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Home > Cats > Do All Cats Gain Weight in Winter? Feline Habits Explained

Do All Cats Gain Weight in Winter? Feline Habits Explained

domestic cat froze over in the winter outside

If you live with an indoor cat, you might have noticed a marked tendency for them to gain weight during the winter. This observation may have made you wonder if feline winter weight gain is normal. Do all cats put on a few pounds when the temperature drops?

The answer is no. While many cats get a bit heavier during the coldest months of the year, bulking up when the days get shorter is not something all cats experience. Many older cats, for instance, struggle to maintain their weight year-round. But most cats feel biologically driven to consume more (when given the chance) during the winter when their ancestors would have faced the most difficulty finding prey.

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Why Do People and Cats Gain Weight During the Winter?

In reality, both people and cats tend to gain weight during winter. For humans, the causes are quite clear; we exercise less, stay inside more, and eat lots of delicious calorie-rich foods. During the warm summer months, we eat light meals featuring more vegetables. And since the days are longer, we’re more inclined to engage in activities like after-dinner walks.

But there’s also evidence indicating that humans are triggered to eat more when the days become shorter. Some scientists suggest that evolution has shaped humans to eat more during the winter months as a survival mechanism. Supermarkets have only been around for a brief moment in the history of humankind.

For most of our history, we didn’t know where our next meal would come from; we were primarily hunters and gatherers, after all! In areas with clearly defined seasons, less food would have been available to our ancestors in the dead of winter than during warmer seasons.

It makes sense that humans are triggered to eat just a bit more when presented with the opportunity to eat during those months when food was often hard to come by for our ancestors.

Similar pressures influence the cat’s diet. Rodent and small mammal populations decrease during the winter as plants die, and mice, rabbits, and rats have less access to food. Eating more to weather a few days of deprivation was an adaptive survival mechanism when cats didn’t have access to regular meals.

Even though most pet cats don’t have to worry about where their next meal will come from, they’re still inclined to eat a bit too much during the winter, which often results in weight gain, particularly when a cat is allowed to eat as much as it wants.

red cat sleeping in basket near winter window
Image By: vubaz, Shutterstock

Why Is It a Big Deal if My Cat Gains a Few Pounds?

Being overweight has been proven to contribute to serious feline health issues such as hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, and heart disease. Around 50% of cats examined by veterinarians in the United States are obese. Keeping your cat from gaining weight during the winter is incredibly important for its health. And it’s always easier to keep your cat from packing on the pounds than to convince your cat to accept the changes required to slim down.

What’s the Best Way to Keep My Cat from Gaining Weight During the Winter?

The easiest way to keep your cat from packing on those winter pounds is to regulate the amount of food they eat. Ask your veterinarian for advice regarding your pet’s optimal weight. Use the information that comes with your cat’s food to determine how much to feed your pet to maintain their weight or help them lose a few pounds. And grab a measuring cup to ensure you know precisely how much you’re feeding your pet.

Increasing your cat’s physical activity can also help limit the dreaded winter weight gain. Cats, just like humans, gain weight when they consume more calories than they expend. Cats that don’t have enough opportunities to run and play often gain weight due to inactivity.

Getting your cat’s heart pumping is good for their mental and physical health. Cats that get enough exercise tend to be calmer and less prone to engage in anxiety-related behaviors, such as excessive vocalization. A good session with a teaser toy adds activity to your cat’s day, gives them a healthy physical outlet for their energy, and meets their instinctual needs to stalk, hunt, spring, and jump. It also burns a few calories in the process.

  • Improve your cat’s dietary health with our convenient calorie calculator here.

What About Weight Management Foods?

There are several weight management foods that you can try if your cat’s weight becomes a serious concern. Most major pet food manufacturers have reduced-calorie kibble and wet food options. Formulations for indoor cats and senior pets often contain fewer calories and are great ways to prevent your cat’s weight from getting out of hand. Remember that most cats prefer to stick with one type of food and don’t do well with diet changes. It can take more than a week to properly transition your cat from one kind of food to another.

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In Conclusion

While some cats gain weight during the colder months of the year, it’s not a universal phenomenon. Cats are biologically programmed to eat more when given the opportunity during the cold winter when small prey such as mice and birds are hard to find. But there are many ways to ensure your cat doesn’t pack on the pounds, including measuring the amount of food you give your cat and increasing their activity level.


Featured Image Credit: Rodica Vasiliev, Shutterstock

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