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Solar Powered Furballs: Why Your Cat is Always Sleeping in Sunbeams

Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on August 18, 2018
Posted in Parent Help

It is not uncommon for cat owners to enter a room and discover their feline friend sprawled out across the floor, napping in a pool of sunlight coming in through a door or window. We make pastimes out of watching our cats “sunbathe” and inch across the floor every so often to follow the path of light as the sun sets.

Since most cats are covered in hair, you’d assume they would be roasting in all that heat. Longer-haired cats conserve warmth more easily than short-haired or hairless cats do, which is why you might not see them sunbathing as often. Even still, they’re likely to curl up in a sunny spot on your floor for a nap every now and then. It’s just what cats do!

So why exactly do cats love to lay in the sun so much? What is it about the sun’s rays that attracts felines and puts them right to sleep?

Well, first, it’s hard to deny that curling up in a warm, cozy spot sounds great to just about anyone. Us humans do this too—we seek out beaches or open-air parks and relax in the sun, reading a book or working on our tan. So, cats likely curl up under sunbeams simply because it feels nice.

There is another major reason why, though, and it has to do with your cat’s body temperature. A cat’s body temperature is higher than humans, sitting between a warm 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (38.05 to 39.16 degrees Celsius). This temperature lowers when your cat sleeps, though, because of a lowered basal metabolism. This means the body has to work harder to stay warm while your cat snoozes.

Soaking up the sun can actually help your cat regulate its body temperature and stay toasty, especially during cold months or when your AC might be cranked high in the summer. This helps prevent them from expending extra energy, storing it away for playtime, instead. You might even consider this “solar power” for your cat! When sun isn’t readily available, your cat probably loves to snooze near other cozy or heat-generating areas like heat vents and blankets for the same reason.

Can cats overheat?

Although they love to soak up the sun, even on days that are uncomfortably hot for us, cats can overheat, too. It takes a higher temperature for this to happen, considering their higher body temperatures, but it is certainly possible for your cat to suffer from heatstroke if the temps get too high outside.

Make sure your cat has plenty of water accessible in your home at all times. Dehydration can be extremely damaging to your feline friend’s health, and drinking will help it stay cool. If your cat goes outside on occasion, make sure it stays inside on hot days or has shady, cool areas to relax in as well as accessible water.

Some cats can even get sunburned. White cats and hairless cats might develop skin problems after prolonged exposure to UV rays. If you notice your cat’s skin becoming red or scaly, or if there is hair loss or skin lesions anywhere on its body, try to keep it out of the sun or use specialized pet sunscreen to protect its skin.

With this in mind, never leave cats in your car on a hot day. The temperature in a car can rise extremely fast, even with the windows cracked or the car parked in a shaded area. High temperatures outside lead to life-threatening temperatures inside your vehicle, and many pets have died as a consequence of being left alone in a hot car for even a short amount of time.

Keeping your cat comfortable year-round

While on the topic of temperature, also make sure your cats always have a way to heat themselves up when it’s cold outside or in your home. When a cat’s body temperature drops too low (usually below 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.7 degrees Celsius)) it can get very sick. While this is less likely to happen during the summer months, it might be possible if you turn your AC up too high for too long.

If you like a chilly house, make sure you provide your cat with ways to stay warm and cozy. This might include a window shade that stays open during the day to let a warm stream of light in for your cat to bathe it. When sunlight isn’t readily available, try setting up some of these spaces:

  • Bundles of blankets
  • Heated beds
  • High perches
  • Outdoor houses and beds
  • Chair or perch next to a window

Unless you think your cat is exhibiting signs of heatstroke or is getting a sunburn, there’s no harm in letting it roll around in the sunlight as long as it likes. Keep your kitty calm and comfortable by letting it “recharge” naturally in those warm rays.

Read also: Clip Your Cat’s Nails to Prevent Paw Pad Punctures, Infections and Swelling

Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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