What Do Cats Think About All Day?

Have you ever stared deep into your cat’s eyes and wondered, “What on earth is going on in that furry little head?” Cats are notoriously inscrutable creatures, often leading rich inner lives that their beloved human companions can only guess at. But thanks to science, we now have fascinating clues into how our kitties spend their abundant mental energy each day.

Get ready to be amazed as we unravel the mysteries of the feline mind. From hunting dreams and window watching to social plotting and sensory overload, you’ll gain fresh insight into your own cat’s secret thoughts, goals and preoccupations. I have uncovered the latest research that suggests what really occupies your cat’s thoughts during their many hours of solitude. Read on to learn what experts believe about the inner world of cats.

Cats Spend Much of the Day Mentally Hunting and Foraging

Cats are natural hunters, with instincts honed over thousands of years of evolution. In fact, domestic house cats retain the predatory nature and skills of their wild ancestors. This means a major portion of their mental energy each day is spent on activities relating to hunting, even when they don’t have to find food.

Cats Dream of Hunting

Cats experience REM sleep, which is when vivid dreaming occurs in mammals. Their REM cycles tend to be very short, only lasting 2-5 minutes several times per day. What do cat dreams contain? Since hunting occupies so much of their active thoughts, it makes sense their dreams reflect this primary activity.

Vision is Crucial to a Cat’s Hunting Orientation

Cats rely heavily on their exceptional eyesight when seeking prey. In fact, experts believe cats see the world in greater color ranges and detail than humans. Their eyes can detect rapid movements and slight changes in brightness that signal potential prey. Cats have a visual field of 200 degrees compared to 180 degrees in humans, giving them superior peripheral vision.

Much of a Cat’s Outdoor Time is Spent Actively Hunting

While humans are often unaware of their indoor cat’s hunting activities, outdoor cats spend roughly 30% of their awake time engaged in some type of hunting behavior. This includes stealthily searching for prey, creeping up on victims, watching patiently from hiding spots, and ultimately chasing down lunch.

Even when cats appear to be casually resting outside, they are mentally attuned to any movements and sounds that could suggest nearby prey. Their dampened hearing when sleeping also allows them to still detect footsteps of a potential meal.

Cats Use Play to Keep Their Hunting Skills Sharp

Since indoor environments don’t provide the hunting opportunities of the great outdoors, house cats rely on play sessions to stay nimble and rational. When cats play with wands, balls, strings or laser pointers, they are engaging vital hunting responses like visual fixation, tracking motion, judging distance, monitoring sound, executing attacks and honing agility.

So next time your cat seems obsessively focused on a favorite feathered fishing pole toy, know that in her mind, she is likely engaged in mentally stimulating big game hunting that keeps her senses and reactions primed and polished.

Cats May Ponder Ways to Get What They Want from Humans

While cats are notoriously self-reliant when compared to clingy dogs, they certainly learn ways to encourage human owners to provide food, comfort and assistance. Studies indicate cats are smarter than dogs at manipulating people, figuring out how to motivate us to serve their needs and desires. What mental strategies might cats try during the day to get what they want?

Your Cat May Act Cute to Get Your Attention

Cats have evolved endearing traits that appeal to human sensibilities and grab our attention. By acting clumsy, moving slowly and rhythmically, displaying youthful features like large eyes, or even chirping like a baby, cats trigger nurturing responses in human caregivers.

So when your cat looks up adoringly and gives a tiny mew, know she has learned this wins your affection and gets you to feed and cuddle her more often. It’s her own form of “working the crowd”.

Meowing Persistently May Get a Cat What They Want

While some cats are naturally more vocal than others due to breed traits or individual personality, when a cat meows excessively it is likely goal-directed communication. They have learned that loud, incessant meowing gets results from owners.

The most common goals of loud meowing bouts are getting fed, getting attention and affection, being let into or out of a room or area, or getting an unpleasant situation to stop, like an unwelcome visitor. So try to resist the urge to “give in” to annoying meowing demands, which simply reinforces the manipulative behavior.

Cats Understand Cause and Effect in Human Environments

Studies demonstrate cats have mental abilities like delayed gratification and understanding cause and effect that assist in relating to humans and domestic environments. This helps them get rewards like food and play from human actions. For example, a cat soon learns that pushing aside curtains leads to a human opening the window.

Cats also recognize patterns like the sound of a morning alarm or keys in the door meaning it’s time for a feeding. This understanding lets cats connect human behaviors to their own rewards.

Indoor Cats May Ponder Ways to Get Outside

While some house cats are perfectly content to spend their days lounging and gazing out windows, others become highly driven to find ways to slip outdoors and experience the stimulating sights and smells of the outside world. What mental tactics might indoor cats ponder to gain access to the great outdoors?

Cats May Scratch Doors or Meow Persistently

Cats who are fixated on going outside often learn that behaviors like scratching at exit doors or constant vocalizations get a door briefly opened for them to dart out. While owners should avoid giving in and letting them escape, cats remain optimistic and determined that enough clawing and meowing will eventually get that door to open long enough for a temporary taste of freedom.

Cats Watch for Opportunities Like Open Doors or Windows

Indoor cats are experts at getting outside when given even the smallest opportunity. This includes bolting through a door left ajar, slipping through carelessly opened windows, sneaking into garages when activated, and dashing out pet doors intended only for dogs.

Cats know their lightning speed gives them an advantage, so they mentally catalog and watch for any brief human slip-up that allows them to seize their chance. Making sure windows and doors stay firmly shut and monitoring exits prevents escapes.

Cats Recruit Humans to Let Them Outside

Through incessant vocalizing combined with imploring expressions, flopping dramatically against the door, or putting a tentative paw on the door knob, clever cats manage to recruit sympathetic humans to open doors and let them out. Children in the home are especially vulnerable to feline pleas for outdoor access.

To avoid falling for this manipulative behavior, teach kids not to open doors for begging cats, keep exterior doors firmly closed and make sure any outdoor time is supervised on a leash or in a secure enclosure.

Outdoor Cats May Ponder Ways to Get Back Inside

When an indoor/outdoor cat or stray manages to slip outdoors, they don’t always want to stay out indefinitely. But cats who find themselves locked outside may spend their day plotting how to get a human to let them back into the safety and comfort of the indoors.

Outdoor Cats Know to Wait by Familiar Entryways

Cats understand that continuously waiting outside a familiar door where they’ve been let in before increases odds a human will open it and allow access again. This explains why strays or indoor/outdoor cats will patiently wait by the same door or window day after day when outside unplanned. They have learned persistence pays off.

Meowing and Pawing to Get Noticed

Cats who want back inside after unexpected escapes outdoors will often vocalize loudly and incessantly while anxiously pawing at doors or windows to attract human attention and assistance getting back into the house or apartment.

Ignoring attention-seeking behaviors is key so they don’t become habits. But always double check for your pet’s safety if they go accidentally go outside.

Squeezing Through Openings to Get Back In

If they can access any slightly open doors, windows or gaps, clever cats know how to contort their flexible bodies enough to squeeze back inside and resume indoor comforts. Even surprisingly narrow openings can accommodate a determined feline escape artist.

Block all potential openings to prevent your cat from putting themselves in danger entering a house where no one is home to care for them. Regularly checking windows and doors for tight seals also reduces unplanned escapes.

Watching Birds from Inside May Be Mentally Stimulating

Birds darting and flitting outside windows provide free live entertainment for curious cats. Experts suggest watching prey animals they can’t actually catch provides cats with mental stimulation and predatory satisfaction. Let’s explore why kitty bird watching may be so intrinsically rewarding.

Outdoor Hunting is Mentally Demanding for Cats

When cats hunt real prey outdoors, they engage in complex strategic thinking, lightning reflexes, calculating distances, predicting movements, and executing attacks. So when forced to stay indoors, they may enjoy the next best thing – watching potential prey they have no hope of catching.

Vision is a Cat’s Keenest Sense for Hunting

Since a cat’s exceptional eyesight is their primary hunting asset, observing birds is aligned with their strength for visually stalking and tracking prey. They likely enjoy practicing their visual targeting skills even when pursuing real catch is impossible.

Bird Watching Satisfies a Cat’s Prey Drive

Since cats spend upwards of 30% of their waking hours engaged in predatory activities according to studies, they need outlets to satisfy this natural drive when cooped up indoors. Observing birds through windows allows them to partially fulfill innate desires to notice, study and anticipate the behaviors of potential prey.

So while it may seem like your cat is just lazily staring out the window for hours, they are likely engaged in a rewarding sensory and cognitive experience related to their built-in hunting orientation. Just make sure to provide additional play sessions and enrichment to fully keep their predatory nature fulfilled.

Cats May Plot Revenge on Humans Who Upset Them

While cats seem adept at training their owners to provide food and assistance on demand, they don’t always get what they want. And research shows cats actually remember specific humans who have wronged them and retaliate when given the chance. What forms of revenge might your cat be plotting after you’ve angered them?

Urinating or Defecating Where You Don’t Want

When a human caregiver punishes a cat or handles them in a frightening or painful way, the cat may decide to take revenge by eliminating outside their litter box in an inconvenient spot. These spiteful deposits are most likely to show up on carpet, furniture, clothes piles or even a bed. Their message is clear – if you mistreat me, your belongings get soiled.

Biting or Scratching Your Possessions

Cats also take out their anger and frustration from scolding or rejection by human owners by aggressively biting, clawing or scratching personal possessions when unsupervised. Your cat knows destroying your favorite shoes, sofa, curtains or carpet will make you think twice about how you treat them in the future.

Ignoring You

Giving their owner the cold shoulder by ignoring commands, avoiding interactions and showing disinterest is another way cats register their displeasure after being upset or disciplined. Since human attention is often rewarding for cats, withdrawing their presence is an effective retaliation strategy.

Sleeping for Extended Stretches Maximizes a Cat’s Cognitive Performance

Cats sleep an incredible 70% of the time on average, which seems extreme until you understand the benefits for their peak mental functioning. Let’s explore how lots of cat naps supports optimal thinking skills cats rely on for hunting and survival.

Consolidating Memories While Sleeping

Studies show a key function of sleep is consolidating memories and helping the brain file away important learnings into long-term storage. Since cats are always learning about their environment, prey, hiding spots, owners’ patterns and more, cat naps allow them to sort and store this vital information.

Recharging Mental Energy Through Cat Naps

Brief daytime catnaps recharge a cat’s brain, so they stay energized for short bursts of intense cognitive activity like hunting. Their frequent snoozing avoids mental fatigue while allowing enough wakeful time to use their rested brains for crucial tasks.

Restorative REM Sleep Supports Learning

The REM sleep vital for memory formation and learning occurs during those short but frequent cat naps throughout the day. So even a 15 minute nap delivers powerful mental benefits. More naps mean more REM benefits for their brain.

Overall, the tremendous amount of sleep in a cat’s daily routine allows their cognitive skills, learning circuits and memory functions to operate at peak performance levels when they are awake and alert. Their mental abilities stay primed through regular recharging.

Sensory Overload Can Be Mentally Taxing for Cats

While cats are often stereotyped as aloof and independent creatures, they can actually become easily overstimulated by intense or chaotic environments. Too much simultaneous noise, activity and scents can overload their senses and leave them feeling mentally and physically exhausted.

Loud Noises Are Hard on Cat Ears

With exceptional hearing designed to detect tiny sounds of potential prey, cats find sudden loud noises painful and alarming. Noisy households with blaring music, TV’s, video games and constant human chatter force stressed cats to try mentally blocking the auditory overstimulation.

Chaotic Homes Overwhelm Cats

Hectic homes with children running around, doors slamming, and people coming and going overwhelm a cat’s oversensitive observational skills. They have no mental respite or secure vantage point for assessing the nonstop bustle of activity that defines chaos to a cat.

Unfamiliar Scents Heighten Anxiety

A cat’s powerful sense of smell gets bombarded when unfamiliar guests track in dozens of strange and unpleasant perfumes, cosmetics, residues from pets, smoke, and other odors that make them uneasy and overwhelmed. All those strong scents signal intrusions into their secure territory.

Making their environment more mellow through sound absorbing materials, scent reducers, and predictable routines creates a mentally soothing space where cats can relax. Ensure they also have access to hiding spots for escapes from the sensory overload when needed.

Petting Overload Can Make Cats Agitated and Bitey

While it’s perfectly understandable to want to spend time petting and cuddling with a beloved cat, they have sensory limits on the type and duration of touches they find calming versus overstimulating. Exceeding those boundaries can make cats bitey or agitated. Here are some tips:

  • Avoid petting against the fur, which is irritating.
  • Don’t pet continually in one spot – distribute strokes along their body.
  • Watch for any signs of restlessness like twitchy legs, swishing tail, or ears folding back.
  • End the petting session before they get fed up. Starting and stopping on your terms keeps them content.
  • Never restrain or stop a cat from moving away from petting they don’t want.

Showing respect for your cat’s personal limits will help make petting pleasant for both of you instead of a battle!

In Conclusion

While we can’t read cats’ minds directly, researchers have uncovered intriguing clues into how cats spend their abundant free time observing the world around them. From honing their natural hunting skills through play and bird watching to manipulating humans for rewards and plotting revenge for mistreatment, science suggests cats engage in pretty rich mental lives.

Understanding a cat’s innate drives, thinking patterns and needs allows owners to provide an environment that keeps their cats optimally stimulated and content. With your new appreciation of how your cat’s mind works all day long, you can enhance the bond with your feline friend. Just provide plenty of outlets for their predatory nature along with loving respect, and you’ll have a happy, well-adjusted cat whose secret thoughts are mostly full of benign mischief and harmless curiosity.