Can My Pet Breathe Under the Covers?

October 5, 2018

By Julia Williams

I can always tell when autumn has officially arrived, not by looking at my calendar or the colorful tree leaves, nor by the distinct chill in the air that has me searching for my favorite fleece hoodie. My foolproof method for concluding that fall is here involves simply noticing the changing behaviors of my two cats.

My boy cat, Rocky, rediscovers his cat bed that sits forlorn and lonely all summer long. He doesn’t give that cat bed a second glance in warmer weather, but when autumn rolls around it’s suddenly his new favorite place for a nap.

My girl cat, Annabelle, also lets me know fall is here by beginning to burrow under the bedcovers. As with Rocky and his cat bed aversion, Annabelle doesn’t get under the covers when the weather is warm. This behavior is strictly a fall and winter thing.

It cracks me up to walk into the bedroom and see this small, round cat-shaped “lump” at the foot of the bed under the covers. She will be under there for hours! Likewise, when I go to bed she comes in shortly after and meows until I lift the covers for her to crawl under them. (Now, she obviously can get under the covers by herself because she does it all the time, so why she needs me to lift them for her at night is anybody’s guess).

Although I find Annabelle’s under the cover antics endearing, I would have to give up my World’s Best Cat Mom mug if I didn’t wonder if it was safe for her. Could she suffocate under there? Or is there some other potential health risk? I didn’t know, so I did what any good pet parent would do – first I asked my vet for her opinion, and then I trolled Google to see what others had to say about it.

As it happens, I’m not the only one whose cat or dog likes to burrow under the bedcovers, nor am I the only one who was concerned about the safety of this behavior. Here’s what I found out.

Why Do They Do It?

Pets are individuals with unique quirks. Some cats and dogs love to burrow under the covers, and some don’t. Some might do it once in awhile on particularly chilly nights when they’re just seeking a little extra warmth, and some will be under there all the time no matter what the weather is like. Sometimes a pet will get under the covers because they want to sleep someplace where will be undisturbed – it’s warm and dark there, and the covers help to muffle noise.

Some pets might burrow because being under the covers gives them a feeling of safety and security, akin to retreating to the inner sanctum of their den. The pressure and being surrounded by the blanket might also calm a nervous dog or cat, much like those Thundershirts do.

Smaller dog breeds tend to burrow under the covers more than larger breeds, as do Dachshunds and terriers who were bred to “go to ground” after burrowing prey. Huskies may also like to sleep under the covers since instinct tells them to burrow under snow to stay warm. Hairless cat breeds such as the Sphynx might get cold sleeping out in the open. That being said, virtually any breed of dog or cat might take a liking to sleeping under the covers.

But Is It Safe?

Ah…so now we come to the $64,000 question! I say that because the answer really depends upon who you ask. When I asked my vet if I needed to worry about Annabelle sleeping under the covers, she didn’t feel it was a problem. She said if my cat was under the covers and felt that it was too restrictive or that she couldn’t breathe, she would just get out. She said it was unlikely that an adult cat or dog could experience oxygen deprivation or suffocate, but that owners should be cautious about letting a young puppy or tiny kitten sleep under the covers because they might not have the strength to get out if they became trapped.

The general consensus among pet owners online was that it was safe, and many stated that their cat or dog had been sleeping under the covers for years with no ill effects. They reasoned that it’s not really an airtight environment under the covers and there is still some airflow and oxygen even if it’s less than being out in the open. I tend to agree, and my cat has also slept under the covers for at least a decade. She seems to be able to breathe just fine under there, and I trust my vet’s opinion that if she couldn’t breathe or was uncomfortable, then she would just get out, or not get under the covers in the first place.

However…I read another article that was written by a supposed vet (I say supposed because when it comes to the internet, people can call themselves anything they like but it may not necessarily be the truth) and they felt that it was “unhealthy for an animal to keep breathing the same air in a limited space for any length of time.”

I think the bottom line is this – each of us is responsible for the health and safety of our own pets, and anyone who is concerned that their cat or dog will suffocate or suffer ill effects from sleeping under the covers, should do what needs to be done to prevent them from engaging in this behavior.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

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  1. Nicole Kane says:

    Thank you so much for writing this! I have only had my 4 year old male cat for 1 year, he had a very traumatizing goodbye with his previous owner so he is very attached to me and loves to sleep in between my legs. Sometimes on top of the blanket but mostly under. In have always been concerned but figured what most of us did. If our animals couldn’t breathe, they would get out. I related so much to your story and it put a guenuine smile on my face! Thank you for answering so many questions!

  2. Sally Dennis says:

    I had 2 rag doll/moggy house cats-twin sisters. until firework night this year when Tonk suffered a massive heart attack and we lost her, it’s been devastating for us, but even more so for her sister Tink, they’ve never spent a night apart! They always slept cuddled up together on the sofa, since losing Tonk, Tink has been sleeping with me, and I have found she likes to burrow under the covers, I’ve been really worried that she may not be getting enough fresh air!
    This article has really put my mind at rest, as I need Tink to feel as loved and happy as I can at this hard time for her. So thank for taking the time to put this page together, it’s helped me a lot!

  3. Curtis says:

    My cat however is a very frightened cat and uses the top bunk of the bunk bed for protection no other cat can get up there (we have 2 others) and in winter nights she sleeps under there long times in the summer she sleeps under there but gets out every hour or so staying in there all night in the winter causes her to get a bacterial infection that just causes bad breath because she breathes same air for hours straight trying to stay warm. So not in all cases will a cat leave the covers to get air if they feel that warm and protected.

  4. Sarah says:

    My dog absolutely LOVES being burrowed under the blanket. She has slept in my bed for a long time (several years) and is in good health- never has been deprived of oxygen! A few times when the covers get too snug or it’s to warm, She just moves on top of the covers (normally doesn’t even wake me). It has significantly improved my mental health and having a warm body snuggled up really helps with night terrors (had them for years and fell so much better with her by my side) and provides a sense of security to a single woman (I don’t get scared of noises anymore). I definitely would recommend. One tip though- get in first, then call your pet up so you have room (cause dogs love to sit right in the middle lol). Happy dreaming 🙂