Downtime

My Cats Rub Their Butts on Me Every Night

I can’t sleep. I hate this.

Two cats with their butts facing the viewer.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by ablokhin/iStock/Getty Images Plus and chendongshan/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Beast Mode is Slate’s pet advice column. Have a question? Send it to beastmode@slate.com.

Dear Beast Mode,

I love my two cats more than air. They are 10-year-old litter mates, and I let them sleep with me when I don’t have company. Lately, we’re having an issue in the middle of the night. One will begin sleeping with his face resting on my arm. His sister will curl up in the small of my back, purring up a storm. (She has quite a motor.) Sounds wonderful, right? It is—until I wake up two hours later and find that both of them have moved so that they have their backs to me, their tails are raised, and their bare butts are resting directly on my bare skin. I hate this. It jolts me fully awake, and I have a hard time going back to sleep.

How can I help them break this habit without banishing them? I’ve tried gently repositioning them, but the cycle just repeats later in the night. One idea I had was an extended play session before bed, so they would be wiped out and less inclined to move much. Is this a good idea, and are there any others?

—Two Butts About It

Dear Two Butts About It,

When you adopt a pet, you adopt the entire animal. There is no à la carte option, and you can’t ask the shelter to “hold the anus.” You agreed to welcome every inch of the cats into your home, so those buttholes are with you for the long run.

If it makes you feel any better, your bedmates’ butts are probably pretty clean. Cats are fervent self-groomers, and they certainly don’t miss any spots. Their routine is like if Canyon Ranch offered full cavity searches. If their butts are not clean, I apologize for being glib. (Please understand that I am just trying to normalize cat anuses.) A dirty butt is more than just gross; it may also be the sign of a medical problem, and a trip to the vet is in order if you notice something’s wrong. “Either they aren’t grooming,” certified animal behaviorist Mikel Delgado says, “or they might have diarrhea or soft stool.” Let’s hope those butts are clean for everyone’s sake (but mostly the cats’).

But to the problem at hand: Changing this behavior may be difficult because, unlike you, the cats don’t think much of it. “It would strike me as very odd if both cats were deliberately doing this,” Delgado tells me. “I don’t think they’re doing anything except changing position in their sleep, as many of us do.”

Cats aren’t imbued with a puritanical sense of shame about their bodies. If they were, they’d wear wool cloaks all day and feel consumed with guilt whenever they groomed themselves. Your issue strikes me as more of a human problem than a cat one. But if you’re unwilling to sacrifice sleep to let their free spirits soar along with their tails, there are a few things you can try.

The evening play session you mention is a good idea, and it’s a go-to recommendation from feline behaviorists for getting cats to sleep better at night, along with feeding them at bedtime. With any luck, this might lull their butts into a deep, peaceful slumber. But even if late play and meals don’t fix this issue, they’re worth trying, since either may improve the cats’ sleep.

But your ability to sleep is the real issue here. If these measures don’t work, the only other option is to encourage them to sleep somewhere else. You say they’re not allowed to sleep with you when you have company, so I assume they already have an alternative place to lay their derrières at night. If not, try a heated cat pad or a plush, feline-friendly space. But if you want them in bed for warm snuggles, then they have no choice but to bring their butts along with them. The onus—and anus—is on you to make the situation work.