Cats thrive based on daily routines. Your cat likely expects to get fed at the same time each day, for example. Despite how it may seem, your cat is not reading and understanding the clock.
Cats are governed by the circadian rhythm of their body. This is the sleep-wake cycle that responds to light. Cats gain an understanding of the time through sunlight. Cats also memorize patterns that can be associated with time. This is why routine matters. If you deviate from an established routine, it causes cats distress.
This means that cats do have a sense of time. Just be aware that they experience time a little differently from humans. A consistent routine will help you and your cat gain a mutual understanding.
Table of Contents:
- 1 Do Cats Have a Concept of Time?
- 2 Do Cats Know What Day of the Week it is?
- 3 Do Cats Know When it is Nighttime?
- 4 Do Cats Experience Time Differently?
- 5 Do Cats Synchronize Schedules?
Do Cats Have a Concept of Time?
Felines often stick to a reliable routine based around the human clock. A cat will conduct certain activities, and demand particular needs are met, at set hours. So, how do cats tell time?
The cat is not reacting to the time itself, but its environment. The most important of these is a cat’s circadian rhythm. This governs the reactions of the body based on the rising and falling of the sun.
Humans are diurnal – we are active by day and sleep by night. The Journal of Physiology explains that this is a naturally occurring phenomenon. Our bodies are conditioned to wind down at dusk and start stirring at dawn.
Cats are equally governed by the sun. In addition, cats memorize pattens and routines in their surroundings. Particular sights and sounds provide cats with an understanding of the time. As felines rely heavily on routine, this will influence their daily behavior.
Waking in the Morning
Your cat likely wakes up at the same time every morning. It is not uncommon for a cat to wake you at this time, like clockwork. This may seem odd, as a cat does not have an alarm clock.
Cats are crepuscular. This is means they are most active at dawn and dusk. The feline body is genetically hardwired to be wide awake at daybreak. This is why your cat wakes you asking for food. It has been awake long enough to build up a hunger.
Do not neglect the role that birdsong will play in this waking time, either. Birds mark the dawning of a new day. This will always attract the attention of a cat. A gathering of birds marks an exciting hunting opportunity for a predatory feline.
Naturally, this waking time may vary with the seasons. During the fall or winter, the sun will rise later. This the cat’s circadian rhythm will dictate that it wakes later as a result. Naturally, though, so will you. A cat will invariably be active before its owner.
Your cat may seem to have an understanding of when you will be home. It is common for cat owners to be waiting for their owners at the door. This suggests that the cat knows what time to expect you.
Your cat has not been watching the clock. In reality, it will have memorized certain cues that precede your arrival. For example, you may have neighbors that get time an hour before you. The cat will hear them come home and know that you will follow before long.
Other sounds may also help your cat anticipate your movements. Cats do not necessarily count in a traditional sense. They can memorize patterns of sound, though. If a bell or clock chimes and you return soon after, cats will expect you.
You can turn this to your advantage. If your cat grows distressed in your absence, set an alarm. The cat will quickly learn that this is advance announcement of your return. It will set the cat’s mind at rest that it has not been abandoned.
You may find that your cat goes for a walk at the same time every day. This will be linked to the cat’s circadian rhythms. The cat will understand when the sun is most comfortable. This is when it will choose to venture outside, minimizing the risk of adverse weather.
Cats also remember things that matter to them. Your cat will memorize when a local shop throws away unsold food, for example. This schedule, similar to anticipating your return, will be built around visual or audible cues. The cat will ensure it times a visit appropriately.
Your cat will also look to memorize the routine of other animals. This helps the cat to stay safe while it hunts or claims territory.
Your cat will learn when other cats are typically outside. If it has a friend, it may time roaming to coincide and play. More importantly, the cat will time roaming to avoid conflict with unfriendly neighborhood felines. As all cats love routine, this is eminently achievable.
Play and Mealtimes
The cornerstone of any feline schedule is established play and mealtimes. If you are late with your cat’s dinner, it will let you know. How do cats know when it’s time to eat? Again, this relates your movements.
A cat will come to expect certain routines. It is likely that you will follow certain rituals upon getting home. You will possibly take a shower, change your clothes, then play with and feed your cat.
The cat will notice this. It is prepared to wait patiently while you attend to your own needs. Once this is complete, though, the cat expects your undivided attention. Again, this is not connected to the clock. Rather, the cat is basing its understanding of time on your actions.
If you change the routine and ignore your cat, expect to be informed. The cat will likely start to seek attention. This is a friendly reminder that you are late with important activities. If you continue to neglect the cat, biting and scratching may follow.
Grooming is unconnected to the clock, but rather sleeping and eating. Cats can spend up to 50% of their day grooming. Typically, though, they do so immediately before and after eating and sleeping. If the cat is to nap peacefully, it needs to feel secure.
Grooming will enable this. By cleaning itself, the cat is removing any trace of its scent. This means it feels safe from predators while dozing. This is also why cats groom after eating. They are removing food smells from their person.
Most cats will fall into a routine of eating and sleeping at set times. This, in turn, will lead to equally structured approach to grooming. If your cat grooms at random, seemingly frantically and to excess, investigate why. This usually suggests that the cat is distressed.
You may find that your cat uses the litter tray at the same time every day. This is a positive sign. It suggests that your cat has established a comfortable, reliable routine.
For a cat to eliminate, it needs waste to pass. This means the cat has been eating appropriately. For a cat to poop to a schedule, it must also eat to a schedule. Your cat may even imitate your own bathroom rituals here, eliminating when you do.
An elimination schedule that runs like clockwork will benefit you. It means you’ll know when to clean the litter box without causing consternation. Not all cats will be rigid with their visits. Embrace it if they are, though. A clean litter box leads to a happy cat.
Do Cats Know What Day of the Week it is?
Garfield, arguably pop culture’s most famous feline, claimed to hate Mondays. In reality, a cat cannot tell Monday from Thursday. A cat’s understanding of the Gregorian calendar is similar to the clock.
Just as cats understand time through routine, the same applies to days of the week. Assume that you work a traditional nine to five working pattern, Monday through Friday. Your cat will eventually learn to expect when to see you, and when not.
In addition, cats may understand a day of the week by visitors to a home. A cleaner that attends once a week, for example, will become expected. Cats will memorize the pattern of when this house guest arrives. It will learn to expect this company on set days.
Do Cats Know When it is Nighttime?
As cats often look out of the window, they see when night falls. Indoor cats used to artificial lighting will also notice a drop in temperature. This does not mean a cat will sleep at night, though. As previously discussed, cats and humans keep different core hours by nature.
Cats prefer to sleep during the day, while the sun is highest. As a cat’s body temperature drops while it sleeps, the sun’s rays keep it comfortable. What’s more, common feline predators and prey are both nocturnal. Many cats like to remain alert at night.
Many cats recognize, and welcome, the onset of night. The cover of darkness offers a chance to explore and roam. While humans sleep, the home or streets outside are quiet. This allows the cat a chance to hunt without sensory distraction.
You may find that your cat automatically looks to sleep at night. This is partly because cats are natural imitators. Many domesticated felines, especially indoor cats, fall into step with an owner’s schedule.
To encourage your cat to sleep through the night, adjust its routine accordingly. Feed, groom, pet and play with your cat as late as possible. These activities leave a cat feeling sleepy. Ergo, the cat is likelier to comfortably slumber through the night.
Do Cats Experience Time Differently?
People often refer to, “cat years” when describing the passage of time for a feline. The popular belief is that one cat year equals 4 human years. Be aware that this is strictly a theory. There is no scientific foundation.
With this in mind, you may believe that time feels shorter to cats. We must remember that cats have no frame of reference, though. They do not wonder how fall is coming when it feels like spring just ended. Cats live almost exclusively in the moment.
As a result, cats do experience time differently. They are not constantly looking at the clock or calendar. Cats do not have appointments to keep or time-sensitive errands to run. Instead, cats focus on feeling and instinct.
A cat’s experience of time evolves around whether it is hungry, sleepy or cold. If it feels something undesirable, the cat will react. Beyond this, felines take each moment as it comes.
Do Cats Have a Sense of Time When You Leave Them?
Every cat is different. Some cats appear to experience chronic separation anxiety when apart from owners. Others appear largely indifferent. A study in PLOS One reveals differences in feline behavior based on time apart, though.
14 cats were left alone in the house for periods of 30 minutes and 4 hours of more. The cats did not display any marked differences in behavior while alone. Upon the return of an owner, slightly different actions were noted.
The cats that were left alone longer stretched and purred more upon reunion with owners. These are both signs of trust and relaxation. This suggests that the cats were bonded with their owners. The reunion promoted a sense of happiness and security in the cat.
Can cats tell how long you are gone? Based on this study, it would appear so. This makes it important to recognize symptoms of separation anxiety. Common warning signs of this include:
- Inappropriate elimination (often on the bed)
- Clinginess upon your return
- Refusing to eat or drink while alone
- Destruction of property
- Grooming to excess (notable bald patches on the fur)
- Complaints from neighbors about excessive vocalizing
Separation anxiety suggests that a cat is not securely bonded to an owner. The cat does not trust that the owner will return and meet its needs. This must be managed. A nervous cat may develop a range of unwelcome behaviors.
Do Cats Perceive Time Slower?
Scientific American Mind claims that, “small animals live in a slow-motion world.” This is due to the perception of time through vision. The speed that eyes send messages to the brain is linked to an animal’s metabolic rate. The smaller the animal, the slower it sees time unfold.
This suggests that cats experience time slower than humans. This is actually untrue. In fact, cats see time unfold slightly faster than us. All animals and humans process light by Hz per second. The higher the number of Hz, the slower time appears to move.
Humans process roughly 60 Hz of light per second. Cats, meanwhile, experience light at 55 Hz per second. Rodents, conversely, process light at 39 Hz per second. This is why a hunting cat can be left frustrated by a fleet-footed mouse.
This explains why cats move at a leisurely pace but enjoy rapier-sharp reflexes. A cat’s eyes send visual messages to the brain faster than our own. This helps cats to act instinctively, especially when feeling threatened. This is why felines can appear jittery.
Cats immediately respond to visual stimuli, usually without thinking about it. Events unfolding on a television screen, for example, appear as rapidly flickering images. Catching sight of something from the corner of the eye can spook a cat.
Do Cats Synchronize Schedules?
If you have multiple cats, you may find they all keep the same hours. This can be both a blessing and a curse. In theory, taking care of the needs of several cats simultaneously is less work. In practice, it can lead to competition for food, attention, and resources.
As discussed, cats are natural imitators. This means that a submissive cat will follow the lead of a dominant pet. The beta cat will look to eat, groom, and sleep when the other cat does. This tends to only work if the cats get along, though.
In this instance, the cats keeping similar schedules works in your favor. They will be willing to share a meal. They will play together or enjoy a group game with you. They will sleep at the same time, possibly even side-by-side. All activities unfold at the same time.
This behavior is common in littermates, or cats that grew up together. The only problem you may experience here is identical bathroom schedules. In such an instance, apply two litter trays side-by-side. Feline elimination is a solo pursuit.
If you adopt 2 cats separately, they may clash. If this happens, synchronized schedules can become problematic. One cat’s dominant status will potentially cross the line into bullying.
This means that you’ll need to get each cat on a different schedule. They will not be able to feed from the same bowl simultaneously, for example. The dominant cat will muscle out its submissive counterpart, refusing to let it eat. Playtime and petting must also be rationed.
So, do cats understand time? Cats are not slaves to time in the way that humans are. Felines do have an understanding of time through routine, though. By remaining consistent with your cat’s schedule, it will develop a respect for the clock.