Why Do Cats Sunbathe?
Creatures of comfort, cats love to seek out those warm spots in your home. Whether it’s a toasty suntrap on the patio, stretched out on the floor as the sun streams through a window or even on a sill to catch the full effect of the sun’s rays, if there is a bit of sunshine, chances are your cat will be there. But with all that fur, why do cats like the sun and what is it that drives your kit to sunbathe, even on hot, summer days?
We explore the reasons why your cat loves to sunbathe as well as ask whether all those rays are a good thing for your puss.
Why do Cats Sunbathe?
When looking to answer this question, we also need to ask: do cats need sunlight? And the simple answer is, yes. When your cat stretches out in the sunlight, he is not only boosting his health, he is also adding to his overall happiness and well-being. Here are the four main reasons your cat loves to get his sunshine fix:
Cats like heat and can adapt to a range of climates, both cold and warm, with an ability to withstand temperatures of up to 50ºc. When it comes to your cat’s psyche, warmth also equals security, which is why he is so ready to relax when the sunshine beams in. This pleasure principle drives your kit to seek out the sunniest place in your home so that he can really kick back and Zen out as he soaks up all that delicious warmth.
You puss doesn’t just indulge in a spot of cat sunbathing for the feel-good, it is also for the warmth. At 102.5F, your feline’s normal body temperature is actually higher than humans and so seeking out sunshine can help him to regulate his own body temperature during the day. This desire to use the sun to warm their body up can also be linked to their wild ancestry and is one of the main reasons why you will find your cat in the sun.
Their wild ancestor is the African wildcat which was a desert dweller and had evolved to be an efficient hunter in more extreme climes. To keep their higher body temperature regulated, these wild creatures would sleep and rest during the day, to conserve their heat and then get ready to hunt at night. While your domesticated cat is no longer needing to hunt for food at night, many of these instincts remain, including the desire to rest and keep warm during the day.
To Conserve Energy
Like most mammals, your cat’s body temperature will dip during rest, which is why they instinctively seek out a warm or sunny spot to keep their body heat up as they sleep. But it is not just heat they are conserving; it is also their energy stores. During rest your kit’s basal metabolism – that is, the rate at which their body uses energy to maintain vital functions such as breathing – will also drop so that they can use the stored energy for physical activities when they are awake. This mirrors their life in nature when they would need reserved energy to climb and hunt. To help overcome this drop, conserve more energy and to help their body function more efficiently while they sleep, your cat will seek out a warm place to sleep. This could be near a radiator, wrapped up in your freshly dried laundry or in a window, where sunlight is streaming in.
To Create Vitamin D
We humans like to get our own dose of sunshine, and also need it, for the vitamin D it produces in our skin. Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, teeth and muscles and this also applies to your cat. But whereas sun enables our skin to create an oil which contains vitamin D which is then easily absorbed into our skin, with cats it is a little more complicated. They create the same oil, but it then sits on their fur, waiting for the next grooming session where your cat will ingest the vitamin rather than it being absorbed. While your cat may well be enjoying that sunbathing session for the feel-good and energy-conserving benefits, they are also working hard to produce enough vitamin D for their all-round good health. So, there is also a health answer to the question, why do cats lay in the sun!
Is the Sun Good for Cats?
While we may now understand why do cats like the sun, it is also important to ask whether it is actually good for your cat. Yes, they obviously like the warmth and comfort sunbathing can bring, and there are health reasons why they need to sit in the sun and get warm, but there is a good case for moderation as too much too often can bring problems.
It is essential that wherever they sunbathe, they can get out of the heat when they need to otherwise they could over-heat and this can be a life-threatening situation. And then there are the obvious risks associated with too much UV ray exposure, especially if your cat is a short-haired breed or has minimal or no fur. White cats are also more at risk of sunburn than darker colored cats and all cats have their vulnerable areas when it comes to the potentially dangerous effects of the sun, namely their nose, backs of the ears and tummy.
Too little sun can also be harmful to your pet, especially during the winter months so it is essential your feline friend always has a suitable way to warm themselves and to ensure their body temperature doesn’t drop below 100F.
Tips for Cat Sun Protection
You can’t stop your cat seeking out the sun and you shouldn’t really need to if sensible precautions are taken to ensure they only get what they need and are never in a situation where they can overheat. When it comes to the dangers associated with your cat sunbathing, prevention is better than cure. Keeping your cat indoors during really hot summer days is always an option, as is adding a reflective film to your windows which can help to filter out UV rays. You can also use sunscreen to protect your cat from the potential sunburn and cancer-causing UBA and UVB rays, but just make sure it is cat-safe and does not contain zinc oxide and octyl salicylate, which can be toxic for your kit. Use on their sun-vulnerable areas and regularly re-apply on very hot, sunny days.