Do cats have a sense of time passing?
The question is specific, do cats feel time passing? Do they reflect on it? We have to start with whether they have a sense of time.
Domestic cat’s sense of time
Do cats have a sense of time like humans? I will make a bold statement and argue that they do and that the domestic cat’s sense of time is based upon exactly the same factors as ours. There is no reason to think otherwise but a cat’s sense of time restarts every 24 hours. How do humans have a sense of time?
We sense time through our daily rhythms. We observe sunrise and sunset, the day brightening up and then the light fading. We go to work and come home. We have lunch in the middle of the day and breakfast when we get up. The weekend arrives and we are temporarily relieved of having to work unless your work practices say otherwise!
The point that I’m making is that there are numerous elements in our lives which guide us as to the time of day and the day of the week. We refine this sense by measuring time with the use of clocks.
Cats don’t understand clocks but they are totally au fait with the rhythms of the day. They have the same sort of routines and habits as we have. They are integrated into our routines and habits. Our sense of time also guides our cats’ sense of time and vice versa.
Domestic cats are very observant of sunrise and sunset because they are crepuscular in their activity. They hunt at dawn and dusk. They must be aware of these moments, perhaps more so than humans. They are aware of nighttime and daytime and when we go to work and come back. They know that we are around more and interact with them more often at the weekends. They are as much creatures of habit and routine as humans are.
So although cats do not wear a watch or do not observe the passing of day through the human concept of time as represented in clocks, they do have a clear sense of the passing of time and act accordingly. This is one reason why they’re able to know when we are coming home. This general sense of when we’re coming home is fine tuned by their acute hearing which allows them to pick up the sound of our footfall or car engine.
I think that it would be arrogant of humans to think that cats do not have a sense of time. Time is important to them as it allows them to know when to hunt most effectively. This inbuilt skill also allows domestic cats to knit their lives into hours to best advantage.
BUT…importantly, as mentioned a cat’s sense of time is restarted after 24 hours. Cats don’t look back on the week and see it as an entity.
I am pleased to write that years ago a colleague of mine came to the same general conclusion. You can read her post by clicking on this link.
Sensing time passing
I can also confirm that a well-known cat behaviourist, Dr John Bradshaw (author of Cat Sense) agrees with me to a certain extent but he’s not been quite so confident. He writes, “Cats have a general sense of the rythms of the day….they don’t seem to think about time passing…”
And that is the tricky question. Humans can sit in a chair at the end of a day and think, “My God, the week’s gone by fast!”. Or, “What a day, it dragged by!”. Cats don’t think like that; putting their sense of time into the context of a philosophical argument about the passage of time. I must agree with Dr Bradshaw therefore but make no mistake, cats sense the passage of time as we do.