It’s not uncommon for cats to burrow under a blanket or in the sheets, but this can be a concerning behavior for some owners. In particular, most worry that their furry friend is going to suffocate under the blanket.
Cats can only suffocate under blankets if the material is not breathable. Moreover, cats will self-regulate and climb out from under the blanket should they need more air. Therefore, so long as your cat has a way to get out, you don’t need to worry about suffocation.
Admit it–when your cat sticks her nose out from under the blanket, it’s cute. And if you don’t mind her doing so, keep reading to find out why it’s safe for your cat and why she does it. And if you don’t want her under your sheets, we’ve got some advice on that as well.
Reasons Cats Don’t Suffocate Under Blankets
The reasons you don’t need to worry about your cat suffocating under blankets are quite simple. Firstly, cats will recognize when they are in need of oxygen. Secondly, most blankets and other bedding material is a breathable fabric.
Cats Instinctively Self-Regulate
Cats developed instinctual behavior to protect themselves, and house cats still have many of them. That includes knowing when it’s time to get some fresh air.
Cats don’t suffocate under blankets because they are great at self-regulating. Self-regulation allows cats to sense when they need to get air and find their way to the opening.
You can see cat regulation in a variety of ways. For example, most house cats don’t need to be trained to use a litter box. This self-regulation is instinctual—wild cats bury their waste to prevent predators from locating them. So not only do indoor cats use a litter box, but they also cover their waste.
Another example of self-regulation is cats grooming themselves. Although we think cats do it to keep themselves clean, grooming helps them regulate their internal temperature. The tongue’s saliva acts like our sweat. When the saliva evaporates, it cools their bodies.
Bedding Material Is Breathable
There are two tests you can use to ensure the fabric is breathable. The first is to hold it up to the light and see how much light passes through the fabric. The second is to test it on yourself—if you can’t breathe well under it, chances are your cat can’t either.
Cotton blankets are highly breathable, but dense fabrics like denim let some airflow through them but are less breathable. Luckily, almost all bedding fabrics are breathable to allow moisture to wick away from you while you sleep.
Cats Under Blankets Don’t Require Monitoring
As long as your cat has a way out, monitoring isn’t necessary. The one exception would be kittens, as they might get tangled in the blanket and be unable to get out. However, if the blanket lets air pass through it, even a kitten should eventually get out.
Some veterinarians suggest pets shouldn’t be under blankets because they will breathe in stale air and deprive themselves of oxygen. However, this seems to apply primarily to dogs that have pushed in muzzles or pets with respiratory or heart conditions.
Cats instinctively avoid situations they recognize as dangerous, so a cat that knows it has difficulty breathing would probably avoid blankets. Nevertheless, if you have a cat with respiratory problems, you might wish to keep it on top, not under blankets.
Why Do Cats Crawl Under Blankets?
Cats will crawl under blankets if they are “bush dwellers.” This behavior occurs when they want to feel comfy or be left alone, or when feeling stressed or anxious. However, if your cat starts to spend more time than usual under blankets, she may be ill and needs medical attention.
Being under a blanket lets a cat practice both parts of its instinctual ancestry. Hiding under the blanket lets them feel safe and secure. It also gives them a spot where they can hide and pounce on their prey.
But not all cats enjoy crawling under blankets. Cats can be tree, bush, or what PAWS Chicago calls beach dwellers:
- Tree dwellers prefer higher spaces—anything off the ground, whether it be a chair, table, or desk. So if you bought a cat tree and it rarely gets used, your cat is most likely a tree dweller.
- The cat that you constantly trip over is a beach dweller. The message is, “I’m confident enough that I will claim this territory.”
- Bush dwellers like to be down to the ground and somewhat hidden. That way they can observe and be ready to pounce.
If a cat spends more time than usual under a blanket, it might be a sign that she is ill. Cats in the wild hide pain and illness as a protective mechanism and most house cats do the same.
Also, a frightened cat will not hide under the blanket but search out a safer space, such as under the bed. To comfort the cat, you need to be able to reach out. If your cat becomes easily frightened and hides underneath the bed where you cannot reach it, consider buying storage containers that slide under a bed.
How To Discourage a Cat From Crawling Under Blankets
Cats have a reputation for not being trainable, but you can prevent your cat from crawling under blankets. You can do this by denying them access to blankets. You can also train your cat to stay away from them, or you can provide alternatives.
The easiest way to keep your cat away from your blankets is to keep her out of the bedroom. A cat used to having access to a space will meow in that pleading way only cats can. Ignore it for several days. Cats are smart enough to realize when they’ve lost the battle.
If you don’t want to keep the bedroom door closed, then you have the option to train your cat. That’s right. Train. Cats have a reputation as being untrainable, but that is not true. Dogs are easier to train than cats because they want to please their owners. Cats aren’t as interested in pleasing humans, but they still respond to behavioral clues.
For example, you can teach your cat to come to you once she knows her name. But you will need lots of positive reinforcement (i.e., rewards) and patience. Once she knows her name, the next step is referred to as recall by most cat trainers. The goal of recall is to have your cat come to you when she hears you call her.
Should you want to learn more about training your cat to stay out of your bedroom or away from blankets, Jacqueline Munera has written an excellent, detailed guide.
The first step to training your cat is cat clicker training. Check out that video and others from Positive Cattitudes YouTube channel:
How To Keep Your Cat Warm Without Blankets
If you want to keep your cat warm but don’t want her climbing under blankets, one alternative is a microwaveable heat disc. Regular electric blankets and heating pads come with hazards, as cats can chew through cords or the cloth, and should be avoided.
Here are some products from Amazon.com you can use to keep your cat warm:
- Hottles Microwavable Thermal Heating Pad: It uses microwaveable water bottles tucked into a thermal heat pad to provide the heat your cat needs when it gets cold.
- Pet Fit For Life Gel Pad: This is another heating gel pad that has the added benefit that you can place it in the refrigerator to provide summertime cooling.
Remember to provide your pet the freedom to move away from the pad or sit beside it.
Since almost all bedding is made with breathable fabric, it’ll be difficult for your cat to suffocate under a blanket. Furthermore, you can trust your cat to come out when she needs air. Although, you might wish to monitor small kittens to make sure they don’t tangle themselves in a blanket. If you don’t want your cat in your bed, either train her to stay out of the bedroom or keep the door closed.
- Washington Post: Snuggle But be Safe
- Catonsville Cat Clinic: Your Cat’s Instinctive Behavior
- Positive Catitudes: Foundation Behaviors Are Going to the Cats
- Mental Floss: How Do Cats Cool Themselves
- Pet MD: Blanket Safety for Pets
- Paws Chicago: Understanding Cat Dwelling
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.