loving human instead!

Why Does My Cat Sit Next to Me But Not On Me?

If your cat doesn’t enjoy sitting on you, they might prefer your company at a small distance instead. This could happen to a new cat parent whose feline companion is still testing the waters, before moving any closer, or it could be the reality of many seasoned human-cat relationships.

Either way, it’s important that you don’t read too much into it, because it’s quite possible that they’ll approach that cozy and warm spot in time, or your cat is simply not that cuddly.

For instance, both of my cats are cuddly, the one I adopted as an adult spends hours on end sitting on my lap, while the one I adopted as a kitten prefers to sit next to me. I do think to an extent this aversion to lap sitting is the result of his size, since he can barely fit on my lap, and when he does try to sit on me he quickly jumps off the moment he feels uncomfortable.

So, taking your cat’s size into account is also important, because for them to nap and spend hours on end on you means that the surface has to be comfortable. You might also be more active and your cat has realized that they can’t make themselves comfortable on your lap for too long. I think a cat sitting next to their owner is equal to lap sitting and it also shows us their affection and trust, especially when they reach out their little paw to stroke you!

Why Does My Cat Sit On Me And Then Bites Me?

For some, lap cats are the best companions, but for others, it might a dangerous activity altogether. One moment your kitty is sitting on you and purring and the next thing you know you sit there with bitemarks across your hand. In such a moment it’s natural to blame this behavior on demonic possession, but things are not as tragic as they might seem.

Petting-Induced Aggression or Overstimulation

Petting-induced aggression, “occurs when a cat suddenly feels irritated by being petted, nips or lightly bites the person petting him, and then jumps up and runs off.” Usually, this behavior is caused by the repetitiveness of the petting, which becomes irritating, especially when it happens on a sensitive area like the base of their tail, or their belly. It could also be a sign of a painful medical condition that triggers the cat’s flight or fight response.

Play Aggression

Then again some cats will bite their owners in a playful manner. “Play aggression is the most common type of aggressive behavior that cats direct toward their owners.” Some cats that were not socialized properly and were separated away from their mother too early could display such behavior. Cats that are not mentally stimulated through play will also turn to other means of releasing their hunting energy by batting, biting, and scratching other humans or cats.

Feline Body Languagege

Whether it’s aggressive behavior or it’s your cat’s way of having control over when the petting starts, and when it stops, being observant of your cat’s mood swings should stop the biting.  According to veterinarians “Some owners will report that their cat suddenly turns and bites them. However, if the owner is very observant, certain clues will often become apparent.”

These clues will most likely include pulled-back ears, the pupils may dilate as well as the overall body will become stiff. Some cats may growl or hiss, their claws might appear unsheathed, and their tail will start twitching. If you notice any of these signs, make sure to stop the petting, and gently retrieve your hand. You could try and redirect the aggressive behavior away from you by giving them their favorite toy or by stopping the interaction with them altogether.

This way you’re showing them that you’re not happy with this behavior, but just as you want them to respect your wishes so will you have to adjust your petting. Be observant when you stroke your cat, don’t overdo it and find the kind of petting they enjoy the most. This way you both will be able to enjoy a drama-free lap time!

Why Does My Cat Sits On Everyone Else But Me?

If you’re the only one in your home feeling left out, and you want to join in on all the lap-fun, you’ll have to work for it! But seriously if it’s just you who doesn’t get your cat’s attention in the form of lap-sitting then you might want to work on your approachability. For a cat to choose you as their nap time cushion, you need to be gentle and most importantly you need to stay still. If you’re standing up every five minutes then they’ll go for someone who is less active.

Winning over a cat’s heart isn’t easy, but being calm whenever they approach you, being the one who gives the best pets, understanding their mood by reading their body language, and providing them with food should put you in the upper ranks as their favorite human!

What really works for me and my cat-human relationship, is spending lots of time playing with my cats. I also never force them to sit on me and I rarely pick them up, especially if I see that they’re occupied with something far more interesting than my lap.

I simply let them do whatever they want and if what they want is my lap, then I’ll gladly keep that spot free and warm for them!

Closing Thoughts

Once again we see that cats are complicated creatures, their past experiences with humans, their upbringing, their relationship with their owner, and of course, their own unique personalities determine whether they like sitting on our laps or not. And while it’s wonderful to have a lap cat that’s cuddly, it’s also important to understand that it’s their choice, and it doesn’t mean they love you any bit less, you just have to look at all the other ways they show their appreciation!

Now tells us does your cat sit on you? Did you have to lure them into your lap, or were they natural?

Marina Titova

Marina was cat-struck 8 years ago. It was early autumn when Dante, her grey cat, found her and adopted her. They’ve been inseparable ever since. Dante has been a great cat-teacher and BetterWithCats.net seemed like the perfect place to share his cat-knowledge.

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