In Northern climates the long and extremely cold winter season is no picnic for some animals. Aside from the freezing temperature, the frozen ground makes it very difficult to find food. To survive the rough and tough condition, animals hibernate. Animals that live in areas with very cold winters are most likely to hibernate. Cats have become one of the most popular pets and can live in areas with freezing temperatures. Do cats in these locations hibernate too? The short answer is no. With an ample supply of food and adequate shelter, there is no need for cats to hibernate
What is hibernation? Hibernation is one of the winter survival strategies of animals. When the time of the year comes along they are faced with a choice, animals can either migrate to warmer areas or hibernate. Animals need to burn energy in all their activities. Working, walking, breathing, even thinking are energy burning activities. The normal functioning of the body’s systems like pumping blood and breathing are activities that burn energy as well. Animals instinctively eat unaware that filling the stomach ensures that energy will fuel all their activities. Finding food during the winter months may be very difficult. Animals in the wild can go out all day without finding food. Searching for sustenance is an energy burning activity. In order to survive the harsh winter months, animals conserve energy by hibernating.
Obligate hibernators eat large amounts of food before the winter months set in. This is to build up the fat reserve. Hibernating animals use the reserve body fat at a much lower rate. The energy needs will be reduced to a bare minimum. An animal in a state of hibernation has a lower than normal metabolic rate. Hibernation is often viewed as a very long sleep…sleep that can last for weeks or even months for some animals. Hibernation though is more than sleeping as the animal goes through drastic physiological changes. Body temperature drops to almost the same as the temperature of the environment so that mammals can almost have the same temperature as cold blooded animals. Heart rate and breathing rate drastically drop. A hibernating animal has a diminished consciousness; it’s oblivious to its environment. Waking up a hibernating animal would be very difficult.
Animals have different ways of coping with the winter months. As mentioned, some migrate to areas where food is easily available and some animals hibernate. Some animals stay in their burrows that already have a cache of food and very occasionally go out. Other animals adapt with the change in the season by growing thicker coats. Dogs and cats belong to this category. Domestic cats have no need to hibernate since these cats will be provided with enough food. Inside temperature controlled homes, domestic cats can easily weather the winter months. Cats are predators. Although not plentiful, small fast moving animals can still be hunted. Having grown a thicker coat, stray and feral cats can survive the winter months. Feral cats have another way of surviving winter. These animals can go through temporary hibernation. Cats can go through torpor, a state or physiological activity characterized by reduced rate of metabolism and lowered body temperature. With this short term hibernation the cat maintains its normal body temperature during the day while doing its usual activities. These activities would include foraging for food. To conserve energy, the cat would drop its body temperature usually at night and spend longer amounts of time sleeping. Just as with hibernation, the heart rate and breathing rate of the cat are considerably lowered.