Have you ever noticed that you tend to want and eat more food when it’s colder outside, and feel less interested in food when it’s hot outside? These appetite changes based on changing weather conditions are perfectly normal, and they can occur in our pets as well–you may have even noticed that your cat is far less interested in eating, or eating much when the weather is warmer. But why is this?
Seasonal Changes and Appetites
Many different studies on animals have determined that their appetites and food intake definitely change with the seasons, but there has actually been very little research specifically on how seasonal changes affect the appetites and food intake of dogs and cats. Not too long ago, a group of English and French researchers concluded a six-year study that investigated the eating habits of thirty-eight cats that were fed free choice. The study participants included twenty-two normal-weight cats and sixteen overweight cats, and while thirty of the cats had indoor and outdoor access, eight cats were restricted indoors. Over the six-year period, the cats’ daily food intake was recorded to determine patterns and changes.
The results of this six-year study indicated that the cats routinely ate the most volume during the months of January, February, October, November, and December–the coldest months of the year. The cats had a more intermediate food intake during the milder months of March, April, May, and September and they ate the least during the hotter months of June, July, and August. In fact, food intake volume during July was an average of fifteen percent less than food intake volume during December. Researchers were unable to determine any significant difference in food intake between indoor-outdoor cats and indoor only cats, which may have partly been due to the fact that only eight cats were restricted indoors.
The Reason Behind the Changes
Researchers suspect that seasonal changes in daylight hours, as well as temperature, cause hormonal changes in domesticated cats, which changes their cellular metabolism. As daylight hours extend they signal the rising temperatures that tend to make mammals less active, which means they need less energy and therefore less food. Conversely, as daylight hours reduce they signal the lowering temperatures that tend to require greater energy consumption and fat storage in order to remain warm. While this definitely means that pet owners should not be concerned about their pet’s seasonal appetite changes, it also means that pet owners should likewise change their feeding patterns based on the season. Dogs and cats should be fed less during the warmer and hotter months of the year, such as the late spring, the summer and the early fall months and fed more during the colder months of the year, such as the late fall, the winter and the early spring months. Pets who live in warmer climates may eat less overall than pets who live in cooler climates, so this may also have to be taken into account.
Considering that researchers couldn’t prove any significant difference between the changing food intake levels for indoor-outdoor cats and indoor-exclusive cats, it’s safe to assume that even indoor pets are exposed to the changes in daylight hours that can trigger hormonal and metabolic responses and changes. Even with more stable indoor temperatures, their activity levels can decrease during the summertime and their need to consume more calories may increase during the wintertime. This means that failing to change the amount of food they are being fed can lead to weight problems–which may explain why fifty percent of household pets are either overweight or obese. On the other hand, understanding how seasonal changes affect your pet’s appetite can help you to better care for your pet, which can improve their overall health and comfort.