Should I Leave Lights On For My Cat?

What is the Right Lighting for Indoor Cats?

Many cat owners wonder if they should leave lights on for their feline companions when they are away or asleep. It’s a common question, as cats have unique lighting needs compared to humans. Determining the right indoor lighting for a cat requires understanding their natural vision abilities, sleep patterns, and health considerations. With some planning, you can create a home environment that meets your cat’s lighting needs for their overall wellbeing.

Natural Lighting Needs for Cats

Cats evolved as crepuscular animals, meaning they are most active during dawn and dusk when natural light is dimmer. Despite this evolutionary history, cats still need exposure to natural daylight cycles to stay healthy (1). According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners, natural lighting plays an important role in regulating a cat’s circadian rhythm and body processes like their sleep/wake cycle and hormone production (2). Getting exposure to daylight, even if indirect through a window, helps calibrate a cat’s internal clock and supports their natural bio-rhythms.

While they don’t technically need direct sunlight, exposure to natural daylight is still beneficial for cats in regulating body temperature, mood, breeding, and behavior patterns. Research shows that melatonin levels, which control sleep, rise when it gets dark and drop during daylight hours. Light exposure, even artificial, can help maintain this cycle for indoor cats (3). But natural daylight exposure through windows or supervised time outdoors is ideal. Overall,Natural daylight helps cats stay in sync with their natural bio-rhythms evolved as crepuscular hunters.


Benefits of Light Exposure

Light exposure can provide some important benefits for cats. Primarily, light helps set healthy circadian rhythms and regular sleep cycles. Cats have evolved to be crepuscular, meaning they are most active during twilight hours at dawn and dusk. Exposure to natural daylight patterns helps reinforce this natural rhythm and prevents disruptions that can cause sleep issues or lethargy (Light Up Flow). Light, especially natural sunlight, also provides mental stimulation for cats. As natural hunters and foragers, the changing light prompts curiosity and engaging their predatory instincts. Having exposure to sunlight and darkness provides enriching environmental cues.

Potential Harm of Constant Lighting

Leaving lights on constantly for cats can potentially cause some harm. Studies have shown that increased night time lighting can disrupt cats’ circadian rhythms and natural sleep-wake cycles [1]. Cats are crepuscular animals, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk. Leaving lights on at night goes against their natural inclination to sleep when it’s dark. This can lead to sleep deprivation, stress, and anxiety.

Research also suggests a link between constant indoor lighting and feline obesity. Artificial lighting allows cats to be more active at night when they would normally sleep. This can increase appetite and lead to overeating and weight gain over time [2]. So it’s best not to leave bright lights on all night for cats.

Using Lights When Away

When owners are away from home, leaving lights on for their cats can provide reassurance and maintain normalcy. Leaving a couple lights on allows cats to still see where they are going, find their food and water, and use their litter box comfortably. Some cat owners recommend leaving a light or nightlight on to help cats navigate and feel less isolated.

To best mimic the cat’s natural exposure to light and darkness, consider putting certain lights on timers. Setting up schedules for lights allows them to come on and off at appropriate times, just as if the owner was home. Using timers on specific lamps or light fixtures can help create a day/night cycle without disrupting the cat’s sleep.

Night lights are another great option for providing a small amount of illumination without overly bright lights at night. Plug-in or battery-operated night lights give just enough light for cats to find their way around while keeping a calming ambience when owners are away overnight or for periods of time.

Monitoring Cat’s Lighting Needs

It’s important to closely monitor your cat’s behavior and health to determine if the lighting conditions are appropriate. Look for signs of disrupted sleep cycles or stress that could indicate lighting issues. For example, if your cat seems overly tired, lethargic, or agitated during the day, it may not be getting proper rest at night due to excess light exposure. Irritated eyes, dilated pupils, or signs of anxiety could also point to lighting that is too bright or constant for your cat’s needs.

Be sure to adjust the lighting setup based on your individual cat. For instance, an older cat or one with vision issues may need more light, while a high-energy young cat may prefer lower lighting. Pay attention to when your cat seems most relaxed or content and aim to recreate those conditions. It’s advisable to provide access to both lit and unlit areas so your cat can choose the environment it prefers. With close monitoring and adjustments tailored to your cat, you can provide lighting conditions that meet its unique needs.

Types of Lights to Use

When selecting lights for your cat, it’s best to choose bulbs that mimic natural daylight. Look for bulbs labeled “natural spectrum” or “daylight” on the packaging. These bulbs have a color temperature around 5000-6500K, which is similar to daylight (Cat® lights: LED | Energy Efficiency Lights). Natural spectrum lighting is healthier for cats and helps regulate their circadian rhythms.

For night lights, opt for low-level lighting. Bright lights at night can disrupt your cat’s sleep-wake cycle. Aim for bulbs that are 25 watts or less for night lighting. There are special low-level LED night lights made just for pets that provide a calming glow without being too bright. Green or blue colored night lights are soothing for cats (Top-5 Best Cat LED Collars in 2023 – Technomeow). Place the night light in an area your cat frequents at night like near the food, water, or litter box. Just be sure to keep the light low and avoid directing it into sleeping areas.

Other Tips for Cat Lighting

Here are some additional tips for creating the right lighting environment for cats:

Provide shaded resting spaces – Cats love to curl up and sleep in cozy, shaded areas around the house. Make sure to provide some dimly lit spaces for your cat to relax in, like under furniture or in closets. These will allow them to get adequate rest away from bright lights.

Use light filtering curtains – Hang sheer curtains over windows to filter natural light coming into the home. This will prevent harsh beams of sunlight from shining directly on your cat’s resting areas.

Signs of Lighting Related Health Issues

There are some signs to watch out for that may indicate your cat is being negatively affected by improper lighting conditions. These signs often relate to changes in sleep, activity levels, mood, and eye health.

You may notice your cat sleeping more during the day and being more active at night if they are exposed to too much light at the wrong times. This reversal of their natural sleep-wake cycle can lead to mood changes like increased irritability and anxiety.

Dilated pupils and eye sensitivity or damage are other common symptoms. Cats’ eyes are very sensitive, and excessive exposure to bright lights can temporarily or permanently affect their vision and cause conditions like photokeratitis according to The Led Hub. Keep an eye out for squinting, light avoidance, and red or runny eyes.

If you notice any of these signs, try making adjustments to reduce light levels or block out light sources so your cat can restore their natural circadian rhythms. Limit daytime access to brightly lit rooms and provide them a dark, quiet space for napping. At night, use low level lighting and allow access to moonlight or starlight from a window if possible.


In summary, while cats do not need lights on all the time, lighting can be beneficial for their natural rhythms and behaviors. The right amount and type of lighting depends on your individual cat’s preferences and needs. The key is tuning lighting to suit your cat, avoiding constant illumination or complete darkness.

To recap, aim for lighting that mimics natural daylight patterns by providing light during the day and darkness at night. Be attentive to your cat’s reactions and make adjustments as needed. Use night lights or timed lighting when away to avoid leaving cats in complete darkness. Monitor for signs of lighting-related health issues. Work with your vet if concerned.

With some observation and adjustments, proper lighting can promote your cat’s natural behaviors, health and happiness. The most important guideline is customizing lighting based on your own cat’s unique needs and responses.

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