From “hovercat” to “cat loaf,” pet owners have come up with a multitude of names for the phenomenon of cats tucking their paws beneath their bodies. While it’s difficult to understand many feline behaviors, scientists have a clear explanation for your pet’s penchant for loafing.
The normal body temperature for cats lies between 100 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, so a room that feels comfortable to you may still be chilly for your cat. Just like we like to tuck our hands and feet under the covers when we’re cold, so do our feline friends tuck their paws under their bodies for warmth. Fortunately, our pets are highly flexible creatures, making transforming into a heat-preserving loaf an easy task. This helps Kitty stay in his thermo neutral zone—the temperature range in which he’s not expending energy to cool off or to heat up—while relaxing in a comfy position.
Speaking of relaxing, you’re most likely to catch your cat in loaf position in his favorite spots. That’s because a cat with his paws tucked under his body isn’t prepared to defend himself or run anywhere fast. Whether it’s on your bed or in your lap, lying with his paws tucked is a sign your cat is highly relaxed, so you can take the behavior to mean Kitty feels comfortable in his home.
Similar to tucking his paws into a loaf, your pet may also wrap his tail around his front feet to help keeps his toes warm. If he is crouching low to the ground, covering his nose, or otherwise working to be compact, your pet is most likely chilly and trying to stay warm. But beware—if Kitty isn’t trying to stay warm, covering his paws can be a sign he’s comfortable as-is and doesn’t want any attention at the moment. If he appears to be more alert, your pet may be stressed and using his tail to create a physical barrier between his body and whatever environmental factor is creating his anxiety.
Given the prevalence of loafing into the cat kingdom, it’s worth noting that when a cat isn’t fully tucking his paws while in the position, he may be experiencing some pain. Inspect your pet’s feet regularly to make sure Kitty isn’t hiding any discomfort or injuries. If he remains perched on his paws in an otherwise full-loaf position, it could be a sign something’s wrong.