Why Do Pets Sleep Curled Up in a Ball?

By Linda Cole

It’s not uncommon to find a sleeping dog or cat curled up into a ball on a chilly winter day, even though it’s cozy inside. With their nose tucked into their tail, and feet covered with their body, this position gives them warmth to help ward off a winter chill. Sleeping curled up in a ball is not exactly a comfortable position for pets to be in for long periods of time. However, there are a couple of reasons why a curled up position is favored at times, and it has to do with evolution.

Both reasons go back to our pets’ wild roots. We give our dogs and cats soft beds for comfort and warmth. In the wild, there are no cushions, and a cold night requires a bed that’s been scratched, trampled, and dug out in dirt or tall grasses. Scientist are still trying to figure out why dogs do some of the things they do, like walking in circles before lying down, but they believe the behavior is a hard wired survival tactic against the weather, predators, and hidden insects or snakes.

Dogs and cats are no different from us when it comes to wanting to be cozy in their surroundings. Curling up into a ball on a cold night is the best way to conserve body heat, and provide enough warmth to ward off the sting of a cold bed. This is also the best position to protect themselves from predators that may decide to attack. The curled up ball protects vital organs and their stomach area.

Sleeping curled up isn’t an ideal way to get a restful sleep. In order to stay in one position, the muscles remain tensed up which doesn’t allow pets to relax enough to move them into the rapid eye movement (REM) part of sleep, something we all need for a proper night’s rest. Our pet’s sleeping position tells us a couple of things. If a dog or cat sleeps on his back in a more relaxed posture, he’s warm or even too hot or he feels so comfortable in his surroundings that he doesn’t feel a need to protect himself by curling up.

The other reason scientists believe pets curl up in a ball to sleep has to do with a feeling of security. Creating a space that gives a den-like feeling is comforting for pets. When you bring a new pet home, his instinct tells him to use the same curled up position his ancestors used for a sense of security. That’s why it’s recommended to give a new pet an area where he can feel safe and secure. Creating a den-like atmosphere helps him relax while he gets used to new smells, sounds, other pets in the home, and his new owner.

Adopted shelter pets have gone through some pretty trying times during their stay at a shelter. Dogs or cats that became lost for one reason or another and spent time living on the street may need some extra time and love to help them adjust to a new home. Pets who are owner surrendered are probably confused about why the bond they formed with someone was broken, and may need a little more understanding to help them feel comfortable and secure in a new home.

A crate works great for creating a nesting area for a new pet. A den-like space can be created by putting a blanket over the crate, and adding a cozy bed. Placing a small blanket on the bed helps a dog satisfy his natural instinct of circling, scratching and digging his nest to make his sleeping area desirable for his own personal taste.

Our canine and feline friends are creatures of habit, and they like their comfort just as much as we enjoy ours. They are, however, adaptable to their surroundings and can return to their hard wired instincts when it’s needed for survival.

Since our pets look to us to provide all of their basic needs, it’s important to give them a sense of security by making sure they have a well balanced diet, like CANIDAE or FELIDAE, which can help keep them healthy and happy. Our job is to nurture a lasting bond that builds trust with our pets, and if we meet that challenge, we will give our pets the security they need to throw caution to the wind, and roll over on their back for a good night’s sleep.

Dog photo by normanack
Cat photo by Bill Abbott

Read more articles by Linda Cole

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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7 thoughts on “Why Do Pets Sleep Curled Up in a Ball?

  1. Max opts for the heating blanket…why curl when you have this mysterious blanket to keep you warm :) – he is SO spoiled! Great article though – he does curl sometimes too…usually when the blanket is off :)

  2. Cats and dogs really are very adaptable. It is amazing. The kitties around here all sleep in a ball in the winter time. So I just assumed it was because they were trying to stay warm.

  3. All of us sleep curled in a donut shape very often, especially Phantom. And Mom says we do the silliest things with our snooters placing them in the weirdest positions. Ciara is outside right now in our big snowstorm curled in a ball in a snow burrow she made for herself. She does NOT want to come in – she is a true snowdog:)

    Woos – Phantom, Thunder, Ciara, and Lightning

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