Humans have a tendency to put on a few extra pounds in winter, but does your cat do the same? Cats don’t have holiday parties to attend, but there are some parallels between human and cat eating habits in the winter. 

Do cats gain weight in winter?

Does your cat look chunkier during the winter months? Are you wondering if it’s just fluffy fur, or if they are packing on the pounds in colder weather? Some cats gain weight in winter. It’s actually a part of the natural process a cat goes through as the seasons change. 

Less Natural Light Triggers Increased Appetite

Your cat’s appetite changes with the seasons. You may assume this is related to the temperature, but it isn’t. As the days get shorter, the body knows winter is approaching. Your cat’s appetite increases as the days get shorter. 

It’s possible this occurs so your cat can eat more before cold temperatures set in, allowing it to store some fat before winter. It’s also possible it uses light as the signal because seasons can change quickly. 

Your cat’s body needs time to prepare for a change in seasons. If the temperature goes from 70 degrees to 40 in a day, which is a common occurrence in many areas, your cat will not be prepared for the change if they rely on temperature. 

However, an increase in appetite doesn’t necessarily cause an increase in weight. 

Indoor vs. Outdoor Cats

Both indoor and outdoor cats will experience an increased appetite during winter. Even if your cat isn’t exposed to cold temperatures because your home is climate-controlled, they will be exposed to shorter days through doors and windows. This will trigger the increase in their appetite. 

Outdoor cats need the extra calories in winter time because it takes more energy to keep them warm. Your cat’s body uses energy to keep themselves warm, ensuring that their core temperature doesn’t drop too low.

Humans have the same ability. When you get cold, your body begins to shiver to generate heat. Once you get warm, you may notice that you are tired or hungry. You may say, “wow, the cold took a lot out of me”. Technically, it’s not the cold itself, but the process of keeping warm that “takes a lot out of you”. The same is true for your cat. 

Outdoor cats also need to be active during winter, because movement keeps the body temperature up as well. This also creates a higher need for calories. 

Indoor cats don’t have these issues. They often have a reduced activity level in winter, and don’t have to work hard to keep their body warm. This can result in weight gain. They are taking in extra calories due to an increased appetite, but they aren’t burning extra calories.

Fat as Insulation

Many animals put on a layer of fat in the winter. Fat has a lower thermal conductivity than muscle and other soft tissues. This makes it a great insulator. Some animals, like bears and seals, put on a lot of weight to keep them warm in the winter time. 

Animals like cats don’t put on the amount of weight that these animals do, but they can put on a little extra weight to help keep them warm.  

Do cats eat more in winter?

You may have noticed that your cat eats more when the temperature drops. According to science, this is completely normal. 

How Much Do Cats Eat in Winter?

The best study on the subject comes from the University’s School of Veterinary Science, in collaboration with colleagues at the Royal Canin Research Centre in France. They followed  cats and their eating habits for four years. 

38 cats were involved in the study. Each had a collar with a microchip. They each had a feeder that would open only for them via their collar, and they were allowed to eat as much as they wanted. The microchip recorded how much food the cats ate each day. 

The cats had access to the outdoors, and they were of different ages and genders. Scientists followed their eating habits over time, and compared it to the temperature changes. 

They found that the cats ate 15% more in the winter than they did in the summer. But why?

Extra Calories to Keep Warm and Active

The scientists theorize that the cats eat extra calories because they require more energy to keep warm. Outdoor cats are also active during the winter. It’s necessary for them to be active to stay warm. In the summer, they are more likely to lounge and nap in the hotter temperatures. 

Do indoor cats gain weight in winter?

It’s common for indoor cats to gain weight in winter. They have an increase in appetite without an increase in activity level. Just like humans, more calories in than calories out will lead to weight gain. 

Comfort Eating

Indoor cats may comfort eat during cold weather. Humans are certainly well versed in this activity. How many times have you reached for something warm to eat on a cold day? You may have even gained a few pounds because you ate for comfort. It shouldn’t be surprising that your cat does the same thing. 

Boredom is also a possible reason for weight gain. Cats, and people, can eat more when they are bored. 

Less Active in Winter

Unlike their outdoor counterparts, indoor kitties are usually less active in the winter. There’s something about feeling the cold outside and being warm and cozy indoors that just makes you want to be lazy. You curl up on the couch with a blanket, glancing out the window occasionally. Your cat is prone to the same type of behavior when it’s cold outside. 

If your cat goes outside for exercise, it will  want to go out less often in the wintertime. Cats may be well adapted to the cold, but they certainly feel it just as we do.

Most cats, like most people, will prefer to stay in the warm indoors, rather than going into the cold to exercise.  This will decrease their activity level. 

Cat Obesity

Cat obesity is the number one feline health disorder in the U.S. Unfortunately, the media often portrays overweight or obese cats, so many owners think obesity is normal. 

An overweight cat has a body weight 10-19% higher than their ideal weight for their size and age. If they are 20% or more overweight, they are obese. Both overweight and obese cats are at a higher risk of serious health disorders. 

Weighing your cat is a good starting point for determining if your cat is overweight. To determine the ideal weight for your cat, you can use PetMd’s Healthy Weight Calculator. 

You can also get a general idea of your cat’s weight by feeling their body. Run your hands over their ribs. You should be able to feel the ribs below a thin layer of fat. If you can’t feel their ribs, they are likely overweight. For fluffy cats, it can be harder to feel their ribs. You may find it helpful to dampen the area slightly to control the fluff. 

You should also run your hand along their spine. Again, you should be able to feel their spine under a layer of fat. If you cant’ feel their spine, they may be overweight. If their stomach seems to sag, this is another indication they could be obese.  

Preventing Winter Weight Gain

Just like humans, it’s easier to prevent your cat from gaining weight than to lose it. However, cat diets can be effective over time. Before reducing your cat’s food, it’s best to speak with your veterinarian. Simply reducing the amount of food your cat eats can lead to malnutrition. 

Instead, you’ll want to change to a lower calorie food, and be sure you are feeding them the correct proportions. 

Calories in is only half the weight equation. The other half is calories out. You can increase the calories out by encouraging your kitty to exercise, particularly if they are less active in the winter months. 

A few cat toys and regular play sessions can be a great way to help your cat stay active. You may also consider a kitty gym or cat condo. These will help keep your cat active. 

Exercise also helps to keep your cat entertained, which can keep them from eating out of boredom or for comfort. 

What’s Normal?

It’s normal for cats to gain a little extra weight in winter. They should slim down in the summer months, because they have a reduced appetite. They may also be more active in summer, because being outside is more pleasant. Even if they are indoor only cats, everything, including cats, seems to come alive during the spring. 

If you are concerned about your cat’s weight or weight gain, don’t hesitate to talk to your vet. They are the best person to advise you on the right weight for your cat. They will also help you develop a diet plan if needed. 

Do cats behave differently in winter?

Animals, including humans and cats, change with the seasons. This includes our bodies and behavior. How does winter change a cat’s behavior?

Increased Sleep

You are likely tempted to hit the snooze button when the weather is cold. Your cat gets those same feelings. Being inside a warm home and hearing the cold wind blow outside seems like a recipe for sleepiness and naps. 

You can expect your indoor cat to sleep more in the wintertime. If you have an outdoor cat, they may become more active to keep warm. 

Coziness

Your cat is more likely to seek out cozy places. This could be your bed, a cat house, or even a sunny spot on the back of your couch. Expect them to curl up with their tails around them to provide a little extra warmth. 

Boredom and Behavioral Issues

Unfortunately, cats can get bored during the winter. Just like people, they tend to get into mischief when they are bored. If they don’t have anything to do, they will find something. Most of the behavioral issues are common cat behaviors, but they aren’t behaviors we enjoy. 

House soiling, or using areas of the home other than the litterbox, is one of the most common cat behavioral issues. Some cats become aggressive when they are bored, and a play session can quickly turn too rough. Other cats will take their energy out on objects. They may destroy everything from your favorite purse to your carpet. This can add up to a lot of frustration and lost belongings. 

To prevent your cat from being bored, be sure to give them plenty of playtime. In addition to play time with you, consider getting them a puzzle feeder. Some cats also enjoy watching TV. They can hear and see very well, so they may find TV entertaining. Try shows with cats or other animals to really get their attention. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder 

You may be surprsied to know that your cat can develop depression. In addition to standard depression, they can also develop SAD, or seasonal affective disorder. This is essentially seasonal depression. 

Seasonal affective disorder is caused by lower levels of sunlight. Lower amounts of sunlight lowers serotonin, which is the brains happy chemical. This causes symptoms of depression. 

Lack of exercise can also lead to depression. It’s possible that a combination of shorter days and less exercise cause SAD. 

If your cat has SAD, you’ll notice significant behavioral changes. They may sleep more than normal and have low energy or fatigue. Changes in appetite are common. They may eat much more than normal, or eat very little. They may also become restless or anxious. 

It’s common for cats with depression to lose interest in activities they enjoy, just as humans do. They may no longer play with their toys, or show little interest in interacting with their owner. They will also groom themselves less often. You may notice their coat begins to look unkempt. 

Lastly, they may feel sad and vocalize their feelings. They may meow plantively, and seem impossible to please or cheer up. 

If your cat is experiencing SAD, it’s best to speak with your vet. Getting them active and outside more often can help. Some owners use a specialized light, while others move their cats’ bed in front of a window for more light exposure. 

Do cats grow thicker fur in winter?

Yes, cats, like many animals, grow thicker fur in the winter. This is known as their winter coat. 

Undercoat

Technically, what we think of as a winter coat is an undercoat. Your cat has two layers of fur. The bottom layer is closest to their skin, and usually gray. On top of the undercoat is the guard coat, or the coat that you see. This is what gives your cat its coloring and pattern. It’s what you see as either sleek or fluffly. 

The summer undercoat begins to shed, or fall out, in autumn, and the winter undercoat will grow in. When warm weather returns, your cat will shed its long warm undercoat for a summer coat. 

It’s All About the Light

Just like appetite, light is what regulates your cat’s coat. Again, temperature has no real effect. No matter how warm and cozy your house is, your cat will change its coat.  This happens when the days begin to get shorter in autumn. 

Indoor cats have little need for the extra insulation, but as long as they are exposed to some natural light, they will grow one. 

Cats are usually self-sufficient groomers, so they shouldn’t require any help. However, if you notice that their hair is getting matted or tangled, it’s a good idea to lend a helping hand. 

Author

I created and currently run Kitty Cat Tips, the website that you can go to when you have questions about your cat's behavior. It's my hope that you find Kitty Cat Tips to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your cat. You can read more about me and my website here.