Do Cats Hibernate in the Winter?

As the nights start drawing in and the temperatures start to drop, leaving our beds becomes an ever more painful experience. And it’s not just us who seem to think so. Anyone with a cat might have noticed that as soon as winter starts approaching, their kitty’s get up and go seems to, well, get up and go. Overnight, getting them to do anything more than open one lazy eye and give you a leisurely yawn becomes an impossible task. But why? Cat’s don’t hibernate… do they? Bears, bats. squirrels, and dormice, sure. But cats? Have we been mistaking their instinctive need to hibernate for laziness all these years? Actually, no. Cat’s don’t hibernate (at least, they’re not intended to, but as we all know, there’s nothing quite so contrary as a cat). So, what’s with all the sleeping?

What Is Hibernation?

Seeing as we’re on the subject of hibernation, it may be helpful to know exactly what hibernation is in the first place. Contrary to popular belief, hibernation doesn’t mean shutting your eyes in October and opening them again in April. Hibernation (at least in most cases) isn’t about sleeping so much as it’s about conserving energy. Come winter, animals with hibernating tendencies start to slow down their bodily functions: their temperature drops, the metabolism slows, their breathing and heart rate slows. Some will still go about their normal routines in the daytime before going into a light state of hibernation at night. Others really do spend the majority of their time asleep, relying on their stored body fat as their primary source of energy.

Cat’s, even wild cats, do neither. Big cats are year-round hunters; they may grow a thicker coat to get them through the winter months, but their need to eat (and therefore hunt) remains consistent all year round. Indoor cats are much the same. Unlike other animals that can rely on their body fat to fuel their energy needs, cats need to eat daily. And even though your handy tins and pouches of cat food have removed their need to work for their lunch, their bodies have no way of knowing it. Whether it’s January, June, or September, your cat is hard wired to hunt – and nothing gets in the way of hunting quite so much as hibernation.

Why Do Cat’s Sleep So Much?

So, we’ve established that cats don’t hibernate. Which rather begs the question of why they sleep quite as much as they do. Ultimately, cat’s sleep a lot anyway. Regardless of the season, an indoor cat will spend anything from 15 to 20 hours a day catching 40 winks. Come winter, they may seem even less active than usual. In most cases, it’s nothing to worry about. As  notes, we tend to become lazier and less active in winter, and our cats are simply following suit. When the cold starts to bite, they may simply decide to cut down on their other activities of playing and taunting the family dog and spend more time eating and sleeping… rather like us.

Should I Be Worried If My Cat Sleeps Too Much?

Most of the time, a sleepy cat is nothing to worry about. Sleeping is what they do best, after all. But sometimes, it can indicate that something’s going on. As notes, every cat is unique. Some might be more sensitive to the cold than others. Some might even become prone to seasonal bouts of depression in the way we can. You know your pet best: if you feel things aren’t right, the chances are, they probably aren’t. So, how do you help them get through the winter? Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to help…

Dietary Changes

When it gets cold, we need more calories to keep our body temperature on an even keel. The same applies to cats. As suggests, pay extra care to your cat’s diet during the winter months. To entice a lackluster appetite, try warming up their food slightly just before serving. You could even try adding some broth as a warming, nourishing treat. That being said, some cats suffer the reverse problem. If your cat’s appetite seems to grow bigger during the colder months, you may need to speak to your vet about a calorie-controlled diet, particularly if their activity levels seem to be declining on a daily basis.

Seasonal Changes

Cats are creature of routine. Introducing just a few changes into the lives can throw them off kilter. Winter might come with plenty of nice things to look forward to for us (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas etc.) but for cats, the holidays are a little less welcome. Strangers coming to the house, parties, fireworks… none of these are exactly cat friendly. Little wonder, then, that they choose to give the festivities a miss by finding a quiet little nook to sleep in instead. While a sleepy cat is nothing to be concerned about, a stressed one most definitely is. If you know your cat has a nervous disposition, pay special attention to keeping their nerves intact during periods of change. Setting up a quiet spot in the house for them to retreat too; sticking to a regular schedule; spending plenty of one on one time with them; and even playing them relaxing music can all go a long way to keeping them in good spirits.

Winter Blues

If your cat’s suffering from the winter blues, there’s plenty you can do to keep them happy. They might not necessarily sleep any less, but their dreams are likely to be a lot sweeter if you follow these sage bits of wisdom from

  • Make sure they have access to light. The dark days of winter can get depressing, even for cats. Ensuring they have a bright spot to relax in can help lift their spirts. Before you leave the house, make sure the curtains are open. If privacy is an issue, leave a light on instead.
  • No matter how thick their coat, many cats feel the cold in winter. If you don’t want to keep the heater blazing 24/7, make up a warm bed for them somewhere they like to sleep so they can keep cozy. Heated pads designed for pets can also work wonders.
  • Unlike dogs, cats are fastidious about where they eliminate. Make sure their litter tray is kept clean and avoid leaving it in a damp or cold spot.
  • Spend more time with them. It may sound simple, but spending just a few more minutes a day with your cat can do great things for their spirits.

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