Sleepy Cats: When too Much Sleep Is a Problem

Cats may have many eccentricities, but insomnia is not something that is often seen in felines. People think of a cat nap as a short stint of sleep that lasts a few minutes, certainly less than an hour, but those who have cats know that their pets adore long hours of shut-eye. Cats are nocturnal creatures by nature, which may explain why they get so much slumber in the daytime—after all, their “job” as cats is permanent night shift. If you notice your cat is sleeping almost half the day or night, you may wonder if he or she is sleeping too much and if this signals a problem. Here is what you need to know about cats and sleep—can there be too much?

If you notice your cat is sleeping 15 hours a day, rest assured that your cat is probably fine. Felines can sleep 15 hours a day and some get up to 20 hours of shut-eye. Most cats make up for the time they are still by being alert and active during those hours they are awake. If you notice your cat is energetic during waking hours, the extended sleep time most likely is not a sign of a problem. If sleep isn’t an issue with most cats, the question is, why do they sleep so much?

The prime time for cats is at night, between dusk and dawn. This means that if you adopt a frisky kitten, he or she may get into things when you are asleep. This is when felines are on the prowl. Your kitten may get into your sock drawer and do some creative re-arranging or search your wastebaskets for chicken leftovers. You may want to cat proof your home before you go to sleep. Put away chargers or anything with long wires. Felines sometimes like to chew on them when their owners are away or fast asleep. Also, put away anything fragile that your kitten could knock over. Some cat owners put their wastebaskets in a closet because curious cats like to explore there. If you are in the process of training your cat not to scratch on your sofa, she might use the wee hours of the morning as an opportunity to transgress.  Shut the door on rooms you do not want your cat to have access to when you are not around or awake to patrol his activities.

A cat’s daytime slumber may make them ideal pets for people who work full-time outside of the home. As soon as you and your cat finish your breakfast (or for her, dinner), your cat will most likely wind down for hours of deep sleep. When you come home from work, your cat may be waking up and starting its “day.” After a meal, he or she may be up for some play time and some petting. This sounds like an ideal schedule for you and your cat, but don’t be discouraged if your cat doesn’t conform to this pattern. It is generally true that felines are nocturnal creatures, not all cats may keep exactly these types of hours. Humans are generally awake during the day and asleep at night, but this is a generalization. Just as you may know plenty of people who keep late hours, some cats may be alert in the daytime. If you have recently adopted a cat, he or she may be curious about the new surroundings and may have irregular sleep patterns. Once your cat becomes acclimated to his or her territory, they may settle into a more established sleep schedule.

One reason why cats sleep during the day and stay up all night is that they are predators by nature. Large cats in the while go hunting at night when their prey are unawares and are fast asleep. Your cat may not seem like a lion or a jaguar, but they still are true to their roots. Even though there may be nothing to hunt in your home aside from a few random objects underneath clothes or blankets, your feline is still hard-wired for hunting and may jump at sights and sounds which indicate there could be a potential chase. If you have a cat that likes to be outdoors part of the time, you may have to face the prospect that your pet will want to be let out late at night and return early in the morning. Keeping a cat indoors all the time can be safer for cats, but it can be hard to argue with a cat that is true to its nature. If you have adopted a semi-outdoor cat, don’t be surprised if you may have to get out of bed to let him out and be ready at dawn when he returns for a meal.

You may notice that cats make up for the time they spend asleep by having abundant energy during the day. Younger cats have boundless energy, and need plenty of toys and stimulation to satisfy their urge to jump, attack and hide. Cats store up their energy when they are sleeping and use it when awake. If you are concerned about your cat attacking things around the house during the day when you are at work, think about adopting an older cat who may be more laid back than a frisky kitten. Also, keep in mind that cats who were born and raised in homes may have a more muted form of this predatory instinct than former feral cats. If you have a couple of kittens or a feral cat that has been tamed, be prepared for plenty of activity during the day.

Like human beings, cats have different phases of sleep. Just as we have lighter sleep and deeper REM or rapid-eye-movement sleep, cats can take short naps and deeper slumber. You may not be sure whether your cat is awake or asleep because they may open one eye slightly and close it again when the otherwise seem to be asleep. While human beings may not actually open their eyes while asleep, cats can be half asleep and half awake. This can also be attributed to a cat’s predatory nature because large cats need their rest but need to be on the alert to attack when necessary. This is the “cat nap” people refer to when they talk about having a light nap. In addition to sleeping lightly so they can be ready to jump up and attack an unsuspecting creature, cats may be half asleep as a way of fooling their potential prey into a false sense of security. This isn’t calculated, but it is pure instinct.

Cats transition from light sleep to deeper sleep, just like humans do. You can tell if your cat is just taking a light nap if it is in a position that will allow it to spring to its feet at a moment’s notice. If your cat is reclining and purring (or snoring), it is in a deeper phase of sleep and it may be difficult to wake him. Human beings have REM or rapid eye movement that signals deep sleep and is the phase of slumber when we have dreams. Cats may not move their eyes but have rapid brain movement during their deepest periods of sleep. You may notice your cat’s ears or paws twitching or that it may make noises as if it is dreaming of running or jumping or pursuing something. Cats may have longer periods of deep sleep during inclement weather. This is true of people too, although we don’t usually have the luxury to decide to take a rainy afternoon off and dive under the covers.

It is clear that felines, both wild or domesticated, have a cozy relationship with sleep. You may wonder if there is, however, too much sleep. If your kitten or older cat is sleeping more than 15 hours, it may seem excessive. Just as babies sleep more than adults and take naps, kittens may have longer periods of slumber or more naps than adult cats. In addition, older cats tend to sleep more. Cats that don’t feel well may sleep longer, and given the kind of health problems that can arise as felines age, the amount of sleep may come with the territory of cats aging or may be a sign that it’s time to see a veterinarian. If you have had your cat for a while and notice a difference in its sleep patterns, it is a good idea to seek medical attention.

Sleep is a sign of a problem if it is accompanied by other symptoms, such as loss of appetite, excessive urination, diarrhea, weight loss or gain, coughing and growing lumps on the body. These symptoms may go together with lethargy. Cats may sleep too much because of internal disorders, injury, anemia or cancer.

Parasites are unfortunately common in cats. Some felines have few symptoms if there are parasites living in their bodies, but more severe types of infestation can cause listlessness, increased or decreased appetite, rapid weight loss and a change in mood. Heartworm is one parasite that causes a number of troubling symptoms. Heartworm does not affect the heart but affects the lungs. The primary agent for heartworm are mosquitoes, so it is important to be on the lookout for this kind of infestation in the summertime or in humid areas with many mosquitos. Cats are not the natural host for heartworms, which are more often seen in dogs. However, felines can be a target for this parasite.

Heartworm infestation happens when a mosquito carrying the parasite bites the cat. The larvae pass into the bloodstream. It takes four to six months for the larvae to settle in the heart and the lungs. Since cats are not the ideal host for these worms, they usually die, whereas they tend to take hold in a dog. When a cat does have these parasites, they suffer from coughs and respiratory problems, loss of appetite and lethargy. Take your cat to the veterinarian if you see these symptoms. There are not many treatments that are recommended for felines. Many cats can fight the infection themselves, but ask your veterinarian for available medications if the problem does not go away because it could result in permanent damage to the heart and respiratory system.

Some of the worms that affect cats are not given specific names, but are referred to simply as “worms.” These intestinal parasites may be accompanied by a variety of symptoms and may have no symptoms at all. Not only can these worms cause health problems for cats, but they may affect humans as well. There are a whole host of worms cats can be vulnerable to, especially if they spend a large amount of time outdoors. When they are exposed to feces, they could develop worms. These intestinal parasites may include lungworms, tapeworms, hookworms, and roundworms. The most common type of worms in cats are roundworms, which can be four inches long and can be passed on from mothers to kittens. Hookworms are often about an inch long and attack the intestine where they feed on the cat’s blood. Since these worms live on blood, infected cats can develop anemia. If a cat eats an infected flea or rodent, they can develop tapeworms which can cause vomiting and weight loss. You may be able to see small worms in the cat’s feces. Lungworms live in the lungs and can cause respiratory problems.

Your cat may sleep more than usual if they are infected with worms, but usually, increased slumber is not the only symptom. You will notice diarrhea, weight loss, bloody stools, and coughing. For this reason, longer sleeping hours should not be a cause for alarm, but pay attention to other telltale signs. Keeping your cat indoors will make worm infestations less likely. Be sure to use gloves and wash your hands thoroughly after emptying the litterbox. Some types of intestinal parasites in cats can infect humans and can be dangerous for pregnant women. This results from ingesting the cat’s feces, so if pregnant women must empty cat litter, they should wear gloves, preferably a fabric mask over their mouths, and sanitize hands after handling litter, which should be disposed of immediately outside the home.

Other health problems in felines can create an increased need for sleep. Anemia causes lethargy in adults and can have the same effect on cats. Feline anemia is often a symptom of a worm infestation, especially hookworms that feed on the cat’s blood. Anemia in cats can also be caused by an infection, an immune disorder and some types of cancer. In addition to sleeping all the time, other signs your cat has anemia include general tiredness, a disinclination to move around. Take a look at your cat’s gums, and if they are paler than usual, that could be an indicator that anemia is the cause of your cat’s excessive sleeping and tiredness.

Anemia is not always an emergency and can be a chronic condition for cats as it is in humans, However, red blood cells carry oxygen to all areas of the body, and it is essential to general health. Since anemia in cats is often a symptom of an underlying problem, it is important to take your cat to the vet if you suspect your cat has anemia and determine the cause. Your cat will probably be given a blood test to determine the red blood cell count. Severe anemia can be life threatening and requires immediate attention.

If your cat is sleeping more than usual and seems to have declining general health, you might have to rule out severe problems, such as cat leukemia and cancer. In its early stages, cancer can be hard to detect, but once it is left to develop, it can be a challenge to treat. Lethargy might be an early symptom, so if you have a feeling that your cat is simply too listless or is not lively during its waking hours, take your pet to the veterinarian. Dogs tend to be more vulnerable to cancer than cats, who have half the cancer rates of their canine counterparts. One of the most common types of cat cancer is feline leukemia. Fortunately, there is now a vaccine to protect against feline leukemia, so now it is possible to prevent the disease.

Cats tend to hide the fact that they don’t feel well. Dogs will often come up to an owner in an implied plea for help, but cats tend to be more protective of themselves. One reason for this defensiveness and caution is that cats are potential prey as well as predators in nature, and like most vulnerable animals, they will try to conceal injuries. One way of hiding illness is by excessive sleeping, even if the cat is half asleep. This is another reason why not just frequent but constant sleep can be a mask for a more serious problem. Signs of cat cancer include the inexplicable development of lumps, vomiting, and diarrhea. Most cats regurgitate their food now and again, but if your cat is forcefully bringing up food on a regular basis, that is often a sign of illness. Once your cat is diagnosed with leukemia or another type of cancer, surgery may be an option for removing tumors as well as radiation to kill cancer cells. While there is no guarantee that the treatment will be successful, feline leukemia or cancer is not necessarily a death sentence, and if it is caught early, there can be hope for recovery.

Your cat may be sleeping even more than the expected 16 hours a day not because of a physical problem, but because he or she lacks stimulation. Many people believe that cats are mainly self-sufficient creatures that don’t require humans to give them diversions to make their lives more interesting. While cats are independent creatures by nature, they do need interaction and play. Your cat may be bored, stuck in a rut, and could be responding to its lack of interesting things to do by sleeping more than expected. There is no reason to assume your cat is depressed, but if you notice your pet is moping around while awake searching in vain for things to do.

You can find toys to make your cat’s life more interesting and to make his waking time filled with adventure. You may see plenty of toys available in stores but are wondering which one will give your cat the most amusement. If your cat is overweight or seems to be lacking exercise, find a thing that she can chase, like balls filled with bells. Use a wand with feathers at the end of a string to give your cat some imaginary “prey” to pursue. Consider a wind-up mechanical mouse that darts around the floor and provides a lifelike chase scenario. One way to spark the interest of the most indifferent cat can be moving toys that are stuffed with catnip. This herb gives cats a sense of euphoria is a great way to reinforce the behavior. Keep in mind, though, that your cat can get “high” from catnip and might lie down and sleep even longer under its influence.

Your cat may be sleeping all of the time because it is lonely, and it may be the time to consider getting a companion cat. One challenge with introducing a new cat is that felines are territorial in nature and tend to protect their turf from other cats. Get some hints from cat experts on the best way to get your cat used to a newcomer. The process can be a significant adjustment at first, but it is likely that your existing cat will appreciate the new friend.

In most cases, cats sleeping most of the time is not a cause for worry. Felines sleep for an extended period of time, particularly during the day, since they are nocturnal creatures. Felines store up energy with this extended slumber and are energetic during their waking hours. As long as your cat shows signs of vitality when it is awake, there is little reason to worry about long hours of sleep. Make sure your cat has enough stimulation in her environment to keep her interested during the hours she is awake, but otherwise, let sleeping cats lie.

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