Do cats have a sense of Time?

Posted by Oct 17, 2017 |

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Author Amira

Hi there!

I’m Amira, founder and editor at Cattention.

This website is dedicated to share useful but entertaining information and help You understand Your cat’s actions, behavior and needs.

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The article in 30 seconds:

  • Till date there is no sufficient research about this topic but there are definite signs that cats have their own sense of time.
  • They have guesses, clues, and cues to measure time, however it is not exact.
  • They understand established schedules and routines.
  • Cats are good at time intervals and do notice when their owners are away for longer periods.

Most of us, cat owners, have experienced that our cats know when we normally wake up, provide breakfast and dinner, clean the litter box, when is bedtime, and when is playtime.

Does this mean they can tell time? Do cats have a sense of time? It certainly seems that way. Read on to find out the answer along with some interesting facts about cats and time.

The answer to an exciting question: Do cats have a sense of time?

Most cat owners would argue that cats do, indeed, have a sense of time. However, this question is more complicated than you think and very difficult to answer.

Even though scientists are getting closer to taking a stand on this matter, till date no sufficient research has been conducted to prove it. But! There are definite signs that cats do have a sense of time. Otherwise, why would they be waking us up and bothering us to feed them each day at the same time, or behave quite cold after we have been on a vacation?

So, the answer is most probably yes, cats do understand time. While they do not look at clocks (nor do they wear watches), they do have their internal clocks and their own concept of time. And, that is definitely a different perception of time.


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A cat’s sense of time

People tend to think that time is the same for everyone. However, studies have shown that it has different speeds for different species and can even vary within species.

Smaller animals perceive more information in a unit of time, therefore they seem to live their lives in a relative slow motion, while for larger animals, time passes relatively quickly. Also, time perception seems to change subtly with age – possibly this is the reason why time seems to pass slower for children than it does for adults.

With this end in view, one may wonder how do cats sense time? Here are some interesting points.

Cats are not good at exact measurements but they do have guesses, clues, and cues.

Cats certainly have some sort of understanding about time. However, they are not good at exact measurements. So, their concept of exact time is not perfect. (This is the reason why they do not adapt to daylight savings time and demand their breakfast and dinner as the usual timing.)

On the other hand, cats are smart enough to add all the clues together and understand what time it is according to our routines and habits. Therefore, cats have a general sense of the rhythm of the day.

Cats understand schedules and routine.

Cats are very good at schedules and become accustomed to certain activities that occur at the same time on a consistent basis. In that sense, they do measure time.

We can be amazed that our cats know our regular schedule: they know when we normally wake up, when we provide breakfast, when we leave home for work, and when to look out of the window or wait by the door for us coming home. They are also very timely when it comes to dinner, playtime or bedtime.

So, cats are definitely great with established schedules that have clear recognizable cues.

Cats have good memory but cannot ‘travel in time’.

Although cats may not have a very good short-term memory, their long-term memory is exceptional. They can adapt to a particular environment easily because they can recall what they have learned in the past and adapt these to the current situation.

However, that does not mean that cats know when and where past events occurred. While they might remember that it has happened, they cannot recall memories and place the events as it has happened a few hours ago, few days ago, or previous week or month.

So according to studies, they lack the ability to remember where and when specific events have happened in their past. Meaning, they cannot place the memories in time as to when and where they occurred even though they remember that they did.

Cats are good at time intervals and do notice when we are gone for a while.

Instead of remembering when and where an event happened (anyway they do not really need this abstract concept of time), cats keep track of how much time has passed between events.

While there is not much research, there is some evidence that cats have an internal clock that is responsible for assessing the duration of events which means that they are good at recognizing duration and specific time intervals.

This could be another reason how they know when we leave and we are expected to return. And, they may even know when we are long overdue.


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As most cat owners know: while cats are very independent, they are creatures of habit and consistency is very important to them.

Since they thrive on routine and can become lonely and stressed when things happen outside of their usual habits (especially true for indoor cats), it is very important to feed them according to their usual schedule and try to return home at around the same time every day.

We should not leave them alone for prolonged periods of time. While they are good at waiting (duration of time) when they have things to keep them busy, they are bad at being bored. Cats’ concept of time passing is much longer if they are not occupied which can result in different – not necessarily good – behavior changes.

In addition, there is no doubt that cats bond with people, so they definitely notice if we are gone for more than a few hours at a time. Therefore, they most probably do suffer emotionally when we leave them for an extended period of time instead of the usual eight hours.


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Bottom line

While cats do not use calendars and clocks and they are not sensitive to time as a dimension the way we are, they do have an understanding of time. Yes, cats are very aware and are masters of demanding their humans to keep the regular schedules.

So, when your cat wakes you up in the morning, appears for breakfast and dinner, and sits at the window or door waiting for you when you return, they are all her clues adding up as a measurement of time.

Chances are, she will even be counting the minutes when you are gone, but not experiencing a mental journey through time until your return. So, do not underestimate your cat, she most probably has an internal clock and her own sense of time.