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Does Your Cat Check the Clock?

Does your cat wake up at the same time every morning?  Does she know her feeding schedule better than you do?  Many cat parents report that their beloved pet appears to know when they have been away from home longer than usual.  While it seems that our feline friends have an uncanny ability to tell time, research suggests otherwise.  You can test the theory yourself.  Change the time on your alarm clock, and you’ll find that your furry friend still jumps on your pillow at the usual hour.  The numbers mean nothing to him.

Cats can’t tell time or remember things the way humans do, but they like routines and expect you to feed them at the same time every day.

Creatures of Routine

Felines are creatures of habit.  If you follow a regular schedule, they will too- waking you up around the same time every morning, seven days a week.  Most cats eventually learn that weekends are times when you like to sleep later.  Like most humans, kitties are usually hungry first thing in the morning, so they’ll probably wake up with you in the hope of getting a meal.  Your pet can actually read your sleep cycles.  When she can see that you’re about to open your eyes, she’s more than happy to remind you it’s breakfast-time.

Felines are crepuscular creatures, which means they’re most active at dawn and dusk.  Their vision is especially keen at those times, so they’re ready to hunt, play, and socialize.  The onset of daylight and darkness provides cues that help cats keep track of time, and they seem to know the difference between day and night.

A Different concept of Time

Cats do not have the same perception (or should we say purr-ception?) of time as their human companions.  The human brain is wired for episodic memory- we can categorize events by when and where they happened.  Although they don’t have the words to tell us, kitties probably don’t operate that way.

Cats have no concept of past, present, and future.  According to psychologist William A. Roberts of the University of Western Ontario, Canada, “animals are not mental time-travelers.”  While humans recall events within a framework of minutes, hours, and years, animals recognize specific time intervals, such as 30 minutes since they’ve been fed or 3 hours since you played with them.  But they don’t sequence these events the way we do.

Loud meowing at odd hours may indicate an underlying health problem- or a ploy for attention. Talk to your vet about resetting kitty’s internal clock.

Resetting Your Cat’s Internal Clock

It’s one thing to have your cat begin his morning routine with you, but if he’s waking you up at the same time in the middle of the night, talk to your vet.  Cats usually establish their routine according to yours.  Loud vocalizing at unusual times may indicate an underlying medical problem, such as high blood pressure, hearing loss, thyroid disease, or cognitive dysfunction.  If your pet is given a clean bill of health, his nocturnal disruptions may be a ploy for attention.  Your vet can recommend behavior modification tactics to help your cat quiet down.  While it may be tempting to give him affection and treats to put a stop to his late-night caterwauls, it’s better not to engage him.  Reward him for being quiet instead, and provide plenty of interesting cat toys to keep him entertained.  Though you may have to endure a few more sleepless nights while you reset kitty’s internal clock, your efforts will pay off in the long run.


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