A cat’s emotions can be governed by the weather. Domesticated cats are descended from desert-dwelling ancestors, so they are happiest in the sunshine. Adverse conditions will change a cat’s mood, potentially before they even arrive. Cats can sense changes in weather coming.
In sunny climates, cats are cheerful and energetic. If it is cold, wet and windy, the cat will be withdrawn and lethargic. The cat’s senses of smell and hearing are dulled by external meteorological conditions. This can leave it bored and even depressed. Thunderstorms are a fear trigger for cats due to their aversion to loud, sudden noises.
A sudden change in feline behavior could be linked to meteorological conditions, either existing or impending. Do what you can to make your cat comfortable during extreme weather.
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Does a Change of Seasons Cats?
Cat moods have long been linked to the weather outside. While cats appear unaffected by their environment, it is believed that they display multiple emotions. As explained in Behavioral Processes, strong bonds with an owner lead to a wider interpretation of moods.
Many cats are happiest and most active during the summer months. Sunshine brings out the best in a cat’s nature. Adverse weather can have the opposite effect. Winter can be challenging for felines.
Brain Imaging in Behavioral Neuroscience discusses how Seasonal Affective Disorder changes the human brain chemistry. It has not been confirmed whether the same happens to animals. Anybody that observes a cat in winter will claim that this is likely, though. Some cats even display signs of anxiety and depression before poor weather arrives.
Cats used to enjoy a reputation as weather prognosticators. In the 18th Century, sailors would observe the behavior of resident cats on ships. If the cat began acting strangely, it was assumed that a storm was coming. The crew would take appropriate measures to protect themselves.
This is not just superstitious folly from a bygone age. Cats are acutely aware of their surroundings, including changes to the atmosphere. This is what makes them effective hunters. Cats use these keen senses to detect changes to barometric pressure. Put simply, cats can smell a storm coming.
This means that cats need extra care and attention during adverse weather conditions. This is especially true of nervous or anxious cats. Understanding how your cat reacts to weather is key to keeping a feline happy.
Cats often seem happiest when the sun is shining upon them. In the summer, it is common to find cats basking in the sun’s rays. This could be direct sunbathing outside, or indirectly absorbing sun through a window.
Cats are relaxed and happiest in the sun. This is partly due to the animal’s heritage. Cats are descended from wild ancestors that lived in the desert. This makes many cats natural sun worshippers.
There are exceptions, of course. Thick-haired breeds, such as the Maine Coon or Siberian cat, prefer a cooler climate. These are the exception, not the rule. Your cat is likelier to be content and cheerful during the warmer months of the year.
A key explanation for this is that sunlight provides a cat with energy. Just because cats spend several hours a day sleeping, it doesn’t make them lazy. Cats use burn energy every time they hunt, and remain constantly aware of their surroundings. This takes its toll. Cats doze to maintain energy in between these flurries of activity.
Cats also have small bodies with minimal fat. This means that, if the weather is cold, they burn calories just staying warm. This can leave a cat exhausted, and potentially cranky.
When the weather is sunny, cats can simply be. Your cat can relax and enjoy the sensation of the sun against its skin. It will have an abundance of energy to move when needed. This explains why your cat may be more playful during the summer. It has energy to burn, and play is a form of hunting.
This general sense of contentment also typically makes cats more affectionate during warm weather. Just be aware that the summer means longer days, and more sunlight. This can encourage an unspayed cat’s estrus cycle. If an outdoor female is especially affectionate during the summer, she may be in heat.
As much as cats enjoy the sunshine, they can have too much of a good thing. Cats are not always the best judge of when they are overheating. Excessive body temperature can be distressing for cats and impact their behavior.
Watch your cat carefully while it is enjoying time in the sun. If the cat is grooming to excess or panting, it is overheating. Limit your cat’s sun exposure as quickly as possible. Bring the cat indoors and close any windows, curtains or drapes.
Failure to aid an overheating cat will lead to health issues, and a sharp change in mood. If the cat has burned its skin, it will be in pain. This, too, leads to changes in demeanor. The cat will become short-tempered and aggressive. It needs to cool off, both literally and figuratively.
The mood of an indoor cat may not vary drastically during the winter. Your cat may be a little more lethargic, seeming to sleep more. Your cat is conserving energy for when it is needed most. As long as the cat’s body temperature remains between 100.5-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, it is safe.
Outdoor cats will be more troubled by cold weather, especially shorthaired breeds. The cat will be unable, or unwilling, to engage in its usual routine. This can cause stress as felines loathe and fear change.
Manage your cat’s moods during the winter by creating a stimulating indoor environment. Provide as much as to smell and do inside as your cat would have outdoors. The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery explains how a stimulating indoor environment prevents a cat from becoming anxious. At a bare minimum, your cat will need the following.
- Assigned territory and hiding places
- Cat trees to provide an opportunity to climb
- Scratching posts or equivalent materials
- New and unique scents (consider the use of essential oils)
- A range of regularly-rotated toys and games
Above all, be prepared to play with your cat. An outdoor cat that cannot hunt will quickly grow frustrated. This could lead to an aggressive state of mind. The cat may also grow depressed at the inability to act upon natural instinct. Play is the next best thing to hunting live prey.
Lack of Natural Light
Another hallmark of the cold winter months is an absence of light. Throughout the coldest months of the year, days are shorter and nights last for hours.
Some cats experience a sensation similar to SAD. This is due to a lack of natural light. Cats are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk. While this means the cat is not dependent on bright light, its absence will be noted. As Cell and Tissue Research explains, feline brains still need serotonin to feel happy. This can be in short supply during the winter.
Attempt to replicate the experience of natural light for your cat during winter. Do not just switch on overhead lights all day. Constant bright, artificial light can play havoc with a cat’s hormones and sleep cycle. Cats need a natural balance of light and darkness. Look into a soft, SAD-specific lamp. This may perk up your cat’s mood.
Rain is a mood-killer for cats. Regardless of whether your cat ventures outside, the rain will have an emotional impact. Outdoor cats are most affected, though. They will be unable to go hunting or exploring.
The obvious explanation for this is the feline aversion to water. Most cats hate getting wet. The process chills a cat to the bone, and it can take a long time to warm up.
In addition, rain washes away scents from the streets. Your cat cannot smell prey, or use scent to negotiate territory. Trapped inside, the cat may grow bored and depressed.
For indoor cats, rain is a source of anxiety. Cats are fast learners. They will remember past instances where rain has led to storms. This will set your cat on edge. It will likely start to groom itself to self-soothe. Many cats also find a safe hiding place, where they wait for the rain to pass.
The idea of getting wet can also be distressing, even to an indoor cat. There are exceptions to this rule. Some cats love water, and would relish the chance to roam in the rain. Many more simply prefer to curl up and sleep. The cat is waiting for the rain to pass. The fastest way to make this happen is sleeping until the skies clear.
Be mindful of this. Some cats can show signs of depression during rainy days. Sleeping alone is not a cause for undue concern. Watch out for the loss of appetite, excessive grooming, and refusal to interact, though. These are warning signs that your cat has the blues.
Try to distract your cat from the sound of rain. Music can be useful for this. Frontiers in Psychology explains how cats prefer species-specific music. This will capture your cat’s attention, providing mental stimulation. This, in turn, will put your cat in a happier state of mind.
Thunderstorms are anxiety triggers for cats. The loud noise of rumbling thunder frightens cats. The cat does not know the source of the nouse.
In addition, many cats sense storms coming before they arrive. The cat smells and detects changes to air pressure. This means the cat will grow aggravated and skittish before the storm even starts. By the time of the first thunderclap, the cat is already a bag of nerves.
Most cats will hide during a storm. If this is your cat’s preference, leave them to it. Check periodically, offering your cat reassurance. If your can, set up territory in a soundproofed area. This will reduce anxiety.
You may need to be a little more flexible with house rules than usual during a storm. If your cat has a hooded litter box, for example, it may hide in there. This is not ideal from a hygiene standpoint. If it brings you cat comfort, let it slide on this occasion.
If the cat wants to be with you, allow this. Some cats take comfort from the company of humans during a frightening experience. Talk to your cat and offer regular gentle petting. You must be the embodiment of calm during this process, though.
If you are afraid of storms yourself, mask this fear as best you can. Cats can detect human emotions. If you give your cat the impression that storms are frightening, it will grow increasingly tense. If you remain calm and indifferent, your cat is likelier to follow your lead.
Much like heavy rain and thunderstorms, strong winds will frighten a cat. The wind carries a wide array of scents and sounds. Your cat will experience a form of sensory overload. It struggles to distinguish what potential threats are near and which are further away. This can lead to significant anxiety.
Treat strong winds the same as heavy rain or thunderstorms. Stay calm, distract your cat, and allow it to call the shots. Do not force your cat to stay with you, but certainly do not shoo it away. Follow your cat’s lead. It will manage its own nerves the best way it can.
The wind is one form of weather than cats can grow used to. Storms will always frighten a cat, and rain will always have an impact. Regular exposure to strong winds can desensitize a cat, though. Be patient and keep your cat safe. It may eventually grow indifferent to gales outside.
If your cat is acting out of sorts, consider the weather. The climate and conditions can have a major effect on a cat’s sense of self. Thankfully, nothing lasts forever. Make your cat comfortable and ride out extreme weather together. Your cat will be back to its old self before too long.