By Monica Weymouth
The best seat in the house? If you’re a cat, the answer is simple: the keyboard, of course.
No matter how plush the bed, how cozy the kitty condo, or how elaborate the latest contraption you brought home—cat canopy, anyone?—there’s simply nothing they’d rather sit on than your laptop. Bonus points if you’re in the middle of typing on it, obviously.
So why does your cat insist on sprawling across the computer? It’s a question that’s plagued many a cat parent—and, like most things about cats, the answer is complex.
Why Do Cats Love Keyboards?
To begin to understand the behavior, it helps to think like a cat.
“It’s hard for you or I to imagine, but to a cat, a keyboard really is the perfect spot,” says Arden Moore, an author, pet safety coach, and behavior consultant. “They’re warm, they’re kind of fun to sit on, and most importantly, they’re smack between you and the monitor.”
It’s not that your cat wants you to miss your deadline (spite is one of those charming emotions that’s unique to humans). He’s simply curious about the way you’re interacting with, from what he can tell, is a metal box—and he wants to join what’s clearly a very interesting, very engaging party.
“Cats are experts at sensing energy,” says Jean Hofve, a holistic veterinarian and author. “Notice the next time you're having a conversation with someone. The cat will often align herself between two people, usually with her back to the person projecting the stronger energy. When you're staring at your laptop, your energy is going directly to the screen.”
If it seems like the more important the spreadsheet, the more interested your cat is in interrupting, that’s probably true—but again, there’s no spite or even mischievousness involved. The more you concentrate, the quieter you become, and your eyes may even narrow. To a cat, these are important behaviors to observe.
“Cats are both prey and predators,” explains Moore. “Their little inside hunter is watching you, and you’re doing everything a good hunter would do—you’re being very still, you’re not making any noise, and you’re staring intently ahead.”
How to Keep Your Cat Off Your Keyboard
When you’re working on an important project—or catching up on “Game Of Thrones”—it’s tempting to shoo kitty away from the screen. But this would be a mistake. Although it can be annoying to type around a furry obstacle, your cat is actually exhibiting desirable pet behavior.
“The last thing you want to do is scold a cat for wanting to be with you—cats are very sensitive and not very forgiving,” says Jill Goldman, a Los Angeles-based certified applied animal behaviorist. “Never punish them for a behavior that’s social and friendly. You should actually feel complimented—your cat is seeking you out.”
Cats, with their reserved behavior, have a reputation as being less social and more independent than dogs. But in reality, cats need just as much attention and interaction as their canine counterparts to be happy, healthy pets. Their seemingly aloof behavior is a defense mechanism of sorts, explains Moore, common among prey animals in the wild.
“Cats don’t show their stress as much as dogs—they don’t want to show signs of weakness, because they don’t want to be lunch while they’re looking for lunch,” she says. “Even though they’re domesticated, that’s still hard-wired into them.”
So before you ask your cat to move off your keyboard, ask yourself this: When was the last time you two spent quality time together? Just because kitty has more dignity than your goofy Lab doesn’t mean he wouldn’t appreciate a good play session.
“Ask yourself, how much attention have I given my cat today? And how much of that was play?” Goldman advises. “And remember, sitting on the couch and petting your cat isn’t play. While you were out at work, he laid on the couch all day.”
Closing the laptop and stepping away for a proper play session should do the trick. But ideally, you want to prevent attention-seeking behavior by regularly offering enrichment opportunities to your cat. In addition to the usual assortment of feather toys and furry mice, Goldman recommends walks on a leash, kitty “treadmills,” food foraging puzzles and plenty of vertical space to keep high-energy cats stimulated.
“Cats are not hairy pieces of furniture,” Moore reminds us. “They need mental challenges and purposeful play.”
That all said, at the end of the day, cats are creatures of comfort—and if you desk is particularly comfortable, you’ll likely have company. To cut back on the number of kitty typos, consider equipping your office with designated cat areas. When designing her workspace, Moore incorporated two spots for her cats—a cozy desk-side bed, and an impossible-to-resist window perch.
“With cats,” she concedes, “it’s all about compromise.”