Feline Paralysis: "I Can't Help Fix Dinner, I've a Cat on My Lap!"

Comet and Talisker on Ingrid's lap
Feline paralysis (n.) The condition in which a person is unable to move due to the presence of a cat on her or his lap. (See also “pussy whipped.”)

“No, honey, I’m sorry. I can’t help you with the dishes. I have a cat on my lap.”

Non-cat owners are baffled by it. Almost every cat lover I’ve known has completely and implicitly understood it, and accepted it without question. The details and specifics may vary from cat lover to cat lover and from home to home … but almost every cat household I’ve known has some version of it.

If you have a cat on your lap, you get to keep sitting down. In fact, you’re obligated to.

In our home, we call it “feline paralysis.” Or “FP” for short. And it dominates our daily household arrangements to a degree that even we recognize is absurd. The encatted person gets waited on hand and foot: food and drink are brought, dishes are carried away, electronic communication/entertainment devices are fetched. The disencatted person gets stuck with any and all household tasks that demand immediate attention.

We do realize that, from the non-cat-lover’s perspective, this behavior might seem a bit … extreme. Deranged, one might even say. We’ve blown off plans we’ve made for the evening, because we both had cats on our laps. (Not really important plans — but still.) Yes, we arrange our lives around our cats’ pleasure to an absurdly high degree. On the other hand … we get to have cats on our laps. So there’s that.

Like so many fundamentals of human virtue, this simple principle becomes more complicated when it plays out in the real world. As any philosopher will tell you, ethical questions become most interesting when fundamental and deeply held values collide. And so it is with feline paralysis: The simple and fundamental value of cats sitting on laps can become deeply complicated when it conflicts with the values of keeping commitments, fairness in allocation of household duties, or really needing to pee.

So here are the rules of feline paralysis, as we have fleshed them out in our household.


Thus begins my latest piece for Catster, Feline Paralysis: “I Can’t Help Fix Dinner, I’ve a Cat on My Lap!” To read more, read the rest of the piece. (Lots of pictures.) Enjoy!

Feline Paralysis: "I Can't Help Fix Dinner, I've a Cat on My Lap!"
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34 thoughts on “Feline Paralysis: "I Can't Help Fix Dinner, I've a Cat on My Lap!"

  1. 1

    If one person of my household is nailed to a chair, a stealthy move by the other person towards a certain cupboard containg a certain tin that makes a certain rattly noise makes ears and whiskers quiver ready for a quick launch. Depth of sleep of feline doesn’t seem to matter. Feline food always comes before warmth. (If not we worry. Nothing’s more alarming than ones kit being off its food!)

  2. 3

    There’s also the odd contortion you have to go through to get one hand on the down arrow of your laptop to continue reading while maintaining the delicate architecture of arm and body support so as not to cause your cat any discomfort. There’s got to be a phrase for that too.

  3. 4

    As a former cat owner, I know what you’re talking about. It gets more profound when you have a new infant. Whether my wife or myself is holding our new daughter, the other is the one who has to get up to do anything required – despite the fact that we could just hand the baby over.

  4. 5

    and then there’s “my arm has fallen asleep, but if I move it, the cat will wake up”, which I’ve come to resolve by moving the arm at a glacially slow pace. seems to work.

    also: getting out of bed while encatted = against the rules.

  5. 7

    A corollary of feline paralysis is when the cat takes over an entire bed while you’re trying to sleep, forcing you to the edge or into strange contortions (and, inevitably, insomnia) in order not to disturb the cat. Perhaps we should call this feline sleep paralysis?

    (Seriously, my 8-pound kitteh can take over an entire double bed somehow!)

  6. 8

    You think it’s hard to get up when you have a kitty on your lap? Try getting up when you have a 100lb Great Pyrenees on your lap.

    Most of my experience with cats is with barn cats. FP wasn’t something that affected people; it affected horses. One cat in particular liked to nap on horseback, so there was a lot of: “We can’t take Nickers out for grooming yet, Bubba is still sleeping on her.”

  7. 9

    My family has some resistance to FP. We’re reluctant to get up if a cat’s in our lap, but all our cats know that if we lean forward and put our hands on the chair’s arms, it’s time to get out of our lap. The reluctance increases if the cat manages to fall asleep in our lap.

  8. 11

    Trying to overcome FP while seated on the commode one day I was nearly subjected to an early vasectomy.

    Trying to move just isn’t worth it…

  9. 12

    We mostly trained Syl not to sit on laps cause she’d dig her claws into legs when she was smaller. She instead sits next to people. She’s very picky about next to who and gets very territorial about people moving in on her turf. I do run into problems trying to go to bed sometimes as she’ll try very hard to keep you awake and sitting next to her.

  10. 13

    I’ve always called this condition “being becatted”, in analogy to a sailing ship stopping all progress due to being becalmed. But I have to admit that “disencatted” sounds better than “unbecatted”.

  11. 14

    Things between my husband and I getting rather difficult, since I get more en-catted and also more bed-catted than he does- can I help it if the cat clearly prefers me to him- despite him doing more for and playing more with it? What is the term for this, I wonder!

  12. 15

    That’s so our house too!

    If the phone rings, but there is a cat on your lap and cannot reach said phone? = let voicemail handle it.
    Thirsty, but there is a cat on your lap? = ask someone to bring you a beverage.

    Since we all know the feeling of a warm and happy cat curled up in our laps, we all agree to these terms.

    Besides, who can stand the withering look a cat gives you when you rudely wake them and remove their self heated lap/bed?

  13. 17

    My cats are masters of stealth and frequently we will look down and discover we have a cat in our laps. A frequent conversation is:

    “You appear to have developed a cat.”

    Mallorn, the abby mix, is the best one at doing this.

  14. 19

    Alas, neither of our cats are lap cats. One will consent to sit in my lap for a little while if I use the big reclining chair with the wide armrests, so he can plant his behind on the armrest and not actually commit all of his person to my lap. The other thinks that laps are the ultimate evil. Mind you, these two fight at night to see who gets to curl up in my armpit when I go to sleep. Go figure.

  15. 20

    To read more, read the rest of the piece. (Lots of pictures.)

    Are the “Lots of pictures” cute? I won’t read it unless they’re cute.
    [takes a peek]
    Okay, yeah, they are. You win this round, kitties! (As usual.)

  16. 21

    Feline Paralysis: “I Can’t Help Fix Dinner, I’ve a Cat on My Lap!”

    Now see, I have a completely different problem. If I find a cat on my lap, it just might turn out to BE dinner!

  17. 23

    Try getting up when you have a 100lb Great Pyrenees on your lap.

    You can pretty much forget it. Especially if you are one the dog’s favorites. (I’m a lap dog! No you aren’t you double-dewclawed maniac.)

    Also, they seem to have a range of about 1000k and like to dig shallow pits in which to lie. They are not easily removed from these things, either.

  18. 26

    The terms “encatted” and “disencatted” have been officially adopted in my household, and possibly the households of my friends, along with the noun form “encatment”.

  19. 27

    When Fortran sits on my knee, she usually – and seemingly deliberately – makes access to my mouse impossible. So work has to stop. This frequently happens when I really need to get some work done, but it can’t be helped.

    Work will understand, right?

  20. 28

    You can pretty much forget it. Especially if you are one the dog’s favorites. (I’m a lap dog! No you aren’t you double-dewclawed maniac.)

    Oh, I’m definitely her favorite. I can’t even escape when I’m standing. She’ll sit on my feet and lean against me as hard as she can, presumably to push me over so she can climb back on my lap.

    Pyrs are stubborn, pit-digging, lap-crushing shedding machines. That’s what makes them so lovable.

  21. 29

    I can really relate to this post.

    My wife and I have 4 cats and 2 dogs. We use a system of TLAs to indicate that we are “unable” to move due to an animal encumbrance. Examples: COL = Cat On Lap (or Cat On Legs), DOF = Dog on Feet.

    Also, “Feline Paralysis Standoff” would be an awesome name for a rock band.

  22. 30

    We too have stealth cats that can sneak onto your lap unnoticed. The unable to move problem is compounded by our electric recliners which take several seconds to un-recline. The cats seem to be aware that a reclined human is less likely to be moving any time soon, and so is a better bet to go and sit on.

  23. 31

    My cat has mistaken my alarm for a call to come cuddle under the covers. And, of course, once I have a cat under the covers being completely adorable, I can’t get up.

    But I’ve solved this problem! I sent two alarms–one an hour before I have to get up, so we can spend some time cuddling.

    This is normal, right?

  24. 34

    […] We’ve been spending a lot more time together lately. It began whilst I was sick, and spending more time than usual in bed reading and dozing. She saw this as a prime opportunity to have her lap and her warm cozy room, too, and would plop down atop me for a long session of purring and snuggles. She looks smug about it, too. She knows all about feline paralysis and the causing thereof. […]

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