Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: November 1, 2022 by Crystal Uys
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.
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.
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