Unless you have a particularly sophisticated pet, your cat will not wear a wristwatch. This makes it quite curious that cats seem to have an innate ability to tell time. It often feels like cats understand dinnertime, when you’ll be home, and when to wake you up each day.
Your cat is not looking at the clock. Felines are very observant, though. They’ll notice indicators of time, such as sunrise, sunset, birdsong, and activity outside the home. As cats love routine, they’ll connect these environmental factors with activities such as eating and playtime.
Changing the clocks in your home and taking down calendars won’t impact on your pet’s behavior. Trying to get a few extra hours in bed, however, will soon get a response. This guide will elaborate further on how cats always seem to know the time of day.
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Can Cats Tell Time?
A cat’s understanding of time boils down to two things; instinct and learned behaviors.
Cats that live in the wild are almost entirely governed by the sun. A wild cat will be at their most active at between dawn and dusk. This is because prey is at its most plentiful during these hours.
The sun, and natural daylight, also impacts upon a cat’s reproductive cycle. The sun impacts upon particular hormones in a cat’s body, changing the make-up of their biology.
These instincts have been carried over to domesticated housecats. If left to their own devices, cats are more active at night. However, during our pets also adjust to human schedules.
Although cats have a poor short-term memory, their long-term memory is impressive. This means that they’ll recall, and associate, events with times and activities.
Do you find that your cat is usually waiting for you when you get home from work? This isn’t because they checked the time, and worked out the average length of your commute. Instead, they will have picked up on subtle cues that precede your arrival.
Perhaps a school bus sails past the house every day, not long before you get home. Maybe your neighbor usually arrives just before you, and your cat has acknowledged this. If you work a night shift, it could be as simple as your cat associating birdsong with your return home.
These associations are connected to everything important to your cat. It’s not just the elements, either – sometimes, your cat judges time by your actions. Felines adore routine, so it’s important to remain consistent with them.
If you play with your cat an hour after you get home, they’ll expect this. Your pet will likely be patient at first, but grow agitated if made to wait.
If left waiting too long, your pet may even vomit bile. It’s because their bodies are used to being fed at particular times intervals.
My Cat Wakes Me Up at the Same Time Every Day
This is a common refrain from pet parents. A little paw, followed by an increasingly intense meow, is as reliable as an alarm clock. Surely this means that cats are capable of understanding time?
This isn’t the case. What your pet is capable of understanding, however, is humans and routine. Cats love to stick to a schedule, and your timetable quickly becomes theirs.
This is particularly important when it comes to feeding. Your cat will likely be ravenous by the morning, and expect you to resolve this. If you fail to respect the routine, your cat may become stressed and anxious. At the very least, they’ll be grumpy.
Of course, this doesn’t explain how your cat knows when to wake you up. Your cat will acknowledge that you start stirring soon after the day breaks. Cat bodies and brains are governed by the rising and setting of the sun.
This means that they’ll be at high alert once morning arrives. Your cat will learn that you tend to wake around this time, and establish a routine.
You’ll be expected to stick to that schedule, too. If you fail to do so, your cat will be happy to lend a helping paw. This is why weekends with a cat can be frustrating.
Your pet doesn’t understand the concept of a lazy Sunday morning. As far as they’re concerned, the sun is up so you should be awake and feeding them.
In addition to this, cats will pay attention to your sleeping patterns. Don’t be unnerved, but your pet has probably watched you while you sleep. They’ll observe your breathing and movement, and learn how easy you are to wake up. Your pet will likely experiment in your early days together.
They may try to wake you up while you are sound asleep, and get no reaction. In the morning, however, when you’re close to waking naturally, they’ll have more success. Your cat will acknowledge this, and make sure they repeat the trick from this day forth.
My Cat Keeps Waking Me Up at 3 AM
When a cat keeps waking you at the same time of the morning, it’s cute. When they wake you during the middle of the night, it’s problematic. Why do some cats seem so determined to rouse humans at antisocial hours?
The most common reasoning is similar to the early morning wake up call – your cat is hungry. If they get the impression that you’ll rectify this, they’ll badger you until you cave.
It’s vital not to set a precedent that you’ll respond to your cat at all hours. It will be frustrating, but ignore your cat the first time they try this. If you leave some dry food out for your cat, they’re also more likely to graze at night.
There could be other reasons why cats want your attention at night, though. Boredom is a common explanation. Cats are more likely to be active at night.
If you have been sleeping for hours, your pet may decide that’s quite enough. Getting your cat into a routine is vital. This means that your cat must have their needs met during your waking hours.
Feed your cat at a set time, and more importantly, play with your cat every day. The more you exhaust your pet, the less likely they are to disturb you at night. If cats trust that they receive attention during the day, they’re likelier to accept late-night solitude.
Feeding your cat late at night will also help. Felines like to sleep after they’ve eaten. A full stomach means that you’re all more likely to doze through the night. If your cat eats early evening, they’ll get hungry at an inconvenient time.
You have to consider that your cat is sick. If your pet is meowing and restless at night, they may be unwell or in pain. Medical ailments could include arthritis, high blood pressure, toothache or even feline dementia. These conditions are unlikely to manifest at the same time each night, however.
If your cat is generally agitated at night, see a vet. This is especially important if your cat has reached senior status. As felines age, they come increasingly susceptible to health concerns.
Whatever the explanation, one this is certain. You should not respond to a cat’s demands for attention at night. This is establishing a routine for your pet, and it won’t be a healthy one. This even includes telling your cat off.
The chances are, your pet won’t understand what is happening. They’ll consider any attention to be good attention. If you think that your cat may be ill, see a vet during waking hours. Otherwise, avoid teaching them that they choose the schedule.
How Do Cats Perceive Time?
A study published in the Polish journal Acta Neurobiologiae Experimentalis found that cats can understand waiting times. The cats in the experiment comprehended the difference between waiting 5, 8, 10 and 20 seconds to eat. This suggests that cats do have at least some perception of time.
In addition to this, it’s believed that cats enjoy some basic counting ability. That’s according to a study published in the Journal of Ethology. This means that your cat may acknowledge the passing of time by counting noises or sights.
Do you live near a church? Then your cat may be able to count the tolling bells. This doesn’t mean that your cat will think, “ah, it’s two o’clock” when this occurs twice. They could, however, come to realize that you often return home after the bells toll four times.
The same could apply to any repetitive sound. To give your cat a concept of time, try setting periodic alarms around the house.
What is more likely that is your cat perceives time by instinct. Hunger, for example, will not be triggered by the hour of the day.
Instead, it will be inspired by how long it’s been since your cat last ate. All the same, your cat will experience that rumbling stomach at roughly the same time every day.
This means that they’ll perceive time around what happens before and after. Your cat will not think, “I eat at nine o ‘clock.” They will, however, be aware that they eat after playtime and before the lights go out.
Can Cats Tell How Long You are Gone?
Have you ever been away, and thought your cat seemed cranky with you when you got home? It may not have been just your imagination. A study in Animal Behavior suggests that time moves very slowly for small animals, including cats.
This suggests that your cat lives their life in slow motion, hence their lightning-fast reflexes. It’s a survival mechanism, again carried over from your cat’s wild ancestors. Scientific American elaborates further on this subject, explaining the link to feline metabolism.
There is no way of knowing for sure if a minute feels like an hour our pets. What is likely, however, is that cats grow very bored when you’re not around.
With nobody to play with, cats find their activity options stifled. Even though they’re independent, felines crave company to keep themselves amused.
Stave off boredom for your cat by leaving some form of entertainment in the house while you’re out. Hiding treats will give your pet something to do, leaving them to hunt them down. Alternatively, consider investing in a treat-dispensing game, assuming that it’s safe to use unsupervised.
Windows also help your cat watch the world go by, which can be hypnotic to felines. Just be aware that your cat will use that window to judge when to expect you. If you are working to a different routine, expect an indignant response from your pet.
Cats can tell the time – just not in the way that humans do. The hands of the clock mean nothing to them. When the clocks change, it means nothing to your pet.
That means that a 6 am furry wake-up call could become 5 am until your cat is re-trained. They can tell the difference between particular parts of the day, however.
Try an experiment one day. Restrict access to your watch, or any other time-telling devices, for several hours at a time. The chances are, looking out of the window will still give you an idea of time. You’ll judge by the position of the sun, and the level of activity outside. How energetic or tired you’re feeling will also play a role.
This method is not as accurate as a Swiss watch, but you’ll have a ballpark idea. The same applies to your cat. Your pet cannot tell you when to leave for work, or your favorite show is starting. They will, however, have a broad concept of time-based on instinct and routine.