Why Do Cats Sit On Laps?


It’s funny that one of the most popular questions asked when people look for a new cat for their home is whether the breed is likely to be a ‘lap cat’ or not. You see, many cats aren’t. It doesn’t just depend on the breed (although this is a big factor) but also the individual cat.

Our two Maine Coons were brothers and brought up in exactly the same way – however, one would jump onto our laps whenever the opportunity presented itself, and the other would never do it. Why do cats want to sit on our laps though? This is the focus of this article today – and it’s quite an interesting one (even if I do say so myself).

Cats like to sit on our laps as it gives them something they need at that time. Usually, it is because they want some of our warmth and once they’ve stolen this – they will be off to do something more interesting.

Why do cats like our laps?

Cats like our laps because of the perceived security and comfort it provides. Now, when I say ‘comfort’ I’m not talking about satin-sheets comfort. Your lap could be layered with lego and other things, what’s comfortable to us – isn’t necessarily the case for cats!

Why Do Cats Sit On Laps?

Your cat, particularly when it comes inside from the cold outdoors may want to warm its little paws up. Your lap can help with that. However, your cat will never jump up onto your lap for your benefit – remember that. They are always only doing it to get something out of it. Once their paws are nicely warmed and they’ve had a little rest, they will most likely get bored and decide it’s time to do something else.

What does a cat need from us?

Arguably, you could say that cats don’t actually need us at all! Well – that’s the case for some cats more than others though, for instance, the semi-wild Savannah cat is less likely to jump up onto your lap than the Ragdoll.

However, what any cat needs from us is primarily safety and food. They need to know that the home in which they will spend most (if not, all) of their lives is somewhere that they know they will not be attacked by potential predators and have access to food. If that location is warm and comfortable then even better and if they have enough to do so they won’t get bored – awesome.

For a cat to feel comfortable enough to use your lap as a bed, they need to feel comfortable enough not only with the environment they are in but with you too. More on this later.

A sign of affection

There are many ways that we can show affection towards our cats and this is pretty easy for us, right? However, the signs of affection from our cat towards us are somewhat more subtle and a lot of the time you have to know what to look for.

For instance, you may walk into a room where they are already in – when they see you they may immediately roll onto their back. This is not a sign for you to tickle their little furry tummies! This will almost certainly result in the destruction of your hand. What it actually means is that they feel very comfortable in your presence. It is almost as if they are submitting to you.

Why Do Cats Sit On Laps?

Another way that they show affection is, rather surprisingly, how they look at you! If you look at your cat then you may notice that they will, after a few seconds, perform a slow-blink at you, before looking away. Again, similar to how they sometimes act when you enter a room that they are in and roll over, this is another way that they show their affection towards you. You should do this back to them!

I’m serious, this is a great way to bond with your cat. You may have noticed that this is the opposite of how they act towards a hostile cat. They will stare at them, barely blinking, not taking their eyes off them. You will never see them perform this slow-blink towards them.

There are many other little ways that they can show their affection towards you. But what does it mean when they jump onto your lap? Does this mean they love you? Does this mean they care about you as much as you care about them? Well, I’m afraid not – not usually, anyway I’m sorry to say. I’m not saying that won’t sit on your lap if you mean a lot to them but it’s not a pre-requisite for them doing it! There are a few things that have to be in place for them to do it though, for instance:

  • the lap needs to be warm
  • the lap can’t smell bad
  • the lap can’t move around too much whilst they are on it

But don’t think that they don’t love you just because they choose not to use your lap as a bed – that’s not how it works. Remember, you care more about this stuff than them.

Part of the family

Without doubt, and you might not like to hear this and as I said above, we primarily have cats for our benefit, not theirs. Do you think that when we pick them up and give them a tour of the house that they are enjoying it as much as us? Generally speaking, we love them and they accept us as it suits them – but we wouldn’t have it any other way, would we? This is one of the many reasons we love cats.

However, that’s not to say that they don’t eventually see us as a person of trust and even possibly part of their family (note that we are part of their family, not the other way around). Although sometimes there are exceptions, it may take your cat several weeks, months or even years to feel the time is right to reward you with their presence on your lap. You see, everything a cat does is deliberate so when they choose your lap as a temporary resting place, you should be extremely grateful.

If may not happen for long and it may not happen again. If you move, you may well get claws in your legs – see this as a test, you must not move under any circumstances and you will have to hold-off on that toilet break until they allow you.

So, what point am I trying to make here – well primarily, your cat may well see you as part of their family. But, that doesn’t mean they will jump up onto your lap. Also if they use your lap it does not mean you are part of their family. So, in summary – they will do what they like when they like and it means what the cat wants it to mean at that time – and nothing else.

Can I turn my cat into a lap cat?

Well, you can do a few things that will give yourself a better chance of turning your cat into a ‘lap-cat’ but there are absolutely no guarantees. For a starter, it depends on what breed of cat you have. So, for the sake of this article, let’s assume that the cat you have is indeed one that is regarded as a lap cat.

For a cat to choose you as a potential lap-human, you must be of a certain disposition. If you’re jumping up and down every few minutes, waving your arms around and shouting – basically, all the things cats do not like, they most certainly aren’t going to even think about jumping up onto your lap.

Why Do Cats Sit On Laps?

To give yourself the best chance of your cat choosing your lap, you must be calm. Whenever you’re around her, don’t make any sudden movements or sounds. So, if you’re a child reading this – forget it, you guys aren’t very good at this! Stay calm and talk slowly and smoothly to them. Try and be the one who provides their food. Then, when you’ve been doing this for around five years, watch – as a stranger sits in your living room and she jumps up onto their lap! Which nicely takes me to the next section.

My cat sits on everyone else’s lap apart from mine!

Try not to take it too personally. Our white Maine Coon used to prefer my lap over my wife’s – no real reason for this as we both have very similar personalities. But, for whatever reason, he chose mine. Similarly, his brother, who was not really a lap-cat, occasionally chose Jane’s lap over mine. Which I have to say, annoyed me no end!

To give yourself the best chance of being the cat’s favorite choice for lap-based rest, do the things I mentioned in the above. Be the one providing the food, stay calm, play with them and give them ‘good’ attention – not ‘shouty’ attention.

What you absolutely can’t do is try and force the situation. If you pick your cat up (which, generally speaking, they don’t like anyway) and plonk them onto your lap, it will only be temporary. You can’t go to the cat – the cat needs to come to you.

Conclusion – why do cats sit on laps?

What it comes down to is the personality of each individual cat and it’s definitely helped by what breed they are as some are definitely more likely to be lap cats than others. However, your personality matters a great deal during their selection process.

At the end of the day though, your cat will jump up onto your lap if it wants to. The reason they might want to is complex but primarily comes down to perceived safety and actual warmth. Your lap is a tool that they may need to use for a period of time – when they get bored of it or find someone elses lap that they’d rather sit on, they will leave. Just enjoy it whilst they do it and try not to take it personally!

Matt

I'm Matt Pettitt, joint founder of the Pets Knowledge Base alongside my wife, Jane. Since I was just 2 years of age I've had pets in my life - which I don't mind admitting is 47 years! I strongly believe that when you introduce a pet into your family you should do everything you can to give it the best life possible. I've learned a lot during the past (almost) five decades and this blog gives me a medium to share everything I have learned ( both good and bad) about pets. If you'd like to know more about us, and how to contact us - take a look at our About page here!

Recent Content