I think most cat guardians would argue that cats can, indeed, tell time. Why else would they be waking us up at the crack of dawn, pester us to feed them, or give us the cold shoulder after we’ve been on vacation? But can they really tell time?

A different perception of time

Cats probably don’t experience time in the way we do. They certainly don’t wear watches or look at the clock. Anthrozoologist John Bradshaw, the author of Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet, writes that Humans categorize events by when they happened, but cats probably do not. … We have no evidence to suggest that cats can spontaneously recall memories and place those events as having happened a few days ago, as opposed to a few hours or weeks previous – something we find easy to do.” Bradshaw goes on to say that “cats have a general sense of the rhythm of the day.”

Creatures of habit

Cats are creatures of habit, and get used to having certain activities occur at the same time each day, such as meal time, play time or snuggle time. So in that sense, cats do measure time, even though they probably don’t think about time passing the way we do.That may also explain why they don’t reset their clocks when we change ours to and from Daylight Saving Time.

Night and day

Cats will also take their cues from the onset of daylight and the arrival of night time. And since they do know the difference between night and day, I believe that they also know when a guardian is away. I always tell Allegra and Ruby when I’m going away, and I explain it to them in terms of “it will get dark and light this many times before Mom gets home.” They may not understand what I’m telling them, but it makes me feel better!

Daylight Saving Time and cats

And just in time for Daylight Saving Time this weekend, Cat Daddy Jackson Galaxy has some great advice on how to prepare cats for the time change.


What do you think? Can your cats tell time?

This article was first published in March 2014, and has been revised.

15 Comments on Can Cats Tell Time?

  1. My older cat can tell time for sure. I work from home and every Friday for lunch we have tuna because I know he loves it. Its about the only “people food’ he likes. He will be waiting in the kitchen every Friday. I used to think it was the sound of the can opener but he’s there long before the can opener makes any sound. The sound is merely a confirmation to him he was right. Even if we happen to skip a week, he’s there again the next Friday.

  2. My cat comes to me every night at the same time to get brushed. If I try to brush him an hour early he won’t have it. He goes away and comes back an hour later. He loves his brushing.

  3. This was really interesting. As someone who travels frequently and has actually moved to another country with her cat, I ALWAYS wonder what my cats think of time. I always tell them (like you) that I’ll be gone for this many nights or something. It does make me feel better – maybe they understand it, maybe they don’t.
    I think cats have such a perception of when things are “supposed to” happen. My cats know almost by the minute when we wake up, they are usually waiting by the stairs to go down to eat when I’m getting my son out of bed.

    Thanks for this post, I’m going to take a look at the John Bradshaw book too, because I’d love to know more on the subject!

  4. Mine can sure tell time. And one knows when its 5:00 and wakes me up an hour early to give me a face wash. She wants me to look good when I feed them at 6:00.

  5. Jackson Galaxy is spot on. I have been studying Cat behavior for over 50 years and I couldn’t have said it better. I free feed my 2 Cats, so it’s my Cats wanting to go out side to the fence in back yard. They are out to smell the out door and be Cats. Eat some grass, chase a bug. Dream of maybe catching a bird My Cat follow the sun all day, from the front of the house to back. Ending up on my bed, for the afternoon West Texas sun

  6. Boy O boy! My cat’s sure can. They do get kind of messed up with the time changes. Jackson always has some good advice.

  7. I think they can. They see time. Does that make sense. Mine seem to know when to take advantage of me 🙂 and when to take off to another part of the house.

    My Steeler would stroll up and down they hall toward my bedroom when she felt it was time to go to bed. She didn’t stop until I would go there.

    So yes, in their own “timeframe” I truly believe they know and tell time. Just call me the crazy cat lady.

  8. I think my cats can figure out time enough to plot and plan and assume I do not know what time it is. We have a little ritual called “Treat Time!” and they all gather to get the goodies. For a few months it was really fun. I loved calling to Alice to come out of her cat cave, and the others waited for her. Now they all gather before the announcement, and they are doing it earlier and earlier. My conclusion is that whoever wants something gets to decide what time it is. I haven’t fallen for it, though…well, at least not completely.

  9. I know my kitties can’t tell time, but they do know when I come home. Generally within an hour of feeding time they start reminding me that it is time to eat. I am like you Ingrid, I tell them where I am going and how long I will be gone. I am going away the weekend of the 15th to see my daughter and granddaughters. I have a friend coming to feed them. I have a livingroom lamp on a timer, but I have decided to leave it on constant for them. I worry about them whenever I am gone for longer than just a day for work, etc. When I had my landline phone I would call and talk to them when the answering machine went off. If I wasn’t scared of electricity and fire I would leave the TV on for them too. I have never noticed my kitties being affected by daylight savings time. I will have to pay attention to this weekend and see what happens.

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