The Real Reason Cats Like To Sit On Laptops

Cats sure are adorable, right? What with their incessant mewing; following you around and badgering you as you walk from room to room; using your furniture for their own nefarious, claw-sharpening ends; vomiting on the floor then racing away; leaving a massive deuce in the litter box the second you finish cleaning it; lacquering your bedsheets with allergy-inducing fur; head-butting you while you try to sleep; shredding your hand when you dare to maneuver it at an incorrect trajectory; racing around the house at 3 a.m. for a reason that can only be described as the fractured psyche of a crazed predator who has damned you forever to suffer its worst, unlived instincts in the small box of an urban apartment ... Yeah, cats are great!

Anyway. There are enough tales of wicked feline habits and vies for world dominance to fill thousands of volumes soaked by the tears of regretful cat owners. This is especially true if you've been the victim of a cat intent on ruining your computer time: nuzzling your chin while you type, clambering onto your lap while you're at your desk, plopping down on your keyboard while you type, etc. Would you believe that medieval monks endured the same things? Smithsonian Magazine has the ink-stained pawprints tracking over a hand-written manuscript to prove it. But what, you cry, is up with my cat's laptop-as-bed fetish? Is it the warmth of the laptop? Is it attention-seeking behavior? Disturbingly, Science Focus suggests that cats just want to control you. 

Mysteries of the feline mind

Lots of kitty-catty behaviors don't make sense to bipedal primates who spend their lives draped in fabrics, racing along commutes, clutching their heads over bills, and so on. Cats don't understand any of that. They're stuck back in 8,000 B.C.E. at the dawn of their domestication, with a genetic lineage that connects to some of Earth's most successful land predators. In fact, as International Cat Care says, it's more or less believed that cats domesticated themselves by poking around human settlements, killing the vermin that our trash and gross habits conjured, and gradually inveigling themselves into our households and, eventually, onto our laptops. This is the lens through which all cat behaviors must be viewed if we want to understand them.

Science Focus makes several good points about cats that relate to their preference for laptops, chiefly scent. "Cats are scent machines from the end of the tail to the tip of their nose," animal psychologist Dr. David Sands says. Their vision isn't all that good and is only used at night to hunt. Some have suggested that cats like laptops because human scent is all over them — our fingers and skin oils practically lacquer the things. Then there's warmth, which we mentioned before. All cat owners can attest to the feline preference for snuggling up to warm objects and staying in warm spaces. But while scent and warmth play into things, they're subordinate to a cat's real reason for laying on laptops: domination.

Must dominate the human

On one hand, it's difficult to imagine that an adorable, soft little creature is consciously plotting to control you. This is true no matter how many pop culture gags we've got about cats being devious, conniving masterminds. On the other hand, all of our jokes about cats being the true, evil masters of the house come from somewhere. But as Science Focus explains, we're not talking about a conscious intention, but an instinct. 

Dr. David Sands says, "While dogs have been bred to become our companions, cats are still reasonably feral. They have been largely bred as vermin control and are not social creatures — they're out for themselves." New Scientist reports that dogs likely diverged from wolves about 27,000 to 40,000 years ago. That's much longer than cats have been domesticated, and enough time for a timber wolf to be bred into a dachshund that lets you dress it up like a hot dog at Halloween. 

Scent and warmth do factor into the feline love of laptops, though. Cats definitely wouldn't like to sleep on cold laptops. But more importantly, laying on a laptop is a way to replace your own scent with the cat's scent. More cat scent and less human scent means more cat control in its home territory. This is why cats rub up against things with their faces: control, not love. So cheer up — you're not paranoid. Your worst fear about your cat is just completely true.