by Barbara George, Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Cats are natural animals and instinctively use light and dark to determine their behaviour. Living with us in our artificially-lit homes can have effects we may not consider. Light is not the only factor involved in behavioural changes from a natural-living environment, the availability of food, warmth and security have a contributory role to play.
Our homes do not have sunrise or sunset – a slow lightening or darkening of the light that gently triggers the brain – we have instant light of dark that shocks the brain and does not allow for gradual movement from one state to another. Depending on our situation and environment, we may have an amount of light visible all night long, thereby never creating a state of complete darkness. Darkness with the absence of artificial light is responsible for the creation of melatonin, a powerful and natural anti-oxidant for fighting the effects of disease and ageing.
Cats are crepuscular, mostly active at dawn and dusk. This is the best time for them to eat according to their natural body circadian rhythm. Upsetting or changing this to fit into our lifestyle is rather like having permanent symptoms of jet-lag!
Neither do our homes have specific seasons, since we like to live in a comfortable environment. There are no really cold months or very hot months. This, along with other factors, is responsible for the high number of litters a cat can produce in a year. Female cats that live by the sun do not come into season in the winter months, she will wait until the warmer days of spring so that her kittens are born at the end of spring or beginning of summer, when it is warm and food is more plentiful. In our environment, even stray and feral cats that live on the street are subjected to artificial light from shop windows and street lights which interfere with the natural cycle of life. It has been noted that long-haired cats are less sensitive to the effect of light, possibly due to the fact that light is also absorbed into the body via the skin, and long-haired cats have more protection.
Although we do not have daylight-saving here, this can be an issue for cats. Morning and evening meals times will change, play time and the time you are away will be different, and medication that is required regularly will be adjusted twice a year. Cats are resilient and adjust to the change; for some cats the accumulation of change can have an effect.
Do cats need sunlight? It would seem, from available research, that what cats need is a slow transition from dark to light, a time of light, slow transition to dark, and complete darkness, making real darkness more important than real sunlight. A lack of light can cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in animals as well as for us. Too much darkness produces excessive melatonin with can result in lethargy which can affect their behaviour, typically sleeping too much, a change in eating patterns, and a reluctance to engage with family members or play.
Many animals manufacture Vitamin D from exposure to the sun. Cats, however, do not; they receive their Vitamin D through their food.
Cats do enjoy sleeping in the sun, there is no harm in letting them enjoy the warmth – be aware of the possibility of cancer in cats with white or light-coloured faces and ears.
To contact Barbara, please email firstname.lastname@example.org