Do cats understand and have a sense of time?

My cats love to wake me up in the morning screaming for breakfast, and they always come back around by dinner time. Yours will likely be similar, as most cats thrive on routine. It begs the question, do cats have a sense of time?

Although we don’t have many concrete studies on the subject, we do know that cats can sense the passage of time. They probably don’t think about the past or future often, but we know they have a long-term memory. They can remember people and animals they know, where their food bowl and litter box are, and more.

In this article, we’ll discuss everything we currently know about whether cats understand and have a sense of time.

Cats have a sense of time, which is how they know when it’s time to eat, play, or greet you when you come home from work.

©PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek/

Can cats tell time?

Cats have a sense of time, but they can’t tell time.

The difference is that cats cannot read a clock or calendar to tell what time or season it is. They don’t know the days of the week. But they know when they have been left alone for a long time and they know when it is time for dinner!

Like most animals, they are likely to judge time based on the sun and the day/night cycle. They are also likely to use your routines as bookmarks. For example, if you play with your cat before dinner, he will know that he expects dinner after playtime.

Cats actually have an amazing sense of time, considering that many humans get lost without a watch. Your estimates seem to be much closer than mine, anyway! I know sometimes when my cats tell me it’s dinner time, I look at the clock and think where has the day gone? Sometimes I think they must be wrong, but they never are!

How important is a cat’s routine?

Following a routine with your cat is incredibly important. Although not all of us have consistent work or sleep schedules, keeping your cat’s routine as similar as possible will help it thrive in your home.

Cats trust us for everything, which is why their schedules are important. After all, can you imagine not knowing when your next meal will arrive?

Cat routines should consist of playtime and regular meals. Cats should have 2-3 play sessions a day, each 10-15 minutes long. This provides exercise and mental enrichment.

The best time to play with your cat is before a meal so she can mimic “hunting” for her prey (also known as toys) and then eat immediately afterward. It’s also good to play with them before leaving the house or before bed to get that energy out!

cats must eat two or more meals a day instead of one giant meal. Their stomachs are small, and large meals increase the risk of health problems such as inflate, vomiting after meals and even dehydration. Cats fed more frequently tend to drink more water!

If possible, also keep a routine when it comes to work and errands. Cats often do better left alone when they can predict what time you’ll be home.

cat licking owner
Cats develop relationships with their humans and miss us when we’re not around!

© Kulkova

Do cats know how long you’ve been gone?

Cats may not know how many hours you leave them, but they do know when you’re away. They may feel lonely, bored, and anxious.

There is also a study that shows that smaller animals with higher metabolisms can process time more slowly. This means that cats can perceive time differently than people. This can make being alone more difficult for them as it feels like more time than it does for us.

Some cats have separation anxiety and really have a hard time being left alone. Most cats do well on their own for short periods, but they should not be left on a regular basis for more than twelve hours at a time, and never for more than 24 hours unsupervised.

People like to think about cats as independent animals, but they are a domesticated species. They depend on humans for everything, and we owe them proper care.

If you are going on a trip, you will need a pet sitter to visit you at least twice a day. For longer stays, consider having someone stay in your home to spend a lot of time with them or rehoming your cat with someone who will spend more time in the home.

Curious and fluffy gray Nebelung cat
Cats are highly dependent on their routines, and things like meal times should be as similar as possible every day.

©Allison McAdams/

Long-term memory in cats

Cats seem to have long-term memory, as evidenced by their remembering things like the location of their food bowl, tricks they’ve been taught, and what time you get home from work.

They also seem to remember people or animals they knew a long time ago. Cats have been known to mourn their previous owners.

I have seen several examples of this firsthand, once when I adopted a cat whose owner passed away. He was depressed for about a year and wanted to do nothing but eat, drink, go to the bathroom, and look out the window. Eventually, he did, but it took a lot of time and patience to get used to his new home.

Of course, we can’t know exactly what’s going on in a cat’s mind, so we always have to make our best guess based on their actions. But it takes little more than seeing a lost cat reunited with his owner to know they remember him!

I hope this article has helped you learn more about cats and what we know about their sense of time. We will likely learn more as new studies emerge on this topic. For now, we can confirm that cats do feel time pass and have long-term memory. They are also likely to live in the present instead of thinking too much about the past or future.

Until next time: