Cats love daily routines. So they expect to be fed, petted, or played with at the same time every day. When you deviate from the routine, it makes cats uncomfortable. Even though it sometimes seems that way, cats don’t look at the clock. But do cats have a sense of time?
Cats have a circadian rhythm, so they have some sort of sense of time. This 24-hour sleep-wake rhythm allows cats to determine the time of day based on sunlight and darkness. Cats are also able to memorize patterns associated with time. Internal signals are timed, so a sequence of events must occur in the proper order for it to be at the right time.
Cats are crepuscular, so they are most active between sunrise and sunset.
The way cats determine the time of day is entirely different from humans. But a cat’s internal clock can be amazingly accurate and reliable.
Do Cats Have a Concept of Time?
Cats adhere to a routine that is based on the human clock. A cat goes about specific activities and demands that its needs be met at certain times.
So, how do cats recognize time, and how does their sense of time work?
A cat does not respond to time but to its environment. As mentioned earlier, the cat’s circadian rhythm is the most crucial factor.
This controls the body’s reactions depending on the sun’s rising and setting.
We humans are diurnal, so we are active during the day and sleep at night. This is a natural process.
Our bodies are conditioned to come to rest at dusk and to stir again at dawn.
Cats are also guided by the sun. In addition, cats imprint patterns and routines in their environment.
Cats can tell time by looking at pictures and hearing sounds. Because cats rely on routines, this influences their daily behavior.
Waking Up in the Morning
Your cat probably wakes up at the same time every morning. It’s common for a cat to wake you at this time, almost like clockwork. This may seem strange because a cat doesn’t have an alarm clock.
As cats are crepuscular, their bodies are genetically wired to be wide awake at dawn. Therefore, your cat will wake you up every morning at the same time with loud meows, demanding food and attention.
Of course, this wake-up time varies with the seasons. In autumn or winter, the sun rises later.
Then, the cat’s circadian rhythm causes it to wake up later. However, a cat usually becomes active just before its owner.
Time Schedule of the Owner
Cats seem to know when you are going to come home. It is common for a cat to wait at the door for its owner, indicating that the cat knows exactly when to expect you.
Your cat has memorized specific signals that announce your arrival.
For example, maybe you have neighbors who arrive 15 minutes before you. The cat hears them coming home and knows you will be home shortly.
Other sounds can also help your cat anticipate your movements.
Cats don’t count in the traditional sense, but they can memorize sound patterns. If a bell or clock rings and you return soon after, a cat can anticipate your arrival.
You may notice that your cat goes for walks at the same time every day.
This is also related to the cat’s circadian rhythm. The cat will know when the sun is most comfortable and venture outside.
Cats remember things that are important to them. For example, your cat will remember when a butcher or neighbor throws away food that is no longer needed.
Much like anticipating your return, this schedule will be based on visual or auditory cues. The cat will ensure it is correctly timing its visit to that location.
Your cat will also try to memorize the routines of other animals to keep her safe while she hunts or claims her territory.
If she has a feline friend, she can time her forays so that she can play with him.
Play and Meals
The cornerstone of any cat’s schedule is set play and meal times. If you are late for dinner, your cat will let you know.
But how do cats know when it’s time to eat? Again, it’s all about your movements.
A cat gets used to certain routines. When you come home, you will probably follow certain rituals. You may shower, change your clothes, and then play with and feed your cat.
The cat will wait patiently while you take care of your own needs. Once this is done, she will expect your undivided attention.
Again, this has nothing to do with the clock. Instead, the cat bases its understanding of time on your actions.
Grooming has nothing to do with the clock but rather with eating and sleeping.
Cats spend up to 50% of their day grooming. They usually do this immediately before and after eating and sleeping.
By grooming itself, the cat eliminates any trace of its smell. This means that she feels safe from predators while she sleeps.
This is also the reason why cats clean themselves after eating. They eliminate the smell of food.
Most cats get used to a routine of eating and sleeping at certain times. This, in turn, leads to an equally structured approach to grooming.
If your cat brushes indiscriminately and frantically to excess, this indicates a disorder.
A cat that uses its litter box at the same time every day has developed a comfortable, reliable routine.
For a cat to defecate, it must have digested. So, for a cat to go to the bathroom on a set schedule, it must also eat on a set schedule.
Do Cats Know What Day of the Week It Is?
Garfield, probably the most famous cat in pop culture, claimed that he hates Mondays.
However, a cat cannot distinguish between Monday and Thursday. A cat’s understanding of the calendar is similar to that of a clock.
Just as cats perceive time through routine, the same is true for the days of the week.
Let’s say you work a traditional 9-5 schedule Monday through Friday. Your cat will learn over time to expect when she can see you.
In addition, cats can recognize the day of the week based on visitors to their home.
For example, a cleaner who comes once a week is expected. Cats memorize the pattern of when this houseguest arrives.
Do Cats Know When It’s Nighttime?
Because cats often look out the window, they know when night falls. Apartment cats are used to artificial light and notice a sudden temperature drop.
Cats prefer to sleep during the day when the sun is at its highest. Since cats’ body temperature is lower when they sleep, the sun’s rays keep them warm and comfortable.
In addition, predators and prey are often nocturnal, so many cats prefer to be alert at night.
Cats recognize nightfall. The cover of darkness provides them with the opportunity to roam and explore.
While humans sleep, the home and streets become quiet, allowing the cat to hunt without sensory distraction.
However, you may find that your cat sleeps at night, in part because cats are natural mimics.
Many domesticated cats, especially apartment cats, adjust to their owner’s schedule.
Do Cats Experience Time Differently?
People often talk about cat years when describing the passage of time for a cat. The conventional wisdom is that a cat year is equivalent to 4 human years.
Note, however, that this is purely a theory with no scientific basis.
With this in mind, you may believe that time feels shorter to cats, and they have a different sense of time. However, remember that cats have no frame of reference.
They don’t wonder how fall can already come when humans feel like spring has just ended. That is because cats live almost exclusively in the moment.
Consequently, cats experience time differently. They don’t constantly look at the clock or calendar. Cats don’t have deadlines to meet or time-sensitive errands to run.
Cats don’t have a human sense of time that is based on deadlines and commitments.
Instead, cats focus on their feelings and instincts. A cat’s sense of time is based on whether she is hungry, asleep, or cold.
If it senses something undesirable, the cat will react. In addition, cats take each moment as it comes.
Do Cats Have a Sense of Time Away?
Every cat is different. Some cats seem to suffer from chronic separation anxiety when they are away from their owners. Others seem primarily indifferent.
A scientific study shows differences in cat behavior depending on separation time.
In this study, 14 cats were left alone in a house for periods of 30 minutes and 4 hours or longer.
The cats showed no significant behavioral differences while they were alone. Slightly different behaviors were noted when the owner returned.
The cats left alone longer stretched and purred more when they saw their owners again. Thus, the cats seem to have a sense of time.
These signs of trust and relaxation indicate that the cats strongly bonded with their owners. The reunion promoted a sense of security and happiness in the cat.
Can cats tell how long you’ve been gone? Based on this study, it seems so.
That’s why it’s essential to recognize the symptoms of separation anxiety. Common warning signs include:
- Elimination outside the litter box
- Clinginess upon your return
- Refusal to eat or drink when alone
- Destruction of objects
- Excessive grooming
- Excessive vocalizations
Separation anxiety indicates that a cat does not have a secure bond with its owner. The cat does not believe the owner will return and meet its needs.
Do Cats Perceive Time More Slowly?
Some scientists claim that small animals live in a kind of slow-motion world due to the perception of time through vision.
The speed at which the eyes send messages to the brain is related to an animal’s metabolic rate. The smaller the animal, the slower it perceives time.
This suggests that cats perceive time more slowly than humans. However, this is not correct.
Cats perceive time slightly faster than humans. All animals process light in hertz (abbreviated Hz). The higher the number of Hz, the slower time seems to pass.
Humans process light at about 60 Hz. Cats, on the other hand, perceive light at 55 Hz. Rodents, on the other hand, process light at only 39 Hz. This is why a hunting cat may be frustrated by a light-footed mouse.
This explains why cats move leisurely but have razor-sharp reflexes.
A cat’s eyes emit visual messages to the brain faster than ours. This helps cats act instinctively, especially when they feel threatened.
Cats respond immediately to visual stimuli, usually without thinking. For example, events occurring on a television screen appear as rapidly flickering images.
When a cat sees something out of the corner of its eye, it may become frightened.
Conclusion: Do Cats Have a Sense of Time?
Do cats understand time? Do cats have a sense of time? In their own way, they do.
Cats are not slaves to time like humans, but they understand time that is based on a consistent routine.
If you keep your cat’s schedule consistent, she will learn to associate specific times with events she considers essential, such as mealtime.