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Why Do Cats Fake Sleep? 8 Common Reasons Explained

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By Nicole Cosgrove

The cat is sleeping or dead cat

Cats do lots of adorable things like head bumping, bouncing off walls, and drinking from the faucet. And then there’s fake sleep. It’s when the cat is wide awake yet wants you to believe that it’s asleep. So, where does this weird habit come from? And do you need to be worried about it? We have good news: this is normal behavior for felines.

Sometimes, they do it to save energy, handle stress, or steal some food while you’re looking away. Today, we’ll talk about the most common reasons behind a cat faking its sleep. After that, we’ll learn how to tell whether the kitty is, indeed, dozing off or just pretending. Let’s get to it!

Is It Fear or Wits? Why Do Cats Fake Asleep?

It might sound a bit odd, but our feline companions do, indeed, feign sleep sometimes. This is different from when a cat is just taking a nap or resting. Fake sleep is a “slick move” in a cat’s toolbox, and it’s often used to trick others that they’re slumbering when, in fact, they’re fully awake. Why do that in the first place, though?

The 8 Common Reasons Why Cats Fake Sleep

To answer your question, we list the most logical explanations for this somewhat strange behavior. Most likely, your cat is faking sleep for multiple reasons, and it might not always be easy to figure out which one it is. But the more you know, the less effort it will take to put a genuinely sleeping cat apart from one that’s being a bit naughty:

1. It’s a Defense Mechanism

Cats have been faking sleep for thousands of years to evade predators. It’s a rather effective technique that allows them to stay alert while fooling their adversaries. In the wilderness, cats are hunters, but they’re also prey, and their survival instincts haven’t changed much since they were domesticated. That’s exactly why pet felines still use fake sleep in their daily lives.

They assume a sleeping position (usually the one that makes them look like a bread loaf) yet stay on their feet. Some predators only chase after cats and don’t attack dormant kitties. In any case, the cat will be able to fight the attacker(s) off or bounce quickly. In a household, furry pets might pretend to be sleeping so that a child, adult, or other pet leaves them alone.

ginger Exotic shorthair cat sleeping near a door
Image Credit: Wutlufaipy, Shutterstock

2. Faking Sleep Helps Relieve Stress

You might think a domestic cat has nothing to stress over, but that’s not true. Again, if it doesn’t want to be bothered, fake sleep helps it relax and rest. This applies to situations when human parents invite distant relatives, friends, or strangers that want to pet/play with the fur baby. While cats are affectionate creatures, they don’t always like to be held by people they barely know.


3. The Pet Is in Energy-Saving Mode

If you have an active cat that likes to run, jump up and down shelves, hunt, and play with other felines, it will run out of energy pretty fast. The same is true if you exercise with it daily and “speak to” the cat’s natural instincts. So, the pet might decide to “catch its breath”. It won’t be a nap, though, but rather a short moment where the cat can rest without being bothered.

That’s where fake sleep comes in. It provides the kitty the perfect opportunity to gather its strength. This is important: don’t try to get the cat back into the action the second you find it’s fake sleeping. Instead, let it rest a bit and join you only if it truly wants to. This is especially true when the cat is overweight or showing signs of overexertion.

Cat sleeping on a cat bed
Image Credit: Matthew Manuel, Unsplash

4. Cats Do That to Watch Their Owners

What better way to keep tabs on someone than when they think you’re asleep? That’s exactly what domestic cats think. If you take a close look at the feline, you’ll see that its eyes aren’t fully closed. Fake sleep allows the smart pet to get some much-needed rest while remaining aware of its surroundings. A staring cat will, most likely, grab (unwanted) attention.

However, if you believe that it’s napping, you won’t bother it, which gives it an opportunity to watch you closely. This behavior is commonly displayed when a new human enters the house. Cats feign sleep to figure out what this person is all about without making it awkward or provoking a reaction.


5. This Might Be Caused by the Cat Burglar Instinct

No matter how good of a job you do feeding the cat premium-quality food, it will remain a predator slash hunter at heart. Thus, if you see it cozying up suspiciously close to the dinner table/kitchen counter when you’re cooking something or are about to eat, chances are, it’s preparing to fake sleep to steal some of that delicious food. And the second you turn away, the fur baby will go ahead and grab a bite.

Domestic cats know very well that they’re not really supposed to eat your food unless you offer it to them. But, sometimes, it just smells too good not to taste it. So, don’t let your guard down, and always keep your eyes on the fur bud. Even if it seems like the pet is sleeping peacefully, it’s probably plotting to rob your dinner!

A ginger cat sleeps in box paper, selective focus
Image Credit: CPM PHOTO, Shutterstock

6. The Feline Needs Some Alone Time

Just like humans, cats don’t like to be at the center of attention 24/7. Now and then, they need some “me time” to relax. So, if it seems like the four-legged ball of joy is ignoring and shying away from you, don’t take it personally. Still not convinced the cat is just trying to get some privacy? Then ask a family member to play with it. If they get the same treatment, that means you’re in the clear.

This behavior is quite common in free-willed, headstrong cat species with stubborn personalities. Or, if you just adopted the kitty a couple of months ago, it might need some extra time to warm up to you. In any case, don’t try to “discipline” the pet by disregarding it if it gets all cuddly after keeping to itself. Instead, welcome the cat with open arms.


7. Your Fur Baby Is Just Dozing Off

Have you ever heard of the term “catnap”? It’s used to describe short, 15–30-minute breaks that cats, fellow pets, and humans take to rest. Now, these naps rarely turn into deep sleep cycles, but they’re still very important, and a cat can do it 2–3 times during a day. When it’s nodding, the body gets to relax while the mind remains vigilant and ready to rumble.

This way, when a threat emerges, the cat will be able to react to it promptly. What does this have to do with fake sleep, then? Well, technically, all the “key features” are there, but cats don’t try to trick anyone during a nap. True, their eyes might be half-closed, and their ears will move occasionally, but this won’t be a case of fake sleep.

Silver British Shorthair cat sleeping
Image Credit: Lizavetta, Shutterstock

8. It’s Feeling Left Out

Cats are independent, self-sufficient creatures, but they still need their daily dose of love and cuddles from their pet parents. If you’ve been busy of late or just forgot to play with it once or twice these last couple of days, the furry beast will remember that. You probably won’t even give that much thought, but to the cat, it will be a sign of you losing interest in it.

Or maybe you’re showing affection to a different animal? In this scenario, fake sleep will be an attempt to grab your attention. So, if the kitty is spending a lot more time with its eyes closed than before, chances are, it’s actually wide awake and waiting for your relationship to go back to “normal”.

Do I Need to Be Worried About My Cat Faking Sleep?

Unless the cat is doing this every waking moment (pun intended), there’s no reason to be concerned. You should only be worried if this behavior is dictated by anxiety or fear. For example, many cats that find their way into animal shelters often fake sleep to calm themselves, get a read on the environment, and stay out of trouble with other cats or bigger, scarier animals.

So, if you recently introduced a new pet into the house, chances are, it’s making your furball act this way. For example, it could be a more aggressive cat or (more likely) a dog. But if your kitty only does this occasionally and you can’t see any signs of stress or injuries, that means the faking is caused by one of the reasons mentioned above.

Is It Fake or Real? Tips for Exposing Your Cat!

Savannah bengal cat sleeping
Image Credit: Ben Harding, Shutterstock

A strong bond between a human and a cat is a sight to behold; when your relationship is built on love and trust, you can move mountains! However, cats don’t always play fair and feign sleep to cheat their pet parents and gain the upper hand. That’s why you need to learn how to beat the kitty at its own game! Here’s how you can do that:

  • Check the position first. Cats don’t like to lie on their backs, as that leaves their tummies exposed. They only fall asleep in the belly-up position in a relaxed, safe environment. Therefore, if you find the pet snoozing in this position, that means two things. First, it feels safe in your house (which is great news), and second, it’s not faking anything.
  • Are the paws tucked? Most furballs tuck their paws underneath their belly and chest when sleeping on their stomachs. This position is often called the “loaf of bread”. However, if the paws aren’t fully tucked and the head is upright, it could be that the cat is faking it because it’s not fully relaxed.
  • Breathing comes next. A sleeping feline breathes slower than a resting one. So, if the cat’s breathing is shallow or irregular, chances are, the furry prankster isn’t asleep but only pretending to be. A quick note: cats take 15–30 breaths per minute, which is more than the average human does.
  • Try disturbing it a bit. If the kitty is in a deep sleep, it won’t pay much attention to subtle noises. The pet won’t move a muscle unless the noise is very loud. In contrast, a cat taking a quick nap or faking sleep will instantly react by moving its ears. Don’t ever poke your cat to see if it’s sleeping, though!

How Much Sleep Do Domestic Cats Need?

Cats are intelligent, energetic, and capable creatures—there’s no denying that. They use their heightened senses and agile bodies to escape predators, catch prey, and explore the world. That’s why cats sleep so much: to recharge their batteries. Without at least 12 hours of bedtime, our fluffy pets won’t be able to function properly. Ideally, they should get 12–16 hours of sleep per day.

Some cats spend as much as 16–20 hours sleeping, while newborns wander off into dreamland for up to 20 hours! Senior felines need more sleep compared to younger cats, too. And one more thing: cats are crepuscular animals, meaning they’re most active when it’s dark outside. That’s why they only hunt late in the evening or early in the morning.

Conclusion

If you’ve been a cat parent for a while, you probably know all its habits by heart. What kind of food it prefers, how much exercise it needs, and which spots it likes to use to get some sleep. However, don’t immediately rush to turn the TV volume down the second the cat snoozes off: you might be getting tricked!

Felines like to fake sleep, and they do that quite often. This might be a defensive move or an attempt to grab your attention. Or maybe it’s trying to snatch a snack off your plate! The good news is—it’s very well possible to call your cat’s bluff once you know what signs to look for.


Featured Image Credit: PHONSIN AUPPACHAI, Shutterstock

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