Cats relax most of the day, and look around as if lost in thought. But as they’re less developed animals, you may not know how deeply cats can think, and what cats think about during the day.
Cats think about things that are relevant to their lives, e.g. food/prey or their owner. However, cats likely don’t think in a language. They may think in imagery, although scientists haven’t proven this. And because their brains aren’t as developed, cats can’t think in depth either.
So, while cats are smart, they probably aren’t intelligent enough to think about anything interesting. They process information differently.
Do Cats Think About Things?
Cats think about things all the time, like most complex animals. But, because they 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 words, as opposed to feeling them.
It’s unclear the depth to which a cat can think about things. 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, it’s possible that some cats think much more than others. According to PLOS One, cats can have unique personalities. So, one kind of cat may ‘think’ more than other cats.
While scientists can’t say for sure, it’s likely that cats only think about stuff that is relevant to their own lives. Because a house cat’s experience is limited, this likely isn’t a very long list compared to a 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 predator animals like cats need to figure out how to get it.
Even though a domestic cat has an easier time finding it than a wild cat, it likely still thinks about its meals.
So, a cat will think about being hungry. If you change its food, when it sniffs its food bowl, it will think about the food being different. When there’s another cat trying to get food from its bowl, it will think about that, too.
What Do Cats Think About People?
The cat’s 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, for example. Cats imitate their owners.
Sources commonly state that cats think of people as 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. We’re far less agile than felines. So, if cats think about us at all, they certainly think of us as lacking coordination and dexterity.
But 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 depth. They don’t sit and ponder things at length.
There are two obstacles to a cat thinking about things in detail:
- They don’t have a well-developed language. While cats can communicate to an extent, their language isn’t complex enough to think at length.
- Cats’ brains aren’t designed for deep, reasoned thought. Their brains aren’t physically as developed as human brains.
The main difference between the brains of people 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 intelligence.
A cat’s brain isn’t anywhere near as folded and developed as that of a human. Cats likely lack the ability to think in as much depth.
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. But when tested on the same sequence a long time later, the memory is gone.
Other tests suggest that animals can have good long-term memory, but only if they are taught over and over again for a long period of time, or if the experience is significant. So, if your cat gets hurt by a car, it may not want to go outside again.
What this means is that cats may have the ability to remember. But it’s not clear 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.
They then repeat these behaviors. But 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. What we do know is that to imagine the future, we need two things.
We need to remember events from the past, and we need to anticipate from these experiences what may happen in the future.
As stated above, cats can remember events in the past. But as for whether they can expand from that to think about the future isn’t clear.
There are definitely circumstances in which they might think of the future. Take vet visits, for example. Your cat might fight to stop you putting it into a cat carrier because it anticipates its visit to the vet, and doesn’t want to go.
But how much of this is related to true thinking is unclear.
What Language Do Cats Think In?
It’s likely that cats don’t think in any language at all. There are two kinds of people: 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 at all.
But 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’ or not without experiencing what a cat experiences.
Do Cats Think in Meows?
It’s unlikely that cats think in ‘noises’ of any kind like language.
Think about your own thoughts. They are often complex, emotional or logical. You can only express such thoughts in words, because feelings aren’t complex enough to encompass them. But 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 to it.
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. But 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’ what they think about. That’s because cats don’t think about difficult-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 head.
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 picture 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 very useful.
A cat largely expresses its body language with three parts of its body. These are its tail, eyes, and ears.
Your Cat’s Tail
If your cat’s tail is relaxed and still, then your cat is relaxed too. But if its tail is swishing from side to side, there’s something that has 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 can signify 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
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.
Your Cats Ears
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 your cat is 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. But in truth, your cat’s thoughts don’t go much deeper than the way that it feels.