There may be more than one reason why your cat seems to be more hungry than usual during the cold winter months but feed more with caution
I don’t know about you but when winter arrives, the evenings are dark and the wind is howling outside, I just want to curl up with a cup of tea and a few biscuits… I just seem to want to eat more when I feel cold! Now I know that’s not good for my waistline but I wonder if it is purely psychological or if people and animals naturally need more ‘fuel’ during the winter months – albeit the correct type of food and not biscuits or other foody treats?
A few years ago, scientists carried out research that studied cats’ eating habits over a four-year period. The cats in the controlled experiment were all given the opportunity to eat as much as they liked from a source that was only available to each cat individually so there was no ‘stealing’. The results showed that the cats did, in fact, eat more food during the winter.
However, whereas we humans tend to ‘comfort’ eat as a means of lifting our mood (even temporarily), the reason cats are tempted to eat more is most likely due to needing to provide more energy to keep themselves warm while outside in colder temperatures.
Cats that spend a lot of time outside will need to move around more, either to find food or just to keep their body at a reasonable temperature. We all know that if you go out wrapped up during a cold spell, you soon feel warmer if you walk at a fast pace and we encourage children to run around to get warm.
Using more energy means a cat will need to eat sufficient to replenish it. One study found that cats ate up to 15% more food in wintertime.
One theory that affects both indoor and outdoor cats is that the longer periods of darkness affect the amount of food and fat stores a cat feels it needs. While cats that spend most of their time indoors won’t be using more energy to keep warm, they will still experience longer periods of low light levels. It is believed that shorter days and cold weather increase their appetite too.
If this is the case, it is really important that we continue to play with our cats throughout the year and are aware of how much they are eating. Taking in too many calories without being energetic enough to burn them off could lead to excess weight gain. As we know, this is not good for our cats’ health and well-being, potentially leading to worries over obesity, diabetes mellitus, and arthritic problems.
Although it’s tempting to snuggle up in front of the fire with a sleepy cat at your side, do make time to encourage them to play with toys such as balls, want toys, and cat-nip stuffed softies. Chasing the dot on the wall from a laser pen is another good way of getting a cat to move around too. Make it energetic and fun and then you will have earned that fireside cuddle!
If you leave food and water outside for your cat, don’t forget that it could freeze. If possible, put down fresh water twice a day. Use a ceramic bowl and never a metal one as a cat’s tongue can become stuck to the freezing cold metal.
Wet food is also at risk of freezing and it might be preferable to leave dry food outside for them. However, wet food is easier to digest, meaning they can conserve more energy for keeping warm. If you put down wet food, do check that it hasn’t frozen and replaced with a fresh supply if necessary.
If the area where your cat eats his food gets particularly cold, it may make his food cold and put him off eating it. Always try to give a cat food at room temperature as it is far more palatable to them.
Any changes to the food you give your cat should be introduced gradually. Ask your vet for advice if you are unsure.
“It is believed that shorter days and cold weather increase their appetite”