How does a cat know when you are coming home?

I’ll speculate and keep this short. Cats sense when you are about to come home because your scent in the home, in the air, has faded to a certain point which is precisely inline with the time you usually come home. In other words your cat can tell the difference in the strength of your scent between the time when you leave home and the time when you normally come home.

Cat timing arrival of owner through scent detection

Cat timing arrival of owner through scent detection

Of course, this ability only relates to times when you are away on a routine basis i.e at work. I don’t think a cat will be waiting for you if you pop out for a few hours at the weekend or something like that.

There will probably be other signs such as approaching noises and so on but the key signal could well be your fading scent.

I say this because we know that cats, domestic to wild, mark out their territory by spraying on vertical objects and defecating in certain areas (as well as scratching the ground and objects).

Their scent fades over time and needs to be topped up. An intruder cat will know where the other cat is by “reading the scent” left by the other cat and judging how old it is. We know therefore that cats have the ability to read scent accurately and judge its age – how long it has been there.

People leave their scent all over the house, in the air, on furniture and on clothes. It fades. Scent has a lifespan like any other object but it is finely controlled by age. It is almost like a clock.

Cats are able to read this clock. There is nothing in cat books and research that I know of which states what I have stated although there is research on dogs which makes the same point. I am therefore making a common sense extrapolation because cats have a sense of smell that is very highly tuned although not as good as the dog.

As I stated cats and dogs can add other more immediate sensory signs such as sight and sound when you are coming home. There is also pure routine. Cats join us in our routines and have a decent internal clock.

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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14 Responses

  1. Leah says:

    My cats bring me so much joy in so many ways but what never fails to bring a smile to my face is the sight of Ozzie running down the stairs talking to me but never moving his eyes from mine as he dashes to greet me πŸ™‚ well that’s how I like to see it when the reality is more like ‘ah pleased to see you’re back human now come feed me’

  2. Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

    Michael I think you’ve hit the nail right on the head there!
    All the expensive research carried out be ‘experts’ has never come up with this theory, but now you mention it, it’s so very obvious you are right.
    Our boyz know when Babz is due home, either one of the other are ‘on duty’ by the front door as the time approaches.
    This also reminds me of our very old cat Ebony, the day she chose to leave us she waited until minutes after Babz was home so I wasn’t alone, even though she’d been in a deep sleep all day until then.
    Now I’ve made myself very sad remembering that day and thinking about everyone here’s losses too.
    Too many people don’t appreciate what an honour it is to have cats in their lives.

  3. kylee says:

    i totally agree with the theory and i believe its so true. as my animals do this.

  4. kylee says:

    i know the feeling with cassy gone how you so used to seeing them or hearing them. cassy used to jump up near computer and got all smoochy and head pumped me i miss tht. Although im coping now still miss parts of cass. I do think she was very ill for awhile just wished i had been more intune what was happening.

  5. Marc says:

    One of the hardest things for me about when Red died – was the following two or three weeks knowing his scent was still around and outside – and knowing that it was fading for the very last time. I don’t know why but that thought was the thought that really signalled the end for me.

    • Michael says:

      That is very poignant comment. Do you agree with the theory? Or does it at least sound plausible?

      • marc says:

        I think it sounds very possible – I never thought of it before. I always thought they knew when I get home because of the daylight, time of day, they just know. And I feel they know I am home for 2 whole days on the weekend. They seem to know my rhythm – which in my case is very regular and constant. If I leave after 830 in the morning then they know it’s the weekend and I wont be gone long. If I leave before 830 they know I won’t be back until nearly dark. That’s how I saw it. But yes your theory certainly works.

    • Leah says:

      I can relate to that Marc I have always found it so hard to accept that I will never see my cats again after I have lost them, the look in their eyes, the way their fur feels I always remember after Basil was run over I couldn’t bear to touch his nest of leaves in the garden because his fur was entwined with them and I could still imagine him there πŸ™

  6. kylee says:

    wow im sure thats so true. As i know my cats esp in the morning when partner comes home is always waiting and my cat tammy i usd to have would wait outside or come running when i got home.

    • Marc says:

      Same here Kylee – they wait for me by the window and see me arrive. When they could go out they would come and meet me at the front door to my building.

    • Michael says:

      Cats “see” the world by smelling scents in combination with vision and sound. The smell of things for a cat is far more important than for us. We pretty much rely on vision first and sound second.

  7. Caroline says:


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