How do cats perceive time?

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Table of Contents

Do Cats Have A Sense Of Time When You Leave Them?

Time has several definitions; it can be seen as the duration of an event or what a person does. Whatever the definition of time is, we cannot deny that time is a point of measurement. As humans, when we are anxious or waiting for something to come, we check the clock often. We use the clock as a medium to measure time because we are humans, and we have a very high level of reasoning. Hence, the ability to decode what is written on the clock. This higher level of intelligence is what makes us human—a distinct type of creature that is different from the lower animals, characterised by a good sense of reasoning. We understand time using the clock and other signs. When waiting for our loved ones to return from a long trip or waiting for them to return from just grocery shopping, the time might seem to be extremely long.

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Sometimes, the wait is excruciatingly painful because we seem to be bored during the wait, so much so that we might even pout.  It is similar for some domesticated animals. Though they cannot understand when they look at the clock, they can significantly realise when their human is away for a significant amount of time. This behaviour of sensing time when their human is away is what causes separation anxiety in many species. Bringing it home to cats, it has been generally said that cats are solitary animals. Thereby insinuating that they would choose their alone time over being with any human—including their owner. This misconception about cats has also led many to believe that cats see us as lesser and clumsier beings—let’s face it, we are way clumsier. Still, this is actually a very wrong thing to believe in. Just the way we have ambiverts in the human world—people who are introverted as much as they are extroverted, that is also the behaviour of cats. Yes, they can be solitary and want their “ME” time, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t enjoy the company of their owner and also have the need to socialise. This means they are solitary as much as they are social. 

When you leave your cat at home, of course, it would know that its human has left it—which you probably already know. Now, you are wondering if it misses you, and because it does, it is having a sense of time. Well, the answer is yes, cats have a sense of time when they are left by their owners. Cats thrive on familiarity; this means that when you are not around to give them their food at the routine time, or even their water, they would not be happy. They might not show that they miss you the way dogs do. Still, it does not change the fact that they miss you when you are away from home.

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How do cats perceive time?

How long is a day for a cat?

The concept of relating animal time to humans has been a thing of conflict over the years. We can see that most times, if a human is at least sixty percent healthy, that human would outlive their pet; this has been common knowledge for a long time. However, there are some animals that, when well taken care of, might outlive their humans, to a very significant degree. A day is made up of twenty-four hours—when the human clock is considered. However, animal clocks are different from human clocks. If you are wondering if an animal clock is some sort of fancy clock that translates the time to animals in animal language, you are totally wrong. The animal clocks being referred to are the mechanisms in the body of the animal that regulate the light and day cycle. The light and day cycle helps the animal to regulate circadian rhythms. This means that through these series of things that happen in the light and day cycle, animals are able to regulate their behaviour and know the time to expect something, and also know the time not to. 

When the bunch of math is done, and the calculation is arrived at, it can be founs that one human day is actually a really long time for a cat because it is equivalent to one whole week. That means leaving your cat for twenty-four hours would make your cat feel like it has been left alone for a whole week. Leaving it for twelve hours is quite similar to leaving it alone for half a week. This is why it is recommended that the most you can leave an adult cat is forty-eight hours.

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Do cats have a concept o time?

Before going into cats and the concept of time, it is important to know the meaning of the concept of time. Having a concept of time is simply knowing what the time is. As said earlier, cats cannot just look at the clock and understand what the time is. Unlike us humans, who look at the clock and know the exact time or could guess what the time is. It is because of the higher level of intelligence we have, because of our higher brain functions. No kidding, cats are smart animals, but that does not mean that they have the ability to know as much as humans. Despite their lack of brain functions when compared to our brain functions, they have internal functions that help them understand the concept of time. This concept of time helps them to understand the routine of things around them. Although your cat would never tell you that they know you are late, their attitude will show it. This behaviour is somewhat like conditioning of the body. 

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Let’s say that you do laundry every day by 10 am., you might find yourself doing it every day even without checking the time. In humans, this thing done every day becomes a habit. However, this habitual behaviour in animals is what they use in the measurement of time. If you usually feed a cat at 9 am in the morning, when it gets to 9 am, it would be expecting its food at exactly that time. Not because it can understand a clock, but its internal environment is serving as a clock regulating its activities and day. Having said this, it can easily be said that cats understand the concept of time.

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How Do Cats Tell Time?

How time can be told by humans is usually by the use of a clock to be able to decipher the time of day. Just as we have been able to tell time because of the clock, so can cats tell time using their own body mechanisms. Cats, even though they are mammals, are more active during dusk or dawn. At that time, they are more in tune with their environment and would want to be active. That being said, it should also be known that cats know their routine. If you feed a cat by a certain time, its brain would be conditioned to receive the reward of food at that particular time of the day, so it applies to other things. The main idea is that they are routine animals that want and love things being done according to the routine that they are used to. How cats tell time is by the internal environment of their body. How they can tell that it is time for you to go to work is by your previous actions. They have the ability to learn previous actions, especially if the actions are accompanied by a treat. So let’s say you are supposed to be at work by 8 am in the morning, and you have previously woken up by that time, probably even given your cat food, immediately after waking up. Due to the fact that your cat has seen you wake up by that time several times, it would get used to the habit of waking up by that time, and might even wake you up, especially if it’s mealtime is going to get skipped, if it doesn’t wake you up. How cats tell time is mainly based on conditioning, routine, and the internal clock in the cat.

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Does time go by slower for cats?

The ability for time to go fast or slowly is dependent on the type of brain the animal has. The more advanced the brain of an animal is, the more that the images the animal sees are almost at a normal duration. It has been said over the years that time goes faster for larger animals than smaller animals. This has been a survival mechanism that the brain of the smaller animals has to be able to protect them from large predators. In other words, if a small or tiny animal is faced with a bigger one, which is somewhat a predator, the images that would be seen by the smaller animal would be really slow in comparison with the predator. Let’s say you are watching a movie at 1.0x speed as should be watched and understood by humans, and the bigger animals watch at 10x speed, whereas the tiny animal watches at a really slow speed of about -0.05x—that is, if something like that exists. The slow-motion kind of images seen by the tiny animals is to enable them to escape from predators. Now, bringing it home to cats. 

We all know the size of cats—not big or not small, except when they are born. If they were wild cats and big, it would be easy to classify them as big animals, even probably as predators. However, since their domestication over the centuries, they were able to be classified as prey. Being considered as prey, weak and small, doesn’t take away the fact that they have natural hunter instincts meant for big animals. This instinct is due to the kind of brain that they have that heightens their instinct to hunt. This instinct to hunt enables them to see their prey as fast as possible. Despite being domesticated, they still possess this instinct. This is the reason it enables a cat to catch a mouse easily. Hence, we can confidently say that time goes faster for cats.

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Do Cats Have A Sense Of Time Passing?

Cats have generally been thought to be animals that are just proud without a sense of time passing. As said earlier, they are routine animals that also have circadian rhythms that act as internal clocks to control them and alert them when they are supposed to do something. If we take time for food, for example, we could see that cats know when it is meal time for them. Since they know the time their food is supposed to be served, after their food is served, they know how long it is before their next meal. As they know how long the wait is, that is why they know when you are late for the next one and sometimes try to remind you that you are late. Also, this sense of time passing lets them know when you are late for work. Especially since they carry out most of their activities at dusk or dawn, their internal environment helps them to know when you are supposed to be up and preparing for work. Their knowledge about time would make them climb on your bed to make sure you wake up. Their wake-up call is because their internal environment has probably measured the time you sleep while they are awake and the time you are awake. The sense of passing time they possess is also what makes them wait till late for their owner. So, it can be clear from all these ideas that cats have a sense of passing time.

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How fast do cats perceive?

Cats perceive on a higher frequency than humans. Although the frequency of perception is only a bit higher than humans, it still doesn’t change the fact that they see faster than we do. How fast they perceive is due to their hunting instincts from the cerebrum. Every animal in the cat family is made to be a hunter, well apart from dogs that see way slower than humans. They see far and also with a broader view than the way we humans see. Their perception is on a higher plane when compared to even other smaller animals.

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Do cats perceive time differently than humans?

Science experiments have proven that perception in humans is way different than the perception in other animals. The frequency of perception in humans is about sixty hertz, but that of cats is a tad faster than the one found in humans. They see things in a faster way than we do. It is somewhat related to their primitive instincts of catching their prey. A human would view events normally when compared to cats.

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Do cats know how long you are gone?

If you have a cat, you might notice it waiting for you at the door when you get back from work. If it is not crouching close to the door, it might be sitting anywhere a bit close so that you could see it and know it was waiting for you all this while. Unlike dogs that might come at you paw-ready, tongue licking your face and tail wagging, cats might be happy to see you but might not show as much as the dogs will show. They are not obvious about their emotions; even if they feel a certain emotion, they are quick to move on from that emotion, not like humans and dogs that might dwell on it. As said earlier, they are routine animals, and because of that, when you leave the house at a certain time, they are already tuned to waiting for you at that particular time. If you aren’t back by that time, they would know that you are late. This doesn’t mean that a cat would be able to tell you the number of hours that you were away, but it knows that you were gone for a long time. For people traveling for work purposes, it has been recommended that they keep a cat sitter to tend to their cat while they are away. This is advised because it is not good to leave an adult cat for more than two days on its own. It has been a misconception that they are solitary and can do without human contact. Kittens should not be left alone, except for a couple of hours. They might be solitary, but they work with time so they would know when they are not being tended to at the time they are supposed to be tended to.

Hazel Buckley
Hazel Buckley

About Hazel Buckley
Hazel is an animal enthusiast and educator who grew up on a farm which her parents owned in Ingogo, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.  The farm was situated right under the Majuba Mountains - the site where the Anglo-Boer War was fought. 

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