Can My Cat Tell Time?

CatChannel expert Jeanne Adlon, professional cat sitter, discusses cats and their internal clocks.

By Jeanne Adlon | Posted: April 23, 2010, 3 a.m. EST

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Q: My cat wakes me up at 6 a.m. sharp every day. Can he tell what time it is?

A: Well, he certainly knows early morning usually means breakfast! It’s not the clock on your wall but his internal clock that tells him when the sun starts to rise, it’s close to his feeding time. In my house I don’t even have to set my alarm clock. My sweet 13-year-old cat Abby starts climbing over me demanding a treat at around 4 a.m. — but I only have myself to blame.

When Abby was sick last year she would only eat treats. I kept them by my nightstand and she knew it. Now she is better, thankfully, but she still demands a sunrise treat. Even daylight savings time doesn’t make a difference. She’s there at 4 a.m. regardless and nothing dissuades her, not even if I put a pillow over my head. Fortunately, after she eats her treat we both go back to sleep.

Cats really have our routines down. They are aware of when we eat, sleep, get up, go out and come back. They like to have their needs met when we are home and sometimes it seems as if they are training us. For those who return from work around the same time everyday it’s not unusual to find the cat at the door, ready for attention.  Good hearing rather than clock watching usually accounts for that. When you come in, make sure you lavish praise and attention on him and don’t forget the treats — though you might not want to keep them by your bed. As always, I welcome your comments and stories.

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Reader Comments

Lisa    Kanab, UT

6/20/2014 7:52:04 PM

My cat gets me up every day at 6 am, whether I need to work that day or not. I don't need to set an alarm but just do as backup. Time changes don't matter either, still the same thing. If I'm not getting into bed by 11:00 pm she is getting antsy, jumping onto the bed and looking at me. Once I get into bed then she usually feels content to go outside to her cattery. She knows breakfast is at 6:30 am, lunch is at noon and dinner at 4 pm. After I brush my teeth she knows she's suppose to get her Greenies that are good for her teeth. If cats can't tell time, they've got me fooled. It has pretty much been this way with any cat I've ever had. Once they get my pattern down they're dead on with the time schedule. Is it freaky or cool???

Dave    International

10/31/2013 3:06:46 PM

My cat comes and lies on my knee at 10pm every night. He doesn't lie on me at any other time. It is not feed time or going out time, he just lies on me until I move.
How does he knows it's 10pm???

Elleth    Mount Vernon, TX

5/28/2013 9:32:21 PM

My cat knows when it is 11:25pm EXACTLY. That's his feed and bed time of his own choosing. He was not trained to go to his room at this hour, but like clock work (pardon the pun) he is on my lap telling me it's his bedtime. He's the only cat that has ever done this.

Frank    Birmingham, AL

4/29/2010 9:52:59 PM

our cats are not early risers either, but they DO have an internal clock that tells them to wake us up. We both work night shifts !

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