It is always important to monitor a cat’s weight. This becomes increasingly important during colder months, when cats appear to become hungrier. You’re not imagining things as cats do eat more in the winter.
The average indoor cat eats around 15% more during the winter months. This because the cat burns more energy throughout the day to stay warm. Without the opportunity to bask in the sunlight, a cat has a lower body temperature. Even napping and dozing burns energy.
If your cat gains weight in the winter, you’ll need to ensure it sheds any excess pounds during the Spring and Summer. While cats eat more food when it’s cold, this should not become the norm throughout the year.
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Should I Feed My Cat More in The Winter?
Science Daily stated that cats are approximately 15% more hungry during the winter. Conversely, the same study found that cats are 15% less hungry during summer. So, do cats eat more in winter, or just return to the mean?
In an ideal world, cats would be fed the same amount all year. This appeals to the feline craving for routine. This is not appropriate, though. Feeding schedules should be increased and decreased according to the seasons.
You will likely find that your cat follows you around, asking for extra food. This may not be the case if your cat is shy and submissive. In this instance, it may be hungry but unwilling to act upon this need.
Why Are Cats Hungrier in The Winter?
A cold cat is a hungrier cat. Indoor cats should not be hugely affected by changes in temperature. When it’s cold outside, replacement heat sources are likely to be used in the home. This is why cats gravitate towards radiators and fireplaces during winter.
Even indoor cats pay attention to the sun and its schedule. Your cat will find a spot where the sun shines through a window. In the summer, a cat can bask in the sun’s rays for hours.
This exposure to sunlight triggers a response in the cat’s brain and hormones. The cat has the urge to rest and relax, seeking food less frequently. The cat feels safe and secure while the sun is shining.
Cats understand when winter is arriving due to the lack of sunlight. It does not go unnoticed that the days are shorter during winter. This, again, triggers an array of instinctual behaviors. Cats automatically become less active during the colder months.
Cats sleep more during the winter as an act of self-preservation. Wild felines find food harder to come by during winter. This instinct carries over to domesticated cats. The cat sleeps to conserve energy, storing fat in case it cannot eat for some time.
The connection to food is that, as per Science, a cat’s body temperature drops while sleeping. This means that it is burning energy while it dozes, just to stay comfortable. Upon waking, the cat will seek food to replenish this energy.
Feeding a Cat in Winter
A cat should not be deprived of food during the winter. Ensure that your cat eats enough and worry about burning the calories afterwards. Food followed by exercise is considerably better than calorie-counting during the coldest months of the year.
There are several ways that you could approach feeding your cat a little more during winter. As a rule, cats should be consuming 20 calories for every pound of body weight. During winter, you’re looking to increase your cat’s calorie intake by 15%.
This will provide enough energy to stay active. Just be aware, that applies to a cat’s ideal body weight. If your cat is overweight, action needs to be taken.
Wait until spring for a diet, though. For the remainder of winter, maintain your cat’s weight. You’ll still need to feed it more frequently and step up the exercise regime. Allowing an already-overweight cat to gain mass in winter can have serious health repercussions.
When it comes to providing these calories, a simple solution is just offering 15% more food. This can be worked out by weighing out a daily food allowance, increasing as applicable. This is not your only option, though. You could take a creative approach.
Additions to Wet Food
Rather than just offering more cat food, consider making your cat’s meals more interesting. Add something extra to the top, such as cooked chicken. Most cats will welcome this addition, gaining nutrition and pleasure.
Do not suddenly add meat to a cat’s diet in large quantities. The change in diet will upset a cat’s delicate digestion. Start by hand-feeding in small quantities. Once your cat has adapted to this, you can start adding the food to its bowl.
When choosing meat, chicken or fresh fish are recommended. These will benefit your cat’s health. Avoid pork-based meats where possible, feeding them sparingly. Pork, bacon, and sausages are high in sodium.
Cooked Meat vs. Raw Meat
Cooked meat is easier to digest, but may lose some nutrition. Raw meat replicates a cat’s wild diet but can be dangerous. Ensure the meat does not contain any bacteria, and the cat’s stomach will not reject it.
Another way to bring more calories and taste into a cat’s diet is with warm broth. Pour this over your cat’s meal. This is ideal for fussy eaters. The smell of the broth will tempt the cat to eat. It is also easier to keep an eye on the cat’s calorie intake with a liquid surplus.
Multiple Smaller Feedings
The lifestyle and demeanor of a cat will change during winter. Cats are likelier to enter deeper, prolonged sleep more frequently. Every time it does so, a cat will wake up hungry. Consider dividing up your cat’s food allowance and feeding smaller amounts, more often.
This is easy to do. Measure out your cat’s standard food allowance, adding 15%. Divide this by two if your cat usually eats once a day. If it eats twice a day, divide it by four. Essentially, you are returning your cat’s feeding schedule to that of a kitten.
The goal is simple. You are aiming to feed your cat half as much, twice as often. This way, your cat enters a regular cycle of growing hungry and gaining nourishment. Your cat will not be eating larger meals in one sitting and struggling to digest as a result.
If you adopt this feeding model, you may need to sustain it. Cats love routine. You may find that your cat wants to eat smaller meals, more often, all year around. If this is the case, continue to reduce portion size once the winter passes. Do not allow a cat to gain weight in the warmer seasons.
Free eating is commonly used to train a cat into allowing you to sleep at night. By leaving kibble accessible overnight, you are less likely to be disturbed by a hungry cat. The same approach could be used to accommodate a cat’s additional calories during winter.
Weigh out an appropriate amount of kibble that meets your cat’s additional calorie intake. Leave this somewhere the cat can always access the food. This should be an appropriate distance from water bowls or litter trays.
This approach will not work for all cats. Some felines are fussy and will point-blank refuse to eat kibble. You could make it more tempting by drizzling gravy or tuna juice on the food. Just ensure you are monitoring any excess calories caused by this.
Some cats will also grow used to free-eating and grow demanding. Once the cat empties its bowl, it may follow you around demanding more food. You will need to stand firm in the face of excessive verbalization and pleading.
One way around this is a timed feeder. These electronic devices release a set amount of food at pre-determined times. You can decide when your cat eats, and how much. Again though, some cats will not be happy with their allocation. Be prepared to manage this.
Some cats supplement their calorie intake by hunting and eating live prey. According to Psychopharmacologia, some felines consider hunting to be play. These cats will present the corpse of a kill to an owner as a gift.
Indoor cats lack the opportunity to hunt, so this experience is replicated with toys. This could be a way to increase your cat’s calorie intake. Play with your cat, offering edible rewards whenever the cat ‘wins’ the game. This will serve multiple purposes.
It will keep your cat entertained, staving off depression and sadness during the winter. This will also strengthen your bond. This play also ensures that your cat exercises, burning off the excess calories it consumes. Finally, it ensures that your cat is eating enough.
If offering a reward for a play kill, cooked meats are a great food to use. The cat will consider their prize to be a genuine reward. This will also simulate the experience of wild hunting. Even indoor cats need to embrace their wild side every now and again.
Even the most dynamic cat may lose interest in hunting while it’s cold. The Journal of Zoology explains how wild cats hunt less during winter. This is due to reduced energy levels all around.
If you cannot tempt your cat into playing for treats, considering a treasure hunt. Puzzles are another way to make your cat earn food. Do not use fresh meat in these instances. It could spoil. Traditional treats are fine, as long as you manage overall calorie intake.
Managing a Cat’s Weight
Play is the easiest way to manage a cat’s weight. Playing with toys requires a great deal of physical exertion from cats. While it looks like the cat is barely moving, it is working countless muscles.
You may struggle to motivate a cat to play in winter, though. This is especially likely with older cats, who will likely just want to relax and sleep. You’ll need to find other ways to manage weight without withholding essential calories.
Ensure that your cat is overweight. Cats grow a winter coat, so longhaired breeds, in particular, will look bigger. Run your fingers along your cat’s sides. If you can feel the ribs without applying pressure, the cat is at an ideal weight. If you need to push and poke, the cat has excess fat reserves.
Cut down on fatty, sugary treats. Swap these for lean cuts of meat. These will still contain calories, but less than the treats purchased from a pet store. You may need to train your cat into accepting this status quo.
Let your cat ride out the winter before adopting a weight loss regime. Just do not allow your cat to become obese. This leads to a range of health problems, including diabetes and heart disease.
Once late spring and summer arrive, you can start reducing your cat’s food intake again. Most cats will accept this without complaint. If they can be encouraged to exercise more at this time, they’ll soon become trim again.
All cats grow hungrier during the winter. This is nothing to worry about, and there is no need to call a vet. You certainly should not withhold food – your cat is not being gluttonous. Just manage that food that your cat eats, increasing exercise where possible.