Why Do Cats Love to Sunbathe?

Rita Brhel
by Rita Brhel
fast facts

Cats seek out warm spots — from sunshine streaming through the windows to a cozy spot atop a heat vent. But even with all their fur, why do cats crave warmth?

You would think with all that fur that cats would overheat easily, but every morning, I find my cats stretched out in any ray of sun coming through the windows — and I keep my house pretty warm year-round.

I myself get cold easily, and it seems so do my cats. In fact, even the mildest of winters is too cold for cats to stay outside year-round — and apparently so is my 75- to 80-degree house.

I find this puzzling, as cats have a higher body temperature than us humans. While normal body temperature for cats varies somewhat depending on breed and age, the average cat has a temperature of 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to humans’ average 98.6 degrees.

So why do cats crave warmth?

First Off, Not All Kitties Like Being Warm All the Time

Turns out, not all cats crave warmth as much as others. Long-haired cats tend to conserve body heat easier than short-haired cats, unsurprisingly, so short hairs are more often found sunbathing. Come to think of it, all my cats are short hairs.

But overall, cats do seek warm spots — from sunshine streaming through the windows to a cozy spot atop a heat vent to snuggling up with me under a blanket. There are a couple reasons why.

Why Cats Look for Warm Spots in the House

Below, we’ll take a look at some of the many reasons why your feline companion might want to find the warmest spot in the house all year long. Of course, every cat is an individual, so this might not be the case for every one of your kitties, but these are just a few of the general reasons that cats enjoy sunbathing.

  1. Genetics

Let’s start by looking at genetics. Research on cat DNA has shown that domesticated cats evolved from a wild species, Felis sylvestris, that lives in Africa, Europe, and Asia. The genetic line of all of our feline friends goes back about 10,000 years ago to wild cat populations in the Middle East, specifically Egypt, Israel, Iraq, Syria, and Cyprus — desert country. So, it’s pretty hot there. It stands to reason that our cats crave warmth because genetically they are desert creatures and they lose heat easily because of their body’s traits to live in such a hot climate.

  1. Diet

Combine these genetics with their protein-rich diet — protein just doesn’t work the same way as carbohydrates in terms of energy conservation — and this doesn’t afford much extra energy that can go to keeping cats warm when their environment is just a little chillier than for which they are biologically designed. So, sunbathing might also be helping your kitty’s body conserve some energy too.

  1. To Stay Warm While Sleeping

When your kitty goes to sleep, her body temperature drops a bit, so she might start to feel a little chilly. For this reason, she might prepare for a nap by first finding a warm and cozy spot, such as one where there is plenty of sunshine, to settle down. The sun will be there to keep her body warm while she’s snoozing, helping her stay nice and comfortable. You might even notice that, if she wakes up and notices that the sunbeam has moved, she’ll shift her position so she’s back in the sunlight.

Warning: Cats Can Overheat!

Sure, there are a lot of kitties out there that won’t miss the chance to lounge and relax in a sunbeam, but do keep in mind that cats can overheat. That’s right: kitties can develop hyperthermia.

Also, it is important to realize that your kitty can sweat only through her paw pads when she gets too hot. Other than that, she can pant to try to regulate her body temperature when she gets overheated.

It is important to keep an eye out for signs that your pet needs to be cooled down as soon as possible. Failing to do so could cause the condition to worsen, leading to serious problems like seizures, organ damage, coma, or death.

What are some of the signs that your cat is overheating?

When your cat begins to feel overheated, it starts off as heat exhaustion but could become heat stroke. Keep an eye out for symptoms like the following:

  • Panting
  • Sweaty paw pads
  • Restlessness
  • Drooling
  • Rapid breathing
  • Fast pulse
  • Lethargy
  • Stumbling
  • Vomiting
  • Red mouth and tongue
  • Elevated body temperature

Take steps to prevent your kitty from overheating

Never leave your cat in a vehicle on a hot day, as this would easily become a life-threatening situation. Otherwise, you don’t generally have to worry about your cats if they themselves seek out a stifling hot area.

If your cat spends time outside on hot days, though, make sure she always has access to cool areas that are shaded, and give her plenty of clean water that she can drink whenever she wants. Better yet, let her in your house so she doesn’t run the risk of overheating.

In the same way that you wouldn’t leave your cat in a hot car, avoid keeping her in an area of your home that gets too hot. Give her a cool place to move to when she feels the need. And if your home becomes too hot for any reason, such as if your air conditioner breaks, take your kitty to a cool, safe place with the rest of your family.

Let Your Cat Sunbathe If She Wants To!

Apparently sunbathing is as close to desert-living as my cats can get.

So despite their fur coats, cats have to do more work to keep their bodies as warm as they are genetically designed to do — and we humans need to be mindful of that, like not expecting cats to live outside in the winter without cozy, warm places to sleep. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy — just a modified dog house will do if insulated with straw and blankets, kept in an out-of-the-wind area. Serving several meals of slightly warm cat food and warm water during the day also helps make the winter months a little more comfortable for barn cats and feral cats that can’t be kept inside.

As for my home, I have two barn cats that live outside most of the year, but in the winter, they can come inside. I keep them in their own room overnight, as my two house cats aren’t keen about sharing their home with them, but the barn cats are allowed out to roam the house while supervised to ensure that all cat relations are positive — even while sunbathing.

Rita Brhel
Rita Brhel

Rita Brhel is a freelance writer with a huge heart for animals that she's passed on to her 3 children. Rita herself has a cat named Tippy (in photo) and 4 finches. Her 3 kids and husband share an additional 3 cats, 3 small parrots, 3 rabbits, 5 pigeons, 8 chickens, and 2 ducks on their acreage near Hastings, Nebraska, USA. She has experience with a lot of different species of pets of her own, has worked a 1-year stint in a vet clinic as part of a hands-on journalism project, and has been a foster pet parent for an animal shelter. Each of her children dream of careers working with animals, and Rita wholeheartedly supports them!

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