If you have a cat, you’ll be familiar with their love of sunlight. Outdoor cats are prone to basking in the sun for hours, as though they’re partly lizard. Indoor cats will find a ray of light through a window, and refuse to be moved.
Cats draw comfort from warmth, and prefer a body temperature of 90-100 degrees at all times. Basking in the sun increases their core temperature, which means they won’t grow cold at night. Sunlight also provides a cat with Vitamin D, and helps regulate an unspayed feline’s reproductive cycle.
Like anything, it’s possible to get too much direct sunlight. As much as the sun benefits your pet, it also presents many dangers. This guide discusses how your cat can safely relax in the sun.
Is the Sun Good for Cats?
The sun is neutral if enjoyed responsibly. In fact, they can significantly benefit a cat. Failing to respect the potency of the sun, however, can harm a cat. Like many facets of pet ownership, it’s all about striking the appropriate balance.
Your cat will greatly benefit from spending some time in the sun. Domestic housecats are ancestors of desert-dwelling felines, so they at least somewhat reliant on sunlight. A sunny day provides many boosts to your cat’s happiness and physical health.
Why Do Cats Need Sunlight?
Cats do not need sunlight to survive, but it certainly keeps them happier. Felines can endure regular sunlight. They’re adaptable animals, which is how stray and feral cats survive cold winters. Given a choice, however, a cat will always prefer warmer climates. The benefits of the sun for cats include:
There are few sensations that cats enjoy less than feeling cold. By basking in the sun, they can build up their body temperature. A warm cat will feel considerably more relaxed and comfortable.
This heat retention will also be helpful when the night arrives. As the ambient temperature drops, a cat will have enough heat in reserve to stay comfortable.
If your cat dozes the day away, you may assume they are just lazy. You’d be surprised at just how exhausting being a cat can be. Cats maintain a constant state of awareness. This, in itself, requires energy. Also, cats burn substantial amounts of physical and mental energy in short, controlled bursts.
Every time they hunt, they are using every muscle in their body and brain. By lying in the sun, your cat is staying warm and replenishing that lost energy. Think of your cat’s body as a solar-powered battery.
Cats are less reliant on the sun for Vitamin D than other animals. However, they will still benefit from obtaining this vitamin from the sun.
Regulation of Reproductive Cycle
Sunlight plays a significant role in your cat’s reproductive cycle. The more daylight your cat encounters, the more likely they are to enter heat naturally.
It may be a push to say that cats need sunlight to survive. As you’ll see though, it dramatically improves their quality of life. If you have an outdoor cat, allow them to enjoy the sun in moderation.
If your cat lives indoors, leave them to relax by a window on a summer’s day. Your pet will be considerably happier and healthier for it.
Symptoms of Lack of Sunlight in Cats
If a cat is not enjoying enough sunlight, it will likely have an impact on them. Your pet may become listless, lethargic and despondent – all the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.
There is no way of knowing for sure if cats suffer from SAD. However, a study published in Neuroscience Letters suggests that rodents find their hippocampus shrinking in winter.
As cats are considerably more emotive, it’s safe to assume that they may struggle too. Also, don’t lose sight of the fact that cats pick up on, and mimic, human emotions. If you’re blue due to a lack of sun, your cat will likely feel the same.
Of course, a lack of sunlight could also lead to a lack of energy in your pet. If your cat looks depressed, they may just be exhausted. Remember that your cat relies on the sun’s rays to keep themselves invigorated. If your cat seems more lethargic than usual, consider investing in an artificial sunlamp.
Do Cats Get Vitamin D from the Sun?
Cats have a slightly different relationship with Vitamin D to other animals. Vitamin D is released from the sun’s rays, and gets trapped in cat fur. When they groom themselves, cats then ingest all these vitamins. This is great for their health.
Where cats differ, however, is that they don’t rely on the sun for Vitamin D. If your cat is fed a balanced diet of high-quality food, they’ll get everything they need. Excessive Vitamin D can be dangerous, eventually poisoning your cat’s lungs and kidneys.
It’s unlikely that spending time in the sun alone will significantly influence your cat’s Vitamin D levels. UV rays will provide minor health boosts, but not enough to replace good food.
Sunlight will not push a cat that eats well over the edge into Vitamin D poisoning. Just avoid additional supplements, and don’t expect the sun to make up for a poor diet.
How Does the Sun Affect a Cat in Heat?
If you have an outdoor cat, you’ll notice that sunlight influences their reproductive cycle. As Pet Happy explains, this is due to your pet’s hormones – particularly melatonin.
This hormone, which makes us sleepy when it’s dark, suppresses a cat’s reproductive cycle. Your cat’s body produces more melatonin in the winter, preventing them from going into heat.
This is nature’s way of preventing kittens from being born in the winter. A cat will struggle to stay warm when it’s cold outside. This means they may not have enough body heat to keep their offspring safe.
Also, the typical prey of a wild cat will be hibernating during winter. This will make food sources hard to come by. Again, this could be the difference between life and death for a kitten.
When the days get longer, your cat’s body will produce less melatonin. As a result, they will instinctively re-enter their reproductive cycle. Typically, a cat will need to experience around 12 hours of natural daylight to enter heat.
Where this science falls down a little is when cats stay indoors all year round. If a cat lives under artificial light all year, they could enter heat at any time. This makes keeping your cat’s temperature consistent and comfortable even more important.
Can Cats Get Too Much Sun?
Just because cats enjoy time in the sun, it doesn’t mean that it’s entirely beneficial. Some cats enjoy lapping at milk too, but they’re still lactose intolerant.
The primary risk is sunburn. Cats are just as susceptible to sunburn as humans. Perhaps more prevalent, however, is the risk of skin cancer. Prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause Squamous Cell Carcinoma.
A telltale warning sign of this condition is a series of sores and bumps on your cat’s skin. Squamous Cell Carcinoma will leave ulcers, which can become infected if broken open by scratching.
You must take your cat to a vet at the first potential sign of this condition. Time is of the essence, as catching this disease early gives your pet a fighting chance of survival.
Senior cats are more likely to develop skin cancer. Be particularly vigilant about monitoring their time in the sun. Sitting by a window and soaking up the sun is still not 100% safe. The glass barrier provided will at least shield your cat from the worst of the sun’s UV rays, though.
Heat stroke is another potentially serious concern for felines that love the sunshine. As their body temperature soars over when is comfortable, cats start to struggle.
Common symptoms of heat stroke in felines include:
- Trouble breathing
- Sweating profusely through the paw pads
- Uncharacteristic clumsiness and disorientation
If your cat has heat stroke, they will need veterinary attention. Call ahead, and ensure that your vet has everything prepped to help your cat. In the meantime, don’t douse your cat in cold water or an ice bath. This will just send their body into shock. Instead, cool your cat off gradually.
Try wrapping them in a wet towel, and spraying cool – but not cold – water. There is every chance that your cat will resist this, but it does help.
Do Cats Get Sunburn?
Sunburn is a risk for cats. Your cat will likely want to lie in the sun for hours if you’ll let them. If they’re awake throughout this time, it’s not anything to worry about. They will understand when they are at risk, and take action. If your cat falls asleep, however, they could end up in trouble.
Common symptoms of sunburn in cats include:
- Red, inflamed skin that is painful to the touch. This could be on the nose, ears, belly or back.
- Dry, leathery and thick patches of skin.
- Hair loss and bald patches around the impacted areas.
It’s not just direct sun that you need to cautious of, either. Sunlight can bounce from the sidewalk and burn your cat’s paw pads or stomach. You could attempt to minimize this risk by applying sunblock.
Most pet stores will stock products that are designed for cats. You could also use human sunblock, but only choose a gentle one designed for babies. Such a product will be gentle on your cat’s skin, and not contain perfumes. A cat’s skin is easily aggravated, so don’t take any unnecessary risks.
If you have an outdoor cat, try to limit their time in direct sunlight. Place the back of your hand on the sidewalk. If you can’t comfortably hold it for three seconds, it’s too hot for your cat’s paws.
Take a look at the weather forecast, and learn when the sin is at its highest and hottest. This is usually from around 10 am to about 4 pm. Let your pet outside at the start of the day, and toward the end. That will still be plenty of sunlight to enjoy, without unnecessary risk.
If your cat does end up with sunburn, it’s best to consult a vet. Treatment will involve pain relief, and an ointment to soothe the burning and repair the skin. If your cat has become dehydrated, however, they may also require IV fluids.
Is the Sun Dangerous to Some Cat Breeds More Than Others?
The sun can impact cats of any breed, but white cats are particularly at risk. Any cat with very little fur, or none at all, will also need to be managed carefully.
This does not mean that longhaired cats have a free pass, though. If a cat has thick fur, they will grow hot faster and struggle to cool off.
Senior cats, and those with pre-existing medical conditions, are likelier to be damaged by sun exposure. The older a cat, the longer it takes their body to recover from sun damage.
The internal organs of an older cat have also seen more wear and tear over time. This means they will be more sensitive to the damage caused by dehydration and other ailments.
Do Cats Like Summer Heat?
The ancestors of your pet lived in the desert. This means that any cat will always prefer to be too hot than too cold. When the sun is shining, and the air is warm, your cat will be perfectly content.
Even when the temperature is at it’s highest, your cat will appear cool, calm and collected. Appearances can be deceptive, however. You will need to manage your pet’s health during the summer. Your cat may be struggling more than they are letting on.
Signs that your cat is uncomfortably hot during the summer include:
- Excessive Grooming. Your cat’s saliva naturally cools them off when they’re overheating. When it’s too warm, however, no amount of grooming will be enough. Your cat may damage their fur by grooming to excess.
- Body Temperature Over 105O. Take your cat’s temperature regularly during the summer. If they are running in excess if 105O, heatstroke is a risk. Cool your cat off immediately.
- They are seeking Shelter. Cats are smart – they’ll know what parts of the house are cooler than others. Your cat may even escape the heat by curling up in the sink or bathtub. Leave them to it, if this is the case.
Safety precautions that you should take during the summer to keep your cat safe include:
- Encourage Drinking. Cats rarely drink as much as they should. As their bodies retain water, most cats live in a state close to dehydration. The heat of the summer can push them over the edge. Ensure that your cat hydrates sufficiently.
- Encourage Cold Play. Your cat will still have their hunting instincts, even if they’re overheating. Rather than playing high energy games, encourage your cat to hunt ice cubes. You could fill them with meat stock to attract your pet’s attention.
- Groom Your Cat Regularly. Heat can cause a cat’s fur to become matted, trapping further heat inside. Ensure that your cat enjoys a regular brush to spread this warmth around. This is especially important for white cats, and those with little fur.
Cats love the summer, but the summer doesn’t always love them back. Ensure that you keep an eye on your pet during the hottest times of the year. It may be your duty to save them from themselves.
Cats love the sun primarily because cats love to be comfortable. Your pet will rarely snuggle up and contentedly doze when they’re chilly. With the warming rays of the sun warming them, however, your cat will feel completely at peace.
Remember, though, your pet can still enjoy the sun with a safe boundary. Sitting by the window can be just as impactful as being outside. Even then, it’s not necessarily failsafe. You’ll always need to ensure that your cat is not sunbathing to excess.
A little sun can go a long way where cats are concerned. Once your pet has soaked up enough rays, they’ll have enough warmth to keep them going. Allow your cat to embrace their love of the sun, but keep it safe. Sunshine should always endanger your cat’s life, and never endanger it.