Why Do Cats Lay In The Sun?

Why Do Cats Lay In The Sun?

Cats love to lounge near windows and in spots where they are hit by direct sunlight. Cat owners find this an endearing sight, but did you know that there are reasons felines do this? In this article, we discuss the mystery behind this behavior. 

Why do cats lay in the sun?

Cats prefer warm temperatures. 

Cats adore the sun and will always sit or lay in a spot where there is sunlight, given half a chance. They love to sunbathe for long periods, with the exception of certain breeds like Maine Coons, Persians, Siberians and Norwegian Forest cats, all of which thrive in cold climates. However, most cats prefer warm conditions based on their ancestry. Domestic cats evolved from wild felines that inhabited the Middle Eastern desert thousands of years ago, which explains their preference for warm conditions.  

Sunbathing allows cats to maintain their core body temperature and at the same time conserve energy.

Being in the sun encourages cats to sleep. 

Lounging in the sun enables cats to relax since they feel comfortable in an environment with a warm temperature. When they lay in the sun they become calm and eventually start napping. The sun’s warmth counters any temperature drop, since a cat’s body temperature drops while it sleeps. 

Sunlight activates the hormone melatonin and causes reactions in the pineal gland and retina to regulate the sleep cycle and improve the quality of sleep. Scientists suggest that you should allow your cat to have access to unfiltered sunlight during the daytime to maintain the circadian cycle, the process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle.

It provides pain relief. 

Senior cats lay in the sun to ease body discomfort, since many of them have arthritis, rheumatism or other health issues. Cat experts note that sunlight can kill the yeast and bacteria growing in wounds. Sunlight dries out the wounds and kills microscopic fungi.  

Veterinarians recommend that cats have at least 20 to 40 minutes of exposure to direct outdoor sunlight every day. Light through glass windows lacks ultraviolet rays and may not impart the same health benefits. 

Is sunlight good for cats?

Yes, sunlight is good for cats in appropriate doses. Cats look forward to summer when there is plenty of sunshine. They find it easier to relax, so allow your cat to sunbathe but take the necessary precautions by ensuring that your cat has a shady spot to retreat to if it gets too hot.

These are the benefits that cats can get from sunlight:

  • It prevents cats from losing energy. 

Sunshine prevents cats from losing energy and enables them to relax and recuperate. Hunting, playing and other movement could be exhausting for cats, more so if they are already senior. Cats also need to burn calories to stay warm and this makes them hungrier during winter. By laying in the sun they stay toasty and are able to burn less energy.

  • It provides Vitamin D. 

The Feline Journal of Medicine and Surgery notes that cat skin does not absorb Vitamin D since its access is blocked by the fur. However, cats can still benefit from the sun’s rays since Vitamin D becomes trapped in their fur. When they groom themselves, they ingest the vitamin orally, although this may not be as effective as direct skin absorption. 

  • It affects hormone cycles. 

Cats’ hormones are affected by sunlight and the environment, especially in unspayed females. The heat cycle revolves around the seasons and most cats enter heat during the onset of spring and conclude in the fall. Cats’ bodies use the sunlight to assess the time of the year and if there is sunlight they produce less melatonin which suppresses the heat cycle.

Female cats must spend time laying in the sun if they want to breed as it activates their hormones. If a cat is mostly kept indoors and does not have unlimited access to natural sunlight, her hormone cycle may fall out of sync with the seasons. Neutered cats also still need sunlight to regulate their hormones.  

The shedding of a cat’s fur is also regulated by sunlight. Cats start to shed when the days become longer and sunnier. Without this process, they would get uncomfortable in the sun, especially in the case of long-haired breeds. 


Cats love to lay in the sun and sunbathe to maintain their core body temperature and conserve energy. It also relaxes them and encourages them to sleep. Laying in the sun provides pain relief, especially for senior cats. It also eases body discomfort, dries out wounds and kills bacteria.

Image: istockphoto.com / Jelena990