Why Do Cats Sleep in the Sun?

August 23, 2017

cats sleep in the sun
My cats are predictable. Every morning I wake to know that Diana will be stretched out under the window, soaking up the sunlight, while Lesko prefers the rays from a sky light in my ceiling. With all their hair, you’d think that these cats would get overheated, especially in the hot summer months, but they never shy from the sunshine.

Most people keep their thermostats set between 70 and 80 degrees. We consider this a perfect comfort level for humans, but our feline friends disagree. They love warmth, and they will seek out sunny places for extra heat. Where do they get this motivation to find the sunshine?

Absolutely gorgeous cats live in the wild in just about every climate. Think of snow leopards that live in the high, rugged mountains of central Asia and lions in African deserts. While these cousins vary in their climate preferences, all enjoy a good nap in the sun. Just like their wild relatives, our domestic cats seek out places in our homes where they can enjoy warm temperatures.

Feeling good

For cats, to feel warm is to feel secure. The glow of a cat smiling in a sunny nap spot tells of his happiness. The warmth of the sun may make us avoid those areas of the house that heat up during peak periods, but cats find them soothing. The sunshine can also help cats regulate their body temperatures. We know that a cat’s normal body temperature (102.5F degrees) is higher than ours (98.6F degrees). While cats can adapt to many environments, they must keep their body temperatures in a normal range.

You may notice that your cat will find substitutes for sunlight when the need to warm up occurs. Think of Ricky, a three-year-old Siamese that lives in a New York apartment. He often goes missing during the evening hours, but you can usually find him curled near the radiator to steal some heat. His owners moved his bed to his chosen spot.

Conserving fuel

A cat’s high metabolism may also explain his or her desire for heat. While your domestic shorthair may be soaking up sun to stay warm, she is also conserving energy. The sunlight helps overcome a drop in basal metabolism associated with shutdown during sleeping. The stored energy can be used later for many physical activities—such as running and jumping up on furniture, cat trees, or staircases. In nature, cats use this reserved energy to climb trees and hunt.

While we love the services of an air conditioner on a hot day, our cats may protest by seeking out escape from the cooling air. Look for cats in a stack of blankets, or climbing to get that rising heat. Hot environments that are uncomfortable for us can please our cats. A warm external temperature means a cat’s body doesn’t have to work so hard to heat itself. That’s why you will witness your cat moving from spot to spot as the sunlight moves across your carpet.

A few cautions

While cats do love the heat, there are limits. Never leave your cat in a car on a hot day. This can quickly become a life-threatening situation. In the winter months, make sure that your cats, especially hairless cats and outdoor cats, have ways to warm themselves. Serious consequences can occur if a cat’s body temperature drops below 100F degrees. If you notice signs of hypothermia, including breathing difficulties, cold skin, general weakness, stiff muscles, shivering, dilated pupils, and heart and respiratory distress, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Finally, it’s important to feed your feline a high-quality cat food that will provide the fuel required to maintain a healthy body temperature. Our CANIDAE® cat food recipes are formulated with nutritionally dense meat and fish meals, as well as farm-grown fruits and vegetables for a well-balanced diet.

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