Cats relax most of the day and look around as if lost in thought. As they’re less developed than humans, you may not know how deeply cats can think and what cats think about during the day.
Cats think about relevant things to their lives, such as food, capturing prey, conflicts over territory, why their bed has been moved, why their litterbox is dirty, petting and grooming, and their owners. However, cats likely don’t think in a language or meows. They may think in imagery, although scientists haven’t proven that this is the case. Because the feline brain isn’t as developed as the human brain, cats can’t think in as much depth.
So, while cats are smart, they may not be intelligent enough to think about anything interesting other than the things that directly impact their lives. They process information completely differently.
Do Cats Think About Things?
Cats think about different things all the time, like most complex animals. As their brains are less complex than humans, they have a limited scope for thought and understanding. Cats likely don’t have the ability to think logically. They also can’t think about and process their emotions in a language or words instead of feeling them.
It’s unclear the depth to which a cat can think about everything. Scientists can measure brain activity but cannot yet figure out what a person/animal is thinking about from the readings they get. So, a scientist can tell that an animal is thinking, but not what it is thinking.
Like all animals, some cats may think much more than others. According to PLOS One, cats have unique personalities. So, one kind of cat may think about life more than another cat.
While scientists can’t say for sure, it’s likely that cats only think about issues that are relevant to their own lives. Because a house cat’s experience is limited, this likely isn’t a very long list compared to a stray or feral cat.
Do Cats Think About Food?
One of the key drivers behind any animal’s behaviors and thought processes is food.
All animals need to eat, and mesopredators need to figure out how to get food. Even though a domesticated cat has an easier time finding food and sustenance than a wild cat, it likely still thinks about its meals.
So, a cat will think about being hungry. If you change its food, it will think about why the food is different when it sniffs its food bowl. When another cat is trying to get food from its bowl, it will think about that, too.
What Do Cats Think About People?
The owner is a constant figure in any house cat’s life. So, it’s likely that cats think about humans a lot. When your cat sees you, it may think about what you’re doing, hence the reason why cats imitate their owners.
Sources commonly state that cats consider humans to be big, dumb cats. However, this is an oversimplification. Cats certainly think that people are clumsy. We stumble and trip over far more than cats do, and we’re far less agile than felines. So, if cats think about us at all, they certainly see us as lacking coordination and dexterity.
As for how this affects a cat’s opinion of a person is unclear. Cats display behaviors like rubbing against our legs with their heads which they don’t do to any other cats or animals which they consider inferior in some way.
Do Cats Think in Depth?
While cats do think about these things, they probably don’t think in any great depth. They don’t sit and ponder things at length. There are two obstacles to a cat thinking about things in detail:
- Lack of a well-developed language. While cats communicate, their language is insufficient for complex thought.
- Cats’ brains aren’t designed for deep thought. Cats’ brains aren’t physically as developed as human brains.
The main difference between the brains of humans and other animals is the cerebral cortex. This is the outermost layer of the brain. According to EMBO, the cerebral cortex folded so that the brain has a greater surface area. The more surface area, the greater the level of intelligence.
A cat’s brain isn’t anywhere near as folded and developed as the human brain, so they lack the ability to think deeply.
Do Cats Think About the Past?
Tests on a variety of animals show that animals have average short-term memories but poor long-term memories. So, an animal can remember a sequence of behaviors that result in it being given food. When tested on the same sequence a long time later, the memory is gone.
Other tests suggest that cats can have good long-term memory, but only if they are taught repeatedly for a long period of time or if the experience is significant. So, if your cat is hit by a car, it may not want to go outside again.
This means that cats may have the ability to remember. However, it’s unclear how much they think about what’s happened in the past. If they do, it’s only likely to be in the context of what they’re doing rather than reminiscing.
This may already happen with your cat. Cats and other house pets learn that certain behaviors, e.g., yowling, result in getting food and treats. They then repeat these behaviors. This is a learned behavior rather than the result of the cat thinking, “Normally when I yowl, I get food. I better yowl again!”
Do Cats Think About the Future?
It’s not clear to what extent cats or other animals can imagine the future. We need to remember events from the past, and we need to anticipate from these experiences what may happen in the future. As stated, cats can remember events in the past. Whether they can expand from that to think about the future is unclear.
There are circumstances in which they might think of the future. Take vet visits, for example. Your cat might fight to stop you from putting it into a cat carrier because it anticipates its visit to the vet and doesn’t want to go. How much of this is related to true thinking is unclear.
What Language Do Cats Think In?
Likely, cats don’t think in any language at all. There are two kinds of animals: those who think in words and those who think in concepts. Cats likely think in concepts rather than words.
What this means is that cats rely on emotional instincts and imagery more than language. People can think this way. Sometimes you can have a thought that you can’t even express in words.
This is an interesting question because it doesn’t have a definite answer. While we can make reasonable guesses, it’s impossible to say whether cats think in a language without experiencing what a cat experiences.
Do Cats Think in Meows?
It’s unlikely that cats think in ‘noises’ of any kind like language.
Our own thoughts are complex, emotional, or logical. You can only express such thoughts in words because feelings aren’t complex enough to encompass them. Other thoughts occur to you immediately, without the need for them. You also have to consider that a cat’s range of language is small, making noises as thoughts would be of little benefit.
Whatever language you speak, you have a regular vocabulary of thousands of words. You also know many more words that you don’t frequently use. This is what enables you to think about things in depth. If a cat thought about things in meows, it could hardly think about anything.
How Do Cats Think If They Can’t Think in Words?
Cats don’t need words to describe their thoughts. That’s because cats don’t think about hard-to-understand things.
Say, for example, that you’re driving home from work. On the one hand, you might think about what happened that day: who said what to whom, and what your boss meant when they told you something. To think about these things, you have to process them in words in your mind.
On the other hand, if you’re driving home and you feel hungry, this isn’t something you have to think about. You aren’t hungry only once you’ve thought the words “I’m hungry” aloud in your head. Instead, you get a craving to pick up food on your way home, or you visualize the foods you have in your fridge.
The way your cat thinks is likely closer to this second scenario. Your cat could think in images or concepts in a way that doesn’t require words.
How to Tell What a Cat Is Thinking
The only way to tell what a cat is thinking is to study its body language. While this won’t give you direct insight into your cat’s mind and can’t tell you what a cat is thinking all the time, it can be useful. A cat largely expresses its body language with its tail, eyes, and ears.
If your cat’s tail is relaxed and still, your cat is relaxed. If its tail is swishing from side to side, there’s something that has caught your cat’s attention or is irritating it. Look around to see what might be annoying your cat.
If your cat is holding its tail vertically, this signifies several things. As your cat is walking around, if its tail is up, it’s alert and ready to play. According to Behavioral Processes, it can be a sign of an amicable greeting. The tail between the legs signifies that your cat is upset or anxious. If your cat’s tail is big and bushy, that’s because it’s frightened.
Your cat’s eyes are what it uses for direct communication. If your cat is looking at you but blinks its eyes, this means that it’s contented and enjoying your company. If your cat’s eyes are big and wide and its pupils are dilated, it’s thinking about hunting, chasing, or play.
If your cat’s ears are pointed backward, it’s not happy with whatever you’re doing. You may notice this if you pet your cat too much. Its ears will also move to point at something your cat wants to listen to, which may indicate that it’s thinking about whatever it’s hearing.
Body language doesn’t tell you exactly what a cat is thinking. It’s more related to how your cat is feeling and sensing. In truth, your cat’s thoughts likely don’t go much deeper than the way that it feels.