Do pets have a sense of time?

Is there a science behind our pet’s senses and do they know when the minutes turn into hours?

12th September 2022

It’s normal for owners to wonder if their pet can tell the time since it can impact their happiness, especially if you’re falling a little behind on a routine they’re used to! We’re looking at the science behind our pet’s senses and helping you to understand how our feline friends or canine companions know when the minutes turn into hours.

Can my pet tell the time?

Sometimes it might seem like our pets know exactly what time it is. They might wait by their food bowls around dinner time or sit by the door as they know someone is on their way home. So, can our pets tell the time? Not really, it’s actually thanks to their routine and something called a circadian rhythm.

What are circadian rhythms or clocks?

All animals (including us humans) have what's called a circadian rhythm which is the physical, mental and behavioural change that tends to happen within a 24-hour period. A day’s cycle is responsible for these inner clocks with our bodies responding to the changes to light in the environment. This pattern affects our sleep cycles, hormone levels, brain wave activity and our body temperature, all of which can have an impact on our behaviours. The same can be said about our pets.

For example, if the sun is rising, it must be time to get up or have breakfast or if it's getting dark, our bodies might start getting tired. You might notice this in your cat or dog if they come and wake you up in the morning or go and hide in their beds at night while their younger counterparts are still working on adopting a pattern as they weren’t born with a circadian rhythm. (That explains all those sleepless nights!)

A cat standing next to a clock

How else can our pets tell time?

As well as their bodily cues, there are certain changes or activities during the day that might help our pets tell the time. Traffic noises might fluctuate as people head out on the school run or when work finishes while activities inside the house, such as getting changed or preparing food signal significant times during the day.

Our pets will observe these activities and can easily recognise a pattern in our behaviours without us realising it.

Can our pets tell the time with smell?

Some believe that our dogs are able to tell when we’ll come home simply by using their noses! It’s possible that your pooch has learnt that when they can no longer smell you in a room, or your odour has reached a specific level, this is when you’ll walk through the door. Simply because of your residual smell in the house around them!

Smells can also change as the day goes on as hot air rises and usually drops at the centre of the room. Our dogs can sense these changes in the air, helping add to the cues they rely on to tell the time.

Does your cat or dog show certain behaviours at different times of the day? Do you think your pet can tell the time? Let us know on our Facebook or Twitter page.

More on our dog blog

Read more news articles, opinion pieces, reviews and personal stories behind our dogs on our blog. 


Need dog insurance?

Dog insurance can help cover the cost of veterinary treatment if your dog gets injured or falls ill.


We know pets

Animal Friends Insurance is a multi-award winning FCA-regulated pet insurer, founded in 1998 to provide industry-leading pet insurance and first-class animal care to create a better life for every animal.
As one of the UK’s largest pet insurance providers, Animal Friends works with vets, veterinary professionals, and partners pioneering the latest veterinary technology & healthcare advancements to achieve our vision.
Our policyholders have helped donate over £8.5 million to more than 800 animal charities worldwide and by educating and inspiring others to act on current events and responsible pet ownership, Animal Friends is driving positive change for animal welfare and conservation.