If you have cats, you may have noticed something. They sleep a lot. You may also have noted that they can sleep even more in winter than in summer. Or do they? Do cats sleep more in winter? It certainly seems that way, and as this article will explore, there may be good reasons for that.
Of course, “more” is a relative concept. So, what do we mean when we say that a cat sleeps more in winter? Cats have a general reputation for sleeping a lot, so we will look at what’s considered normal for a cat’s sleep cycle.
We will also look at when to be concerned about your cat’s sleep and what other factors to consider before you call a vet. After fall, winter can be a struggle for us humans, too; who wants to get out of bed on a cold winter’s morning?
Let’s take a fun dive into whether cats do sleep more in winter.
Cats and Sleeping: What is Normal?
So, most of us already know that cats love sleeping. How long do cats sleep? On average, a cat will sleep between 12 and 16 hours daily. That’s perfectly normal for a cat, which is described as following a crepuscular behavior pattern (active before sunrise and just after sunset). For clarity, humans are typically diurnal, meaning they’re most active during the day.
Cats, on the other hand, do not sleep entirely as humans do. They do experience REM sleep, where they often seem to be dreaming with little twitches of their paws and whiskers. They also often experience a slightly lighter sleep, where their senses are still relatively alert.
It’s more akin to deep relaxation, a non-REM state of rest. Cats drift in and out of REM sleep and regularly move about between their sleep bouts. This is why they may not lie in one place for very long but are happy to shift to a new spot to simply sleep some more.
Cats also typically experience two specific bouts of high alertness and energy, once just before sunrise and the other just after sunset. This is likely a genetically inherited trait related to hunting for small prey that happens to be active at these times.
What Happens to Cats in Winter?
Cats are usually fairly good at self-care in colder weather. They will find warm spaces when required to help them keep warm. In extreme climates, however, it is still important to ensure that your cat can easily access warm indoor spaces.
Cats used to being outdoors will likely stay indoors more. They are prone to conditions like hypothermia, just like other mammals. If you live in a snowy or icy climate, know that cats can also suffer frostbite to their extremities.
Cats’ body temperatures are generally warmer than human’s. If they struggle to regulate this temperature properly, it can lead to serious problems. For this reason, resting and sleeping more may simply be in line with preserving body heat and energy.
But, assuming your cat has access to shelter and a good warm kitty bed or blanket, you only need to observe other behaviors to determine whether it’s happy. It may still venture out, but it will likely be for short periods and hopefully not very far.
Do Cats Sleep More in Winter?
So we know that cats like to sleep. The question is whether they actually sleep more in winter than they do in summer and whether this is a good thing. As humans, we might wonder whether it’s actually possible for any healthy animal to sleep more than 16 hours per day. Cats seem to do it effortlessly.
Lots of factors go into whether a cat will sleep more. Some of it has to do with the colder temperatures, and some of it may have to do with fewer daylight hours available. Some studies even suggest cats sleep less deeply in the cold, requiring them to rest more overall.
The amount of sleep itself is not necessarily an indicator of a problem. Like humans, sometimes cats prefer to stay still and keep warm in cold weather. However, certain accompanying behaviors may reveal more about your cat’s state of body and mind. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. It’s far more useful to look at a broader picture when it comes to how your cat’s behavior changes in winter.
Can Cats Get Depressed in Winter?
Believe it or not, it is strongly suspected by owners and some experts that cats can get depressed or suffer from heightened anxiety in winter. The question is debatable. Cats also are very sensitive to changes around a home, including your routines. So your cat may not become anxious because of winter itself but because of changes in your home brought on by the seasonal changes.
If your regular routine changes during winter, chances are your cat may pick up on it and take some time to adjust to it. Its behavior might be interpreted as depression or even anxiety. Cats also seem to tune into your own moods and feelings. They may simply be looking at you and feeling similarly low.
Whichever that care, the term Seasonal Affective Disorder is used to describe unusual cat behavior during this time. Part of the SAD behavior involves cats sleeping more, seeming lethargic, or sometimes even eating less or not at all.
In this context, more sleep is fine in and of itself. But we need to keep an eye on the latter behaviors –- lethargy and lack of appetite –- in order to determine whether something is wrong.
More About SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)
Firstly, it must be noted that sometimes a cat’s change in behavior may be a reaction to other routines changing around the home. In many cases, the adjustment corrects itself after some time, and a cat will resume its normal behavior once settled.
Almost any change can trigger such behavior. Perhaps the loss of a family member or the introduction of a new pet, and yes, even the onset of your winter routine in your home. While SAD isn’t yet a universally accepted condition in terms of diagnosis, it is useful to regard it as a general state that your cat can experience.
If your cat seems to be suffering from unusually lethargic or listless behavior for an extended period, you may want to consult a vet for other possible causes.
What Can You Do To Help Your Cat Through the Winter?
The good news is that you can try a few things to help get your cat beyond the winter funk. Cats, like most pets, enjoy a little bit of mental stimulation and interaction. This can help a little with the winter blues.
Provide More Sunshine and Happiness
Chances are your cat’s favorite spot to relax in summer is in the rays of the sun. Perhaps it has a spot on a sunny couch where the sun’s warm glow can heat that belly. In winter, the sun may not be around that much. But if you do have sunny winters, moving its favorite cat blanket to where it can be in the sun might help a lot.
Remember, having a kitty sleep more is not necessarily a problem. But being in a sunny, warmish spot may elevate its happiness just a bit to avoid a deeper lethargy. It will also provide the kitty with a view of the outside if it’s by a window.
The cat may not want to go outside when it’s cold, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t want to see what’s happening. The birds and activity outdoors are good to observe, even if they aren’t exactly reachable.
A Caution on Fireplaces and Heaters
Exercise some caution when it comes to heaters and fireplaces. Cats love to be around them when it’s cold, but in some cases, they could create somewhat hazardous situations. If you have a fireplace, try to keep it well-screened to prevent accidents.
Also, smoke from fireplaces may not agree with your cat’s respiratory system, especially if it likes to get close—the same with electric heaters, which may not have sufficient space between their screen and its element.
At the very least, keep a close eye on how your cat interacts with heating devices. Some may not be aware of the danger.
Provide the Right Diet
The winter months mean conserving body energy. This may result in another increase when it comes to your cat’s behavior: food. It’s a basic principle that to keep warmer, your body (and your cat’s) needs to both produce and conserve more energy.
Luckily cats are able to approach that problem from both ends. While they can sleep more to conserve energy, they can also sometimes eat more to give their bodies more energy. This comes with a few potential problems.
If your cat cannot go outdoors more and is sleeping more, eating more may cause it to gain some weight over winter. A cat that is usually active outdoors might also start eating more regularly out of boredom. This is a definite possibility if you always have its food out.
If you suspect this to be a potential problem, you may want to regiment feeding times or simply cut back on the portions provided. This is by no means a first resort; that would be to try to keep your cat active (see below). Be sure also to keep the freshwater bowl regularly topped up.
A Note on Adjusting Diets
In truly harsh climates, you may want to consult a vet about whether your cat needs a slightly adjusted diet. This may be to supplement the health of its coat or simply entice it to eat more food that’s beneficial. If the kitty is reluctant to eat, a few extra meaty treats may be in order.
Cats like fish and fish-based oil supplements do wonders for a kitty’s coat. More protein is good, too, especially if your cat isn’t heading outdoors that much. Exercise some caution with adjusting their diet too much. You don’t want to create a dietary imbalance.
Older cats may also require a little extra attention regarding the food bowl. Winter flares up the old cat’s arthritic joints as much in cats as in humans.
Provide Games and Activity
When you can’t play with the kitty to keep it mentally stimulated, anything you can do to keep up its activity when needed is good. Chances are a cat will play only when it wants to and will otherwise walk away when it is tired anyway.
One great tip is to look into puzzle feeders, combining mental stimulation and good foodie treats. Remember that cats are natural hunters, so they may enjoy a good challenge to get at that tasty reward. The end result is some activity to keep the spirits up.
Manage Pests and Grooming
It’s worth being aware of one or two additional factors when it comes to winter sleep and behavior. If your cat is sleeping more, especially on its own bed or blankets, you want to keep potential pests under control. Fleas are a year-round presence for pets, for example.
Spending more time indoors and lounging about may also present more hair or fur in your home. You may need to invest in more grooming instruments and time spent managing shedding than in summer.
Final Thoughts on Whether Cats Sleep More in Winter
If your cat seems to be sleeping more in winter, there’s no need to worry. It is a perfectly natural rhythm that your cat may adapt to, based on how cold it is or whether they fancy heading out into the cloudy day. With all that said, know that your cat enjoys sleep, and even more so as it gets older.
On the other hand, if your cat is also displaying signs of unusual lethargy or unhappiness, consider whether it’s still eating sufficiently. That is usually a key sign that the kitty might be depressed or anxious. Again, this is not necessarily too serious, and might be easily remedied.
If your cat is a little too lethargic in winter for your liking, try playing a little more or providing some puzzle treats for some stimulation. Most importantly, make sure the kitty is comfortable and warm, especially if you live in really cold climates. And try to take advantage of more snuggle time with your living heater.