Domestic cats need sunlight. Here’s why.

What happens when cats stop going outside? There is a strong trend towards full-time indoor cats. It is understandable but the thinking behind it has not encompassed all the ramifications for domestic cat health. Here is another: the production of serotonin and control of circadian rhythms. I have mentioned boredom and obesity due to a lack of environmental enrichment.

Domestic cats need sunlight
Domestic cats need sunlight. The image is free to use under a Creative Commons license. Click on it to see the larger original and download that if you wish.
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RELATED: Sunlight, Cats and Vitamin D – this is another issue to do with sunlight which reinforces its importance. It can’t be overlooked by good cat caregivers.

Yes, full-time indoor cats can get some sunlight in many homes provided there is access to a decent-sized window and the window does not have net curtains and is south or west facing but there is less sunlight inside the home than outside.

Direct research on cats producing serotonin in sunlight is limited, but there’s evidence suggesting a connection. Here’s why:

  • Sun and Serotonin in Humans: Sunlight exposure is known to increase serotonin production in humans [PBS North Carolina].
  • Cats Seek Sunlight: Similar to us, cats naturally gravitate towards sunny spots [CityVet].
  • Possible Mood Benefits: Just like humans, sunlight may improve a cat’s mood through mechanisms potentially involving serotonin.

While the exact link in cats needs further study, it’s reasonable to assume sunlight exposure can positively impact their well-being.

Others sources such as Catster and tell me that cats do produce serotonin when exposed to sunlight as happens for humans. Sunlight is very important for humans. It is a vital ingredient in life. Staying indoors too much can have a negative impact on wellbeing. My research indicates something similar can happen to our cats.

Serotonin is a natural antidepressant that promotes feelings of well-being and happiness in both humans and pets. When cats bask in the sun, it triggers small amounts of serotonin production, which can help regulate their mood. Additionally, sunlight provides other benefits for cats, such as regulating body temperature, getting extra Vitamin D, relaxation, and stress reduction. So, those sunny cat naps are more than just adorable—they’re good for their health! 😺☀️

I can’t find any solid studies on the impact of sunlight to cats in terms of serotonin production which is disappointing. But there is no reason to suggest that cats don’t create serotonin when in sunlight. This is how it happens for humans:

Sunlight doesn’t directly create serotonin in humans, but it triggers a process that increases serotonin production. Here’s the breakdown:

  1. Sun hits your eyes: When sunlight enters your eyes, it interacts with cells in your retina.
  2. Signal to the brain: These retinal cells send a signal to your brain.
  3. Serotonin production ramps up: This signal prompts the brain to ramp up production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that impacts mood, sleep, and digestion.

So, sunlight acts like a switch that tells your body to make more serotonin. This is why spending time outdoors during daylight hours is linked to better mood and can be helpful for people struggling with seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

My cat in the sun. He found the sun deliberately. Point made.
My cat in the sun. He found the sun deliberately. Point made. Image: Me.

Cat caregiving

A south-facing catio would be the best solution to this potential problem. Or a nice cat tree near a large south-facing window where a cat can rest and enjoy the sun.

It is more than just about the production of serotonin. Cats like the sun. They like to lie in the sun for a while. It is natural to them. Deny it and they will be less content. Another negative aspect of feline full-time indoor life.

I mentioned circadian rhythms at the top of the article. They are important for a cat too.

RELATED: EU advises a period of darkness every day for breeding cats and dogs

Are circadian rhythms important for domestic cats?

Yes, circadian rhythms are important for domestic cats, even though they aren’t strictly nocturnal or diurnal. Here’s why:

  • Internal Clock: Cats, like us, have an internal clock that regulates their sleep-wake cycle, hormones, and other bodily functions. This clock is influenced by light exposure.
  • Crepuscular Activity: While not entirely nocturnal, cats are crepuscular, meaning they’re most active at dawn and dusk. Their internal clock aligns with these periods of lower light, which is thought to be a leftover instinct from their wildcat ancestors who hunted during these times.
  • Health Benefits: Maintaining a regular circadian rhythm is linked to better overall health in cats, including regulated sleep patterns, hormone balance, and digestion.
  • Disruptions Can Cause Issues: Disruptions to their natural rhythm, like irregular feeding times or excessive artificial light at night, can lead to problems like restlessness, digestive issues, and even behavioral problems.

It’s important to note that research on cat circadian rhythms can be conflicting. Some cats may be more adaptable to our schedules than others. However, creating a routine with consistent light exposure and feeding times can still benefit most feline companions.

1 thought on “Domestic cats need sunlight. Here’s why.”

  1. My cat is an indoor/outdoor cat. I understand the implications for wildlife but I just don’t see the full-time indoor life working for my cat and your article is another reminder why there are potential downsides to cat health when keeping cats indoors 24/7.


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