Do You Have a Lethargic Cat — Or a Cat Who Just Loves to Sleep?

Does your cat simply love to sleep or do you have a lethargic cat? Discover the differences and why a lethargic cat might indicate something serious.

A tired or grumpy cat sleeping on the arm of a couch.
A tired or grumpy cat sleeping on the arm of a couch. Photography © liveostockimages | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Well, they don’t call it a dog nap! Cat nap is a ubiquitous term believed to have been coined in the 1880s. It’s basically a short nap during the day. The concept of napping seems to go back to Ancient Egypt. Since cats were considered sacred animals, the Pharaohs took a cue from the oft-slumbering felines and started sleeping for short spurts themselves throughout the day. Frequent sleep is normal for a healthy cat. However, a cat sleeping too much could signal that your kitty is sick. So, what’s the difference between a normal, healthy sleeping cat and a lethargic cat? Let’s find out when your cat is practicing business-as-usual cat sleeping behavior and when he could be heading for medical trouble.

First, how long do cats typically sleep?

Cat sleeping in bed with face mask on.
Could your cat’s love of sleep point to a serious health condition? Photography © AnnaRise | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Even if you don’t have a lethargic cat and your cat is in fine physical shape, felines generally sleep between 15 to 20 hours per day. According to renowned cat expert, Pam Johnson-Bennett, a cat’s sleep-filled day is an evolutionary tactic. Since cats are predators who had to hunt for their food in the wild, they require a lot of energy stored up for all that stalking and chasing. Their sleep patterns might seem excessive compared to the rest of the animal kingdom, which is mainly comprised of grazers, foragers and scavengers (aka slackers)!

Another part of natural cat behavior that makes it seem like our cats sleep a lot? Their sleep patterns. To kitties, party time starts when the sun goes down. The technical term is crepuscular and it means that cats are programmed to become most active from dusk until dawn.

Do you have a lethargic cat … or a cat who just loves to sleep?

So, it’s true that cats sleep more hours than most animals and they’re most active when most people are sleeping. Taking both of these normal cat sleeping patterns into account, it can seem as though cats are always asleep. However, a lethargic cat may indicate that something is wrong. Lethargy could signal a mild, passing condition — or a serious cause for alarm.

A solid way to find out if you’ve got a lethargic cat with serious issues on your hands? Try to play with your kitty. If he is uninterested in playing with his favorite toy, there could be a problem. One of my personal go-to moves when my cats seem “off” is to crunch the treat bag loudly. If they come running and take a treat, we’re good. But, when one of them does not, it’s investigation time. Knowing what’s “normal” for your cat is the baseline for when it’s time to schedule a trip to the vet.

What are the possible causes of a lethargic cat?

A tired cat yawning or sleeping on bed.
A lethargic cat might have a variety of serious health conditions. Photography © Selena Gardner-Morrison | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

There could be a variety of things at play with a lethargic cat. Something as innocuous as a spike in the temperatures outside could make a cat nap in a cool place a bit longer. Or a cold spell could certainly entice Mr. Fluffkins to hibernate deep under the covers for longer than usual. However, the range of causes for a lethargic cat require a thorough investigation.

The Animal Wellness Center cites the following as possible reasons for a lethargic cat:

  1. Anemia
  2. Arthritis
  3. Cancer
  4. Depression
  5. Dehydration
  6. Heat stroke
  7. Heart Disease
  8. Heartworm
  9. Infections
  10. Kidney Disease
  11. Parasites
  12. Poison (Ingesting Foreign Object)

The most important thing you can do for a lethargic cat is to get him to the veterinarian. Lethargy is one of the 11 symptoms of a medical cat health emergency!

Have a lethargic cat who’s otherwise healthy on your hands?

If you’ve got a lethargic cat and you’ve taken him to the vet and ruled out serious medical possibilities — it’s time to address his environment. A poor diet doesn’t just result in a dull-coated, overweight (or underweight) cat. It also contributes to a lackluster approach to life. There are many delicious and nutritious feline diets available to get your cat to maximum physical condition. And, ensure there’s a lot of fresh water available at all times.

Next up, make sure there’s plenty of playtime in his world. Cats, like most mammals, need play throughout their lives. And, cats have certain cat toys that they consider fun. From feather toys to laser pointers to battery-operated mice, find out what gets your cat going and go for it!

In addition, making sure he’s got heights to scale (cat trees!) and places to hide are all part of an enriched environment for any cat family. Other elements like catios and cat climbing systems will also engage your lethargic cat in more meaningful, activity-driven ways.

The bottom line on a lethargic cat

Paying attention to your cat’s behavior is imperative to having a healthy and happy cat, and nothing is more important than determining if you have a lethargic cat on your hands. The difference between normal behavior and a dangerous condition quickly depends on you.

Feeling lethargic or low energy yourself? Could it be these three nutritional deficiencies? >>

Thumbnail: Photography © liveostockimages | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

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16 thoughts on “Do You Have a Lethargic Cat — Or a Cat Who Just Loves to Sleep?”

  1. My kitten have some kind of crisis,it will suddently start crying and drooling,it becomes very weak for few seconds And then back to normal.Plus it have been sneezing a lot.Few days back,to stop the crisis we took it to the vet,who gave it antibiotics injections, three at once it almost killed the cat. We decided to not continue the threatment;the injections series was suppossed to last three days.The cat was ok after the injections effects disapeared,but yesterday the crisis started again.We gave it the very small pills the vet prescribed (one half everyday)and now the kitten have been sleepling all day.It ate and drank but it very lethargic.We don’t think it is the pills because they are so small.We are afraid to take it back to the vet,because we live in a country where they don’t know how to take care of small animal.Do You have some advises for us?

  2. Rhonda Sievers

    My 14 year old cat is lethargic, no voice , sleeping more and showing weird behavior, im thinking this isnt. Good

  3. I can’t believe I’m correcting a cat-centric site, but that’s *NOT* what crepuscular means.

    It means they’re highly active AT dusk AND dawn, not FROM dusk UNTIL dawn.

    Most cats sleep just as much at 2am as they do at 2pm.

    Twilight is their activity time. It’s an evolutionary response to most prey being either nocturnal or diurnal.

    Might I suggest correcting the error?

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  8. My female cat (10 yrs old) has been licking herself quite a lot for about 3 days. She sleeps with me in my bed at night but have noticed her constant licking. I have tried to pay more attention to her and this evening, she jumped up on my lap for some petting. I saw that her genitals were extremely dry (cat litter stuck to her) and I’m not sure what to do. I thought I would rub her behind with mineral oil, but my inquiries to that subject were not satisfactory as it tells me that mineral oil ingested could be problem. I would appreciate some comments.

    1. Hi Renee,

      Please bring this issue to your vet’s attention. We hope your cat feels better. These articles might provide some insight as well:

  9. IBD (irritable bowl disease) and or medically significant constipation made my cat hide away (not sure if he was sleeping but laying around doing nothing promotes falling asleep though!). IBD makes the kitties abdomen hurt so they are not wanting to move so much and, thus, hunker down.

    1. Yes its been Hot here too … much so….what I do is ….Spray my 2 purr balls w WATER …avoiding the face of course .. n then Brush their fur coat ……

      one guy is about 12 yrs old other 5 ….n Yes my Older guy Loves to Sleep …. but my younger one ..well he keeps Charlie on his toes! hahaha


  10. how can u get a cat to let u hold them or pet them. she will come to be petted and immediately leaves. she is an inhouse cat. I want one that will sit in my lap and/or let me pet her. she lays on my husbands lap and he treats her rough and she loves it.

    1. I hear you … my 2 indoor only purr balls … Precious comes to me n Looks me in the Face
      when I at my laptop n puts his paws on my legs n WANTS ME TO PICK HIM UP …
      so I do n less then 5 min latter … He insists to jump off me ….from holding him …. then goes back to his sleep area …his favorite …..ha go figure……

      Charlie … he hardly ask for me to hold him ….only time he comes to me for Attention
      TO TELL ME ….FOOD BOWL IS EMPTY!! haahhaaa…n is happy to Lead me to the Fridge!! hahaaha…..he Sleeps most of the Day on HIS Fav spot …Both are in Lg Screened IN DECK ….they spend 24/7 if it was up to them! hahaha

      but they show there love for me in their own ways ….

      oops …gee …If your kitty LIKES TO PLAY ROUGH ….then Wear a Glove n Follow what Your Husbands Does … n or bribe him w Kitty Treats …when he stay on your lap a few minutes at least …..

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