Do Cat Beds Let Your Cat Sleep in Comfort?
Anyone who values their home comforts will know how important it is to have a comfortable bed to sleep in. Well it is the same with cat beds. If you don’t get a good night’s sleep, chances are you will wake up tired and irritable in the morning.
Because we humans value our sleep (well most of us do) we also take time out to consider the sleeping comforts of our pets, particularly dogs and cats. There’s rarely a new pet owner who doesn’t go shopping in anticipation of a new kitten or puppy coming home to stay.
A typical kitty shopping list will include bowls for food and water (and the food, of course), a litter tray with kitty litter (even if you have a garden – because house training is essential), a scratch post, possibly a collar, and invariably a selection of toys that usually appeal to you! Then there’s the question of whether or not to buy a bed for your new companion.
Cats love creature comforts and they adore being wherever it’s soft and warm. But is it really necessary to buy a special bed for your cat? There are clearly a huge number of people who believe that it is absolutely essential for cats to have their own beds. All you have to do is look at the enormous range of cat beds on the market today. This indicates there is an equally big demand, especially in first world countries like America, where cats rate as the most popular pet in the home.
You’ll find hundreds of different designs from cushioned baskets to padded igloos, all in a myriad of colors and selection of sizes. You’ll even find some that are heated with an electric blanket. You’ll find some that look like miniature sofas and some that look just like mini beds. You’ll find cat trees and other elevated sleeping places, and beds that provide a place for your cat to hide away. If you can’t find something that coordinates with your interior scheme, then a good craft book will show you how to make your own, and you can use a matching fabric.
When you see cat beds advertised, either in brochures or on Internet sites, the cats and kittens photographed with them always look so cute and cuddly it’s difficult to resist wanting to buy one. But whether your cat will accept your chosen bed, and then stick to sleeping in it is another story. While books on kitten care will usually tell you that all you need to do is establish a habit for night time accommodation, in reality, most cats have minds of their own. Give them a designer bed and they’ll find a warm pillow or a cuddly corner in a cupboard to sleep. They may not ignore the bed altogether, but there are no guarantees.
So have cat owner’s always provided beds for their cats?
While there’s archaeological evidence that people have kept cats for many thousands of years, there’s no way to know where these animals slept. Uncovering a skeleton of a cat buried with the skeleton of a human also doesn’t indicate whether the animal was a pet or simply a valued hunter of rats and mice.
The best way to assess cat beds historically is to look at old paintings and read old books and stories. Unfortunately, in my experience, paintings don’t reveal much. While the Old Masters (as in the famous European painters) frequently included dogs, horses and other animals in their works, to find a cat featured is a rarity. Those that do occur are usually portrayed as active, rather than sleeping, while dogs are often featured sleeping on laps or beds. For example, French painter Gustave Courbet’s 1855 painting The Painter’s Studio features a delightful white cat playing at the artist’s feet, next to a child. But there’s no indication of where the cat sleeps. Paul Gauguin’s fascinating Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? Also features white cats playing next to a child, but there are no cat beds in sight.
Books are rather more telling, although the recurring theme is the cat curled up in front of a fire or on a warm hearth, rather than cats in designer cat beds.
For instance, in The Story of a Cat written by Emíle de La Bédollière (1812-1883), set in France in 1745, the countess’s cat, picked up as a half-dead stray in the street, is given a place at her fireside and at the table in her mansion.
In 1852 Tales from Catland, for Little Kittens written by Tabitha Grimalkin (a pseudonym) was dedicated to “the kittens of England”. It told the story of a princess’s two cats “Many hundreds of years ago in the good old times of the fairies.” The older of the two cats was given a soft velvet cushion in front of the fire, and they both had pretty little baskets lined with yellow satin to sleep in. There’s a gorgeous engraving in the book that shows the cats with the velvet cushion, but not their cat beds.
It’s safe to assume that the degree of luxury afforded the cat would have depended on the lifestyle of the owner. This would apply to any type of sleeping arrangement provided. For instance in Dick and his Cat, the story of Dick Whittington published in 1895, Dick lets his cat snuggle up in his coat – because that was the only warmth he had.
In The Book of the Cat written by Mabel Humphrey and Elizabeth Fearne Bonsall, and published in New York in 1903, there are several stories that relate to cats sleeping. The first is a tale about a soft white purebred Angora puss called Snowball who has (predictably) a favorite spot on the warm hearth as well as a silk-cushioned basket. She befriends a great black stray tomcat called Ebony, and takes him home to share her luxuries. Then there is a story about a cat that preferred to curl up and sleep on a handsome book in the library. Another story talks about kittens being given a box to sleep in.
Kittens will generally curl up in a box, particularly if there is more than one of them, and the box is lined with something that is soft and warm. It seems to give them a sense of security.
Cat beds made from boxes seem to have been particularly popular in the mid-20th century – with people anyway. In the famous American author, Paul Gallico’s delightful classic, The Silent Miaow published in London in 1964, there’s an amusing sequence of photographs showing Gallico building a bed for his cat from a box. The book – A Manual for Kittens, Strays and Homeless Cats – is written from the point of view of the cat and the commentary for these pictures says: “I induced my man to make four sleeping boxes before I finally accepted the last one. And then I slept on top of it instead of inside.” How typical is that?
His (the literary cat) advice on sleeping quarters, is for cats to decide exactly where they want to sleep. If they prefer the bed (intended for humans) to the box that’s been provided, they are urged to make an immediate habit of sleeping on the bed. It is, after all, he says, “a delightful place for a sleep”.
If Paul Gallico’s take on cat beds is correct – and I believe it is – it doesn’t really matter whether you buy the best and most expensive designer cat bed on the market, or not. At the end of the day it’s going to be the cat who decides whether it’s any good, or whether a cushion, a pillow, a pile of books, or your bed are preferable.