Like quite a few different cat behaviours – the act of a cat sitting, sleeping, and/or laying on a person’s chest while they’re lying down or resting back isn’t one a lot of vets, pet care experts, or animal researchers have taken the time to discuss.
It’s possible not many have even ever bothered to think about why cats frequently like to sit on their humans’ chests, let alone been curious enough to try to uncover the reason why.
As I’ve said in many articles on these types of quirky cat behaviours prior, and I’ll continue to say in future posts – that’s perfectly fine by me, because we still have a lot of ground to cover when it comes to our understanding of cats.
We still have yet to work out the perfect cat food formula and overall the best nutritional diet for our feline friends, let alone solve many of the mysteries that plague our feline friends health-wise, such as how to prevent recurring UTIs in the many male cats who have them, or figure out more easily why some cats regularly vomit.
That doesn’t stop us from being curious about these odd behaviours, however, and that’s okay, because we can discuss amongst ourselves what these adorable quirks may mean until scientists have dealt with the bigger issues and found their way down to some of these lesser curiosities.
In my household, sitting-on-a-human’s-chest behaviour plays out quite a lot with my first cat, Avery.
I’ll be sleeping or lying on my back, and he’ll wander over and have a seat on my chest, or on rare occasions my tummy.
He’ll do this to my husband as well, when Thomas happens to be laying back on the couch to watch some TV. I don’t mind Avery laying down on me like this at all.
Actually, these days in the mornings, when he’s begging for food and it’s not yet time to get up, I’ll pick him up and place him on my chest where he’ll sit happily as I fall back asleep.
He’ll also doze off – well, until I rudely happen to move in my sleep 😉
My new, second cat Bjorn still doesn’t sit on my chest ever really. He’s not a fan of being picked up, though I’ve trained him to be okay with it.
He’ll sit and hug for a little while, but doesn’t like to unless I have him completely wrapped up in my arms.
Bjorn is absolutely a huge fan of jumping onto laps where he’ll sit, sleep, or lie sometimes completely sprawled out, so I think he may grow into the behaviour.
That being said, right now, if I pick him up and place him on my chest, he’ll very rarely stay.
Does your cat stay if you place him or her on your chest? Do you have some that will sleep there while others will not?
If you have a guess or two as to why your cat likes to sleep on your chest, keep that guess in mind because I’d like you to take a moment once you’ve browsed through this article to let me know in the comments section what your first guess was.
Would love to know if there are any other good reasons you saw in this list, and if there are any theories I left out that you’ve thought up. Really love discussing these types of things with other pet parents!
Again, these are all theories, guesses, hypotheses, whatever you want to call them. Some I’ve come up with, others I’ve found on forums, question & answer style sites, and just generally around the web.
They could all be wrong, one of them could be right, or a handful of them could be right while the others wrong. You never know! But anyway, onto the theories…
Theories That Could Explain Why Your Cat like to Lay, Sit, & Sleep on Your Chest
1. Your Cat May like to Sleep on Your Chest Because It’s So Warm
Everyone who knows even just one or two things about cats knows that they love to sit, sleep, and rest in warm places.
They love to snuggle up in fleece, lay in the heat of the sun nearly any time it’s available, and so this reason in and of itself could be a large part of the reason why your cat likes to snuggle up specifically on your chest and not just any ol’ body part.
Why? If you’re talking about the warmest spot on a human body, the chest gets one of the top spots.
Reference.com points out: “The warmest parts of the human body are the head, chest and armpits” – and to be honest, your cat would probably get extra heat from resting smack dab in the middle of all those body parts.
The fact that these are our warmest body parts makes sense if you consider the fact that our heads are quite important, and what’s contained within our chests – our heart – is of utmost importance to keeping us alive as well.
Our body’s core – including the innermost parts of our bodies, like the chest – is so important to keep warm that if its temperature gets too low, we can suffer from hypothermia, which if bad enough, can lead to death.
The fact that these body parts are so warm means you could probably get by on this theory alone if you’re trying to look for a quick explanation why many cats would want to snuggle up to this part of the human body.
That being said, I do think there are a lot more reasons that likely factor in quite highly, like…
2. Cats May like That You Lie Quite Still When They Rest on Your Chest
I’ve personally found that whenever I move around a lot, no matter how cuddly a cat is, he or she will sometimes put up with movement for a little while, but not for long.
Cats like to be seated in places that aren’t going to shift and move beneath them. Who can blame them? It’s not comfortable to sit through a bumpy car ride as a human either.
3. Your Cat May Be Fond of How Comfortable & Soft Your Chest Is
Humans have quite soft, comfy chests to rest on, and this is true whether the individual in question is male or female.
Whether human adults are holding, comforting, or rocking their children to sleep, they’re typically doing so while holding their infants tight to their chest.
I doubt we’d all do this if our chests weren’t particularly comfortable spots for our children to rest.
It makes sense that cats and kittens would also find human chests comfortable to rest on if even human babies – who let’s be honest are much more sensitive to discomfort than cats who are crazy enough to sleep in some of least comfortable looking places – find human chests comfortable for sleeping.
4. Your Cat May like Your Chest Because It’s a Large, (Reasonably) Flat Surface Area
There’s a case to be made for the amount of surface area and the flatness of a surface leading to increased comfort for sleeping and resting on.
What cat wouldn’t prefer to sprawl out and lay down with as much space as possible?
Some of the most uncomfortable places to rest on a human body in my mind are body parts like knees and elbows – small, bumpy, and not at all soft in comparison to even moderately comfortable places to rest like arms and legs.
Our tummies, our laps, and our chests are probably the three largest, flattest areas to rest on. So it makes sense that cats are happy to sit and sleep in all these three places quite often.
There’s one other body part I can think of that’s both flat and large and thus likely to be quite comfortable to rest on – our backs – but how often are we lying flat on our stomachs to give our cats a chance to test out the comfort of this spot?
5. They May like the Spot Because They Can Hear Your Heartbeat
I’ve seen this explanation circulating around the net quite a lot, and while I think it’s possible it’s one of the reasons cats like to rest on chests, I also think it’s one of the most unlikely.
I think our cats would be just as happy to sit and sleep on our chests even if they couldn’t hear our heartbeat; I feel they’re much more swayed by the warmth and other factors and maybe not much, if at all, by this one.
6. The Act of Sleeping on Your Chest May Remind Cats of Sleeping on Their Mothers
There are a number of different cat behaviours many point to kittenhood to explain away.
Behaviours like sucking on blankets and kneading on both things and people are often explained away as habits formed in kittenhood that adult cats haven’t shed, or revert back to for the childish comfort of the act.
There absolutely could be something to these points in my mind, as even human children will retain some of their infant behaviours at times – like sucking on thumbs or refusing to let go of blankets.
It makes sense that adult cats may reap comfort from behaviours, like sleeping on chests, that brought them feelings of comfort and security as infants.
7. Cats May Have Formed the Habit of Sleeping on Chests When We Held Them There as Kittens
Speaking of which, if a cat was taken care of by humans as a kitten, chances are quite high that human held a kitten to his or her chest while trying to feed the kitten or to keep it warm, or to comfort that kitten in general.
As a result, that the human chest would be associated with happy, positive, comfortable, and secure emotions for that cat when he or she grew.
8. They May Lay on Chests Because It Smells Strongly of You & Your Scent Makes Them Feel Safe
Cats learn from and are influenced by smells quiet a lot, and familiar scents – those of themselves, of their favourite people, or of any humans or animals they love – are incredibly powerful at calming the nerves of even incredibly anxious kitties.
There absolutely is something about even a soft, warm blanket that smells of you that draws a cat who loves you to sleep in it, and you may have noticed this already in your house if you’ve ever left out a pile of clothes, like worn sweaters that smell of you, and your cat’s taken to sleeping on it for the next few days.
Ended up “donating” clothes to your cat when he or she falls in love with a sweater for a week? Welcome to the club 😉
Needless to say, our chests do smell quite strongly of us.
A cat’s fondness for sleeping on our chests, therefore, might have something to do with feeling safe when surrounded by our smell.
9. Cats May Sleep on Your Chest to Be Comfortably Close to Your Face
I’ve seen a few people mention that when cats are sitting on your chests, they’re close enough to feel your warm breath on their face, and this is a really good point I likely wouldn’t have come up with on my own.
Not only is your breath warm, but being close to your face is in my opinion something that many cats very much enjoy when they are in a happy, restful, and cuddly place.
My Avery regularly scents my glasses when he’s content and purring away, and if I don’t have my glasses on, he’ll do so on my nose.
He’s very content when I hold him and rub my own face on his, so I can see being close to a human they love’s face as playing a role in why a cat might like to sleep and rest on a human’s chest.
10. They May like Sitting on Chests Because It Covers a Large Portion of You in Their Own Scent
Cats not only love smelling people and things they love, they also like to cover the things and people they love in their own scent.
Not quite sure why, maybe it has to do with the fact that they gain more comfort and contentedness by mingling their own scent with the scent of a space, place, object, or person they love.
Either way, it seems likely to me that making you smell more like them is something cats really love, and since your chest is quite a large part of your body, they get to do this quite easily by sitting or sleeping right on top of your chest.
11. Cats May Be Trying to “Claim” or Show They Own You by Sitting on Top of You
Part of the reason cats really like to get their scents all over spaces, places, objects, and people they love likely has to do with the fact that cats are territorial creatures.
If your cat’s sitting and sleeping right on top of your chest, it isn’t a stretch to think he or she is claiming you as his or her own, not only by covering you in their scent, but also by physically sitting on top of you as well.
After all, they seem to do this with quite a lot of things they love – toys, sleeping spots, clothing. It wouldn’t be a surprise to me to learn they’re doing the equivalent of saying “mine” with the act of sitting directly on top of their human.
Your Thoughts on Cats Sitting & Sleeping on Chests?
Do your cats lay, sit, or sleep on your chest? Do you have multiple cats – some who do, some who don’t?
Why do you think cats like to sleep and lay on human chests? Which explanations strike you as most likely? Which strike you as least?
Did you think of a theory I didn’t list?
Would love to hear your thoughts on the topic in the comments down below!
Tara M Adams says
My cat, William, who’s more like a dog, has recently gone from resting on my chest to SITTING DIRECTLY on my face (for mere seconds until I am able to move his ample form away). He tends to be very clingy, more so than any cat I have ever known, and he is also possessive and jealous of my dogs’ attention. I think this may be a way he is showing them (both of whom also lie on my bed, next to me) that HE is boss of me; that he owns me. I think he may have a sore ear or tooth, because he paws his ear and rubs his lips on my hand while he’s on my chest. He has also begun to stretch out on my body, hold onto my forearm with his arms & paws, and seems to, periodically, throughout this time, grip my arm tightly, all of the sudden, and scratch at my body with his back legs. I can tell that he is behaving in this manner because something is making him uncomfortable…like pain coming in waves, maybe. I am going to make an appointment at the vet this weekend.
Mike Pearson says
We have 5 cats all indoor cats 4 of are fixed all are female. all 5 have there very own personality. 4 of them are what we call resuce( taken from bad situations and made better) and one wife just feel in love with. they can be a chalenge on the best of days but we love them all. 2 of mine do like the chest sitting and love between my legs while i sleep , have to asume thats a pretty warm spot also. most of them have picked there fav human. one of the 2 youngest has picked one human and none other wont even let us pet her?
i’ve had my cat since he was 3 weeks old and he would always crawl up on my shoulder or under my neck to sleep and he’s about 4 months old now and a lot bigger than he was then and he still sleeps on my chest. it’s a nightly routine. every night, i’ll be laying on my back and he’ll crawl up and turn a few circles and then lay smack dab on my chest. he does this to my dad too. it’s cute, but he’s getting bigger and he usually ends up sliding off of me lol.
I recently (month and a half ago) got a cat after my mother died in July; (I had hoped we would pick one out together after our 16 yr. old cat died back died in Aug. of 2018.) I went back and saw all the cats twice to get a sense of each cat, AND IT WAS HARD, but after a few hours, I knew. It irritates me when people walk in and “go for the pretty cat,” as if that makes their personality better. Anyway, this cat had been raised in a no kill shelter from a kitten FOR 10 YEARS, despite being a handsome Tuxedo gentleman. At first, he had so few life experiences that he freaked out/hid a lot, and I wondered if I had done this cat a favor by taking him home, but then on the 28th day he jumped up into my lap and started acting like the cat I met in the shelter. He loves to be picked up, is happy and rolls around and purrs all the time, wants to sit in my lap and wash my face all the time, (not recommended) follows me around and comes when called like a little dog, would rather be petted 1st than eat, (and he loves to eat.) He is so delighted at having TWO cat beds of his own that he kneads them and purrs, which he does when you talk to him. While the cat shelter raised a wonderful cat ( who talks a lot ) and wasn’t unhappy, I’m sure he would not want to go back to the shelter. The lady at the shelter said he was lazy several times, but he isn’t at all; he just didn’t have a house he could take off running through when he felt like it. I just think shelter animals understand and are grateful/ loyal when you get them out of a shelter. I think cats are more adaptable to living in a small room with a catio and 9 other cats and still produce a very nice animal, something that is very hard on dogs because they need more room to run. I choose a cat the way I saw my Aunt pick out a cat when she was eighty. She put a chair in the middle of the room and let the kitties come up to her. outgoing ones came up first, and then the less dominant but friendly ones (usually female) come up and say hello. The tortoise shell she picked was not the “prettiest” one or the most in your face, (as she was brought in declawed and was bullied by the other cats and had to wait for them to go first,) but she was a very loyal pet to my aunt, and then my mom. She would ALWAYS watch to see if they were going to go to bed, and would always put them to bed and come out later after they had gone to sleep. I nicknamed her the nurse maid. I wanted to get a 2 or 3 yr. old cat, not a 10 yr. old cat, but he was the one, and is robust. How “dumb” is it that so many black cats are not considered because of superstition? I think black cats are more beautiful than other cats, as they look like little black panthers. But I did not choose this cat for his “markings,” it’s not a good way to choose a cat. This guy had to LEARN not to scratch the furniture and get on the table, so I hollered “NO” and clapped my hands a few times (cats are smart) and got several scratching pads in three places next to where he liked to sharpened claws and threw a thick blanket over the chair corner loosely (that hangs to the floor, as nobody wants to sharpen their claws on a loose, flimsy blanket.) Declawing is cruel and causes such bad lameness in some cats that they have to be put to sleep; do you want to cut the first knuckle off of each toe and take the chance that it doesn’t cause so much pain when they walk on it? Or is it cheaper to get a few sturdy scratching posts and blanket the corners of chairs for a while until the cats chooses the scratcher instead of a flimsy blanket where he used to scratch? You have to be a little patient with a shelter cat who doesn’t know that he’s not supposed to do these things, because jumping on tables and scratching were allowed at the shelter.
Samantha Eriksson says
I absolutely loved your story. I also fully agree, both of my gorgeous little boys are both pure black cats; I love them more than I do my boyfriend and that’s saying something. Loki was my first cat after I moved out. The first time I walked in the lady who worked at the pet store made multiple attempts to stop me from picking a and I quote “used cat”. Little to say, my bf had a firm grip just in case. So I finally walked into a small cramped section where they had cats “on show” from the out of town humane society; I could barely even turn properly and I’m not a big person. As soon as I spotted those emerald eyes I was hooked. He was everything I wanted, (litter trained, inside kitty, good with other animals, good with kids) but as soon as I shimmied over to it the lady stopped me and said “Don’t go near it. It’s an awful thing, attacked three of the staff and besides it loud, and who would want a black cat anyway, there bad luck you know”
I was absolutely livid!!
So I “accidentally” shoved her over as I went over to the cage and Loki was the nicest, cuddlie-est cat ever. He did everything in his power to stop me from even moving an inch away from the cage. I looked at my bf and burst into tears I knew I would never be able to leave that store without him. And to this day he greets everyone at the door, cuddles and sleeps with me all night, is always silent and is the most loving animal I have ever had.
Church is a big fan of laying on my chest, when I’m settling into bed. He will sit millimetres from my face and enjoys getting petted there. It never lasts very long and he normally migrates from there to the end of the bed. He’s never done it while I’ve been asleep thankfully (that would probably freak me out) and Goose prefers to lie next to you. So I guess each cat is different in their preferences, out of all the reasons you’ve listed, I can’t pinpoint one that sounds more accurate than the next!
P.s. Church and Goose are doing a lot better now. Goose will follow Church around and copy him which is cute, but he also antagonises him (into play) which is normally fine with a bit of chasing but then Church can go to dominance biting again if hes wound up too much. Time will tell! They are on Instagram if you ever want to check them out the_church_of_sasha 🙂
Mary Bragg says
I’ll often wake up and find mine is across my tummy and upper legs. I have to sleep with a pillow under my knees so I have a kind of lap. She’ll be spread out and asleep. I don’t move much because of injuries to my shoulders. I’m unable to lie on them so I don’t move much. I’m usually in the same position I went to sleep in. Pretzel seems to like.it so I find her asleep there
As to why, i personally think it’s a combination of warmth and hearing the heartbeat.