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Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Seasons Affect Your Pet’s Appetite

We all know that during the hot summer days food just isn’t as interesting as it is on cold winter days, especially if it is a hot meal. Guess what? The same may true for our pets. It turns out that cats are also less interested in eating during warm weather.

Recent Findings

There are numerous studies in animals that document seasonal fluctuations in food intake. However, precious little research has been done with dogs and cats in this area. A group of English and French researchers recently released the findings of a six-year study of the feeding habits of 38 cats fed free choice. The study was conducted in the south of France with a group consisting of 22 normal-weight cats and 16 overweight cats. Thirty of the cats were housed in runs that had both indoor and outdoor access, while eight cats were housed indoor-only. The daily food intake of each cat was determined for the entire six-year period.

The researchers found that the cats ate the most during the months of January, February, October, November, and December. Food consumption in the months of March, April, May, and September was intermediate. The cats ate the least during June, July, and August, with food intake 15 percent less in July than December. Because there were only eight cats that were housed indoor-only, the researchers were not able to statistically prove any differences in food intake for the indoor-only cats that were not subject to temperature differences that may have influenced the food intake of the indoor-outdoor cats.

The Take Home Message

Seasonal changes in daylight and temperature trigger significant hormonal changes in mammals, altering metabolism and influencing food intake. As daily temperatures rise, mammals become less active and need less energy. The lengthening of daylight during the warmer months signals this change to the most primitive part of the brain and its hormonal responses, resulting in decreased food seeking behavior and shifts in cellular metabolism.

As winter approaches, the opposite response occurs. Lower temperatures require greater energy consumption to maintain body temperature. The shortening of daylight during this time signals the same primitive brain to promote food seeking behavior and alter metabolism in order to promote fat storage in preparation for lean food sources during the winter months.

The research discussed above confirms that these feeding cycles still occur in our domesticated cats. That means that our one size fits all approach to feeding the same amount of food throughout the calendar may be incorrect. Instead, we should feed our cats — and probably dogs, despite the lack of research — less in the spring, early fall, and summer months, and perhaps increase the feeding amount in the winter, late fall, and early spring months, especially for those pets that are subject to exposure to lower temperatures.

Although the researchers were unable to prove differences in food intake between indoor-outdoor cats and indoor-only cats, seasonal changes still affect indoor cats. Despite relative stability in indoor temperatures throughout the year, windows still allow indoor cats’ brains to react to daylight changes that trigger behavior and metabolic responses. Activity levels may still decrease in the summer despite cooler indoor temperatures. In the winter, food seeking behavior may increase even though the warmer indoor temperatures do not require the increased calorie intake.

Feeding animals is much more complicated than we want to think. That is why half of all pets are overweight or obese. Keeping our pets fit requires the same diligence to researching lifestyle choices that we require for ourselves and our own health. I hope these blogs are helping.

Dr. Ken Tudor

Image: MaxyM / via Shutterstock

Comments  5

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  • Not Just Food!
    06/07/2012 07:06pm

    I have noticed a distinct difference in activity level with my indoor-only kitties between winter and summer seasons. It caught me by surprise when I thought one kitty was starting the "summer napping schedule" and it turned out she had adenocarcinoma.

    I've mentally kicked myself many times for not picking up on the difference between the "summer napping schedule" and not feeling well.

    Back to the subject at hand. Dr. Tudor, do you think we should make any dietary changes (other than amount) for warmer weather? If the critters don't mind a change in food, that is.

  • 06/08/2012 12:56am

    What is adenocarcinoma?

    I appreciate these postings as I learn so much. Given the constant theme of pet obesity in all the PetMd blogs,I finally addressed this issue with the vet and we have Mon Cherie on a strict diet and monitoring her water consumption vs. her activity. That means grandma can not feed table scraps and treats every so often.

    Awaiting results of sonogram and Cushings test.

    Dr. Tudor, I love to hear the results of these indepth studies and glad to hear the study was done for 6 years.

    Thank you for sharing!

  • 06/08/2012 07:01am

    Adenocarcinoma - in the case of the Lovely Louise, it's a really nasty, very fast-growing cancer in her abdomen - unrelated to diet as far as I know.

  • TheOldBroad
    06/07/2012 10:31pm

    Please don't beat yourself up about your kitty. "Ain't Doing Right" (ADR)does not always foretell a serious condition and catching adenocarcinoma earlier would probably not have changed the outcome. I am pleased that you have observed this seasonal difference in appetite as most of my clients seem oblivious. That was the point of the blog is to let owners know that the seasons do matter. That does not mean to blame everything on the seasonal changes and observe other indicators carefully (water consumption, body temperature, brightness in the eyes, etc.)and if anything seems "wonky" definitely seek veterinary consultation. But this study does support your observations that we may need to expect a decrease in activity and feeding less food is an appropriate response. It is always easier to add food for weight gain than reduce food for weight loss. Additionally it is important to know not to give in to increased food demand in the winter months for pets not exposed to the severity of winter, especially if they are not showing any signs of weight loss. This information is great stuff and helps us better understand that feeding our pets requires more from us than just robotic feeding. Their nutritional status is completely dependent on our feeding programs and food selection. Because they cannot chose like we do for ourselves, we have a responsibility to make the most informed choices we can. I hope this reply is does not sound "preachy" but this is why I love scientific investigation.
    Dr. T

  • 06/08/2012 07:06am

    Thank you for the kind words, Dr. Tudor.

    Louise's tumors grew so quickly in a one week period, I would suspect that had she gone to the doctor a week or two earlier, it might not have been found.

    There have been lots of ADR vet visits because of this. You've probably seen my comments in the past about taking a kitty to the vet for meowing funny (she was fine).

    I rarely hesitate to scoop someone into the carrier and head to the clinic. Luckily the vet is very understanding and takes my concerns seriously.


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