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Does My Cat Have a Sense of Time? Vet-Reviewed Science

Written by: Lindsey Lawson

Last Updated on February 23, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

cat on the floor

Does My Cat Have a Sense of Time? Vet-Reviewed Science

VET APPROVED

Dr. Luqman Javed Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

Time is a mysterious concept that we use to keep up with our daily lives. We don’t know how it started or whether it even started at all, but we sure do live by it. Don’t worry, we aren’t getting too far into all that, but have you ever wondered if your equally mysterious kitty has any sense of time?

This may come as no surprise, but cats do have what seems to be an understanding of the concept of time. Read on to learn more!

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How Do Cats Keep Up on Time?

Research is pretty limited when it comes to an animal’s ability to understand the concept of time. However, a study from Northwestern University1 discovered some of the clearest evidence to date that animals can judge time. The brain’s medial entorhinal cortex was thoroughly examined, and researchers found a set of neurons that had never before been discovered. These turned on like a clock when an animal was waiting.

With regard to cats specifically, there are several factors to consider when answering this question.

tortie point Siamese cat in bed
Image Credit: Sari ONeal, Shutterstock

Their Internal Clock

Just like we do, cats have internal clocks that enable them to recognize normal wake and sleep cycles. They are also capable of picking up on their body’s cues when they are feeling hungry, thirsty, or tired, which are biological needs.

Being in tune with natural needs helps give them an idea of how much time has passed between these various activities.


Environmental Factors

Cats are capable of picking up on the typical night and day cycles that they observe in their environment. They can tell when it’s daylight and when nightfall hits.

By nature, they are crepuscular hunters that, in the wild, would come out during both dusk and daybreak to hunt for prey. They are aware of time in the way that they are aware of the night and day cycle.

There are also plenty of other environmental factors that can be picked up on. It could be certain noises that occur during specific times of the day, like when a rooster crows in the morning or when the mail is delivered.

sleeping striped young cat on a gray sofa
Image Credit: Garna Zarina, Shutterstock

Your Daily Routine

Your daily routine and that of your household will play a significant role in how your cat processes time. This can be related to every aspect of your day, like when you wake up, when you feed them, when you leave for work, when kids go to school, and so on.

Many owners claim that their cats know when mealtime is to the precise minute. This is evident by the way they wake their owners up on a daily basis, even when their caretakers wish to not wake up with an alarm.

In a study involving cats, it was found that they could be trained to distinguish time intervals that were as brief as 5 seconds2, and they could even distinguish a 5-second interval from an 8- or 10-second interval.

Cats are also able to keep up with a routine and have been shown to interact more with their humans after a prolonged period of no contact3, which indicates that your cat can sense when you’ve been away for longer than usual. An overly attached pet may even experience episodes of stress in your absence if they notice that you’ve suddenly changed your routine!

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Final Thoughts

Cats may not be able to tell time as we can, and they certainly have no use for a watch, but they do have a limited concept of time. Although research on cats specifically is perhaps a bit limited (compared to other animals), we do know that they have an internal clock, can pick up on things in their environment, and get used to daily routines that help them navigate through life and know when to expect certain things throughout the day.


Featured Image Credit: Jumpstory

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