Most of us follow at least one or two cat accounts on Facebook or Instagram, which means most of us are accustomed to seeing photos of cats sitting in the “loaf” position. Some people also call this the “Sphinx” position, because it’s reminiscent of the Egyptian Sphinx sitting regally on its pedestal. But we prefer the term loaf because, well, it’s cuter.
As the name implies, the loaf position (or “loafing”) is when a cat sits with its paws tucked beneath its body in a manner resembling a bread loaf. Most of us associate it with adorable photo ops, but how many of us have considered why cats do it in the first place?
What you may not realize is that this position — and indeed all of your cat’s body language — can tell you quite a lot about how it’s feeling. In fact, because cats can’t communicate in words, body language is one of the most reliable ways to gauge whether your cat is healthy and happy.
The meaning of cat body language isn’t always readily apparent. With this in mind, the following article will illuminate once and for all why cats loaf. It will also give you more insight into other examples of cat body language and what it means, so you’ll be equipped to interpret all your cat’s nonverbal cues and gauge its emotional state.
Loafing: A Study
According to veterinarians, there can be multiple reasons why cats loaf. Believe it or not, it isn’t just because cats want to make themselves look more adorable — although they certainly manage it either way.
One common reason for loafing is thermoregulation. A cat that’s in good health will typically have a normal body temperature resting between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. In the midst of this range is the “thermo-neutral zone”: the range where they don’t need to expend any energy on heating or cooling their bodies.
Some cat behaviorists believe that tucking their feet in may help them conserve body heat, allowing them to remain in that thermoneutral zone. It’s the same reason why we don’t want to budge from in front of the space heater on a cold winter day, or to give up our spot by the AC in the middle of July. It’s just more comfortable!
However, if in addition to tucking in its paws your cat is also encircling itself with its tail, or covering its nose, these are possible signs that your cat is cold. Keep in mind that a temperature that’s warm enough to you may still be chilly to your pet, since a cat’s resting body temperature is higher than a human’s.
By no means is loafing the only way cats regulate their own internal temperatures. Any cat owner who has seen their pet lay down in a shaft of sunlight and refuse to move for hours can attest to how strategic they are about finding ways to achieve perfect comfort.
Another reason why cats like to sit in the loaf position (and one that should make any cat owner happy to hear) is because the cat is feeling happy and content.
We all know how skittish cats can be, even around their owners. So if you have a cat nearby and it’s sitting in the loaf position, you can take heart in knowing that that cat trusts you and feels comfortable around you. Its body language is a sign that it doesn’t need to have its defenses up.
When a cat has its paws tucked in, that’s a cue that it sees no immediate need to defend itself. It can afford to let its guard down and relax. If your cat-loaf is purring happily in addition to giving visual cues of relaxation, you can be sure you have a calm, happy pet.
This is also why we commonly find cats loafing in some of their coziest resting spots, like on your pillow or in the warm, clean laundry. They’re making themselves right at home in locations where they feel the most at ease.
However, even though it’s cute and endearing, loafing can sometimes be a warning sign that something is up with your cat. The difference isn’t always obvious, so it’s important to know what other signs to look for that may spell danger.
Cats are highly adept at concealing signs of illness and injury. It’s rare for them to vocalize or otherwise express pain and discomfort unless something very serious is going on. For that reason, it’s important to be attentive to earlier, subtler signs that something is amiss with your cat’s health.
Loafing can be one of those signs. Although it’s usually a benign behavior, if you notice it happening a lot, or if your cat seems to be behaving uncharacteristically, loafing may also be a possible sign of injury.
Cats sometimes tuck their paws beneath them when they’re in pain, so if you notice your cat loafing more than usual, licking their paws excessively, or favoring one of their legs, you should make a vet appointment to get it checked out. These can all be signs that your cat is experiencing pain in one of its paws, and if so a vet is the most qualified person to offer the help it needs.
Sometimes an injured paw can be very obvious to a cat owner, especially if there’s a visible wound or if your cat is limping. But certain causes, like an ingrown or torn claw, are less apparent and can cause a surprising amount of pain. All the more reason to have a professional check it out.
You should also be attentive to more general signs that your cat is feeling unwell. Some of the most common are loss of appetite (not eating or drinking), lethargy (seeming sluggish or unusually tired), and changes in toileting (using the litter box more frequently, less frequently, or eliminating in inappropriate locations).
Other Cat Body Language
Now that we’ve given loafing a thorough review, let’s explore some other cat body language. After all, there’s no better way to understand your pet’s emotional state than by having a comprehensive overview of visual clues about its feelings.
Here are some other behaviors that cover the spectrum of cat emotions from playfulness to insecurity to comfort-seeking to killer instinct. Do you recognize any of these in your own cat?
Some people call this “making biscuits.” Ever have your cat lie on your stomach and knead your body with its paws like you’re bread dough? This is believed to be a leftover instinct from when your cat was a kitten and would use its paws to stimulate its mother’s body to produce milk.
Cats do this when they trust their owners. If you want to signal trust back to your cat, look deeply into its eyes and blink slowly. And of course remember to never do anything to betray your cat’s trust!
Rolling onto its back
A cat in this position may be conveying submissiveness or playfulness. Be careful if you decide to accept its offer, though, because depending on your cat’s temperament, an invitation to touch your cat’s belly may be a trap! Be sure to protect your hands.
The butt wiggle
If your cat has its rear pointed skyward and wiggles it back and forth, it’s getting ready to attack. Not in an aggressive way, but a fun-loving way. It’s telling you it’s playtime!
Clicking and chirping
Most of us have heard our cats do this when there are birds outside. These sounds are a hunting reflex, and if you hear your cat making them you can assume it seems something it wants close by.
Sitting on your laptop, near the TV, or next to other electronics
Cats do this for the same reason the sit in the loaf position. They’re intelligent animals, and they gravitate to electronic devices because they’re warm! This also explains your cat’s obsession with your freshly cleaned, warm laundry.
Sitting in boxes
This is another leftover instinct from before cats were domesticated. In the wild, cats instinctively seek out cozy, unobtrusive places where they can conceal themselves from predators. Domestic cats have less need to hide themselves like this, but they do it anyway because it makes them feel safe and secure.
You know how sometimes you’ll be rubbing your cat’s belly and it grabs onto your hand with its paws, only to sink its teeth in just enough to startle you? That isn’t real aggression but a playful behavior. It says your cat trusts you enough to touch one of the most vulnerable parts of its body, and that it wants to have fun!
These are just a few more examples of cat body language that can yield a great deal of information about how your cat feels. Can you think of others? Leave us a comment and tell us what your cat’s behavior says about it!