How Can Cats Tell The Time?

Cats don’t tell the time like us. Cats don’t read clocks. The 24-hour clock is a human invention to help us organise our lives. Cats know nothing of the 24-hour clock. However, cats can tell the time on their terms and in their way. But they won’t refer to it or recognise it as ‘time’ but as events and moments in their life.

In my opinion, there are two aspects to this. There is the domestic cat’s biological clock. This tells the cat the rough time of day or night. The cat is aware of nighttime and daytime. The cat’s biological clock is largely driven by a desire to hunt to survive. And therefore as the cat has a tendency to hunt at dawn and dusk he or she will be more active at these times. This is when prey is more likely to be active. The domestic cat is still driven by these urges because, as the experts say, our cat companion is barely domesticated.

The cat’s biological clock is overlaid with his adaptation to living with humans in or around the household. The cat has adapted his lifestyle to the human clock. Humans are very much regimented by the 24-hour clock. We go to bed at a certain time when it is dark and we get up after dawn when it is light. We go to work usually at the same time and almost everything we do has a fairly fixed routine. I am generalising course because there are many people who have very flexible lives but by-and-large cat owners have fairly solid fixed routines and their cat picks up on this and adapts to it.

Therefore, for example, in the early hours of the morning, at dawn, our cat might want to be active. He or she may be jumping around the bedroom and try and wake us up. This may be about two or three hours too early for us. Nonetheless we may get up to please our cat or our cat may give up and accept that we won’t get up!

There is therefore a clash between the domestic cat’s biological clock to be active at certain times and our routines. They don’t mess together that well. It is the cat who usually adapts to our ways.

Returning therefore to whether our cat can tell the time, the domestic cat will observe and learn from our routines and recognise these events but not with regard to the 24-hour clock but simply as moments or markers throughout the day. Their day is filled with these markers together with the pauses between them when, for example, we are asleep. At this time our cat may well be active especially if he or she is allowed outside. In fact the prominent markers in our day such as getting up and going to bed are moments which can prompt our cat into certain activities.

For example, when I go out in the morning to the gym for some exercise, my cat nearly always goes out the cat flap into the enclosed garden. My actions trigger this. In this case it is the human 24 hour clock which indirectly guides our cat.

The conclusion is that domestic cats can tell the time but not based on our 24-hour clock but based upon the natural rhythms of their life living with us and driven by their biological clock.

Source: I did not refer to any source material for this. It came out of my head in about ten minutes and is therefore open to questioning by others. Please comment if you have the time and provide me with your thoughts on this topic.

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How Can Cats Tell The Time? — 3 Comments

  1. My furbabies are entertained by my revolving clock. I care for other folks’ pets, and my day sometimes starts at 3 AM. Other times it starts at 6 AM. Sometimes I’m home around noon, or maybe 8pm. We never know and sometimes I think I’m providing the entertainment for 6, as they know they get fed first. Thor usually sits on the cat tree by the kitchen and watches, Thomasina has a seat at the breakfast bar, Guy takes a seat on the couch, Kutawnnie watches from her cat bed in the kitchen, Howie from his vantage point in the hall and Joy prefers not to watch-just feed her!

  2. Monty wakes me up between four and five a.m. every day. I get up and do my exercise and stretching, sometimes outside in our enclosed back garden, sometimes in the basement using my exercise machines or sometimes in the back room with work out tapes. He definitely supervises my exercise, but if we are outside he may take a break from supervising to catch a mouse.

    He likes our routine. He is sort of like a furry alarm clock so I don’t bother to set an alarm. He keeps me on track with exercise because he complains loudly if I don’t do it.

    The rest of the day I am not sure that he is as aware of time. He has no set times he asks for food or to go out. It is kind of scattered throughout the day if I am here, alternating requests to go out or come in with requests for food.

    But he does expect a meal around the time we eat supper and when we go to bed.

    He is almost always right by the door when I enter, but Jeff said he hears my car. He even can tell which car is mine. If Jeff drives my car and comes home without me Monty gets very confused and looks for me. Like if we are over at church and I forgot something at home (like my music) and Jeff comes home to get it.

    I think Monty’s most consistent routine and time telling activity is just in the morning. He never oversleeps. This may be because he goes to bed at the same time every night. If we stay up late he does not. He always goes to sleep by eight or nine at the latest. So even if we were up until eleven he wants breakfast between four and five, and he expects me to he doing interesting things (my exercise routine) so that he can watch and be entertained.

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