Inside The Mind of a Cat - What Do Cats Think About All Day

October 30, 2020

Anyone who lives with cats will tell you that they're still trying to understand why staring at traffic on the road or at a fish swimming in a bowl is so exciting. While we're still at figuring out the complexity of the human mind, maybe one day we'll be able to fully understand what it's like to perceive and process the world the way a cat does. Until then, we can only make conclusions about what and how cats think through an analysis of their communication and behaviour.


Yes, they do think with their brain. But, the way they regard emotions is very different from the way we do—for instance, loyalty. We think that loyalty translates to dogs, right? Well, that's a myth. Have you ever wondered why cats don't enjoy travelling or riding in the car with you? It's because of their loyalty to their home and people. They prefer staying close to the place and people that make them feel secure, warm, and loved. However, this behavior is often perceived as a lack of attachment and love. It is in our natural behavior to hold grudges or be angry at someone for hurting us, and it's the same with cats. They do feel angry in situations where they aren't allowed to decide, and in the human world, we interpret this as 'aggression'. Because they are independent creatures, they enjoy having a say when it comes to matters of their welfare, and they want us to respect that. However, cats will never hold grudges or think of ways to get back at you for bathing them with cold water or for ignoring those morning 'meows'. But also, cats are just not guilty - about anything. When we punish them, the behavior in response is shying away or cowering, but this is not guilt; it is a response to your angry behavior.

Cats, unlike dogs, are very flexible in their hierarchical system. They take turns in owning multiple resources in their environment; however, when resources are scarce, they may show signs of jealousy. Therefore, in a multi-cat household, it is vital to ensure that no more than one cat is sharing a resource. And keeping in mind how cats think - your time with them is also a resource.

Now coming to the two emotions that bind us all - happiness and sadness. Cats are happy when they are calm, mentally engaged, well-fed, played with, groomed, and given sufficient attention. When cats are bored, stressed, hungry, dirty, or aren't given any attention, they show signs of sadness which we perceive as anxiety or depression.


Cats are smart, no doubt. They have the cognitive skills that match humans in some ways. An interesting find by scientists is that of 'object permanence'. When you leave a pot of boiling water on the stove and head for the room, you know that the water is still boiling and that the pot is still on the stove even though you can't see it. That is called 'object permanence.' This is something we learn as children without even trying. Unlike dogs, cats understand object permanence too. If a cat saw you hiding food somewhere in the closet, they will return to the same place in that closet to get the food. They can keep an object's 'place' in mind once it goes out of sight. Your cat's ability to see, smell, hear, touch and taste to detect stimuli is a study of their 'perception'. Scientists are trying to understand whether cats understand how objects in the world are related to one another. For example, would your cat pull on a string regardless of whether it had food attached to it? This study, however, is still under scrutiny because of its unreliable variables.

Do cats think about food? Yes, they enjoy thinking about food. The thought of yummy chicken or delicious soup for cats seems to pop into their heads at the slightest stimulation - you entering the kitchen, or the sound of the can opening. That's when you hear the endless song of 'meows' in different tones. Because cats are survivors, food is always on their mind even if they are fed on time and in sufficient quantity. In the wild, once they've eaten, they need to start thinking about the next meal so as not to risk dying of starvation.

This might come as a surprise - cats have incredibly powerful memories, especially long-term. Because of their heightened senses of smell, sight, hearing, touching, and tasting, they can remember accurate mental images of past experiences. After several years, they can still remember people, places and events from the past. So maybe next time you find your cat staring blankly at a wall or closet, it may be possible that she is thinking of the past and replaying it over and over again. It's similar to day-dreaming about memories - perhaps the sound of traffic on the road on a particular day is identical to one that they heard in the past.

What do cats think of humans? In fact, do cats think about us at all? You’ll be happy to know that it’s highly possible your cat may be thinking of you. If you find them at the door rubbing against your legs when you come back from the grocery store or work, you were probably on their mind. Some cat behaviorists believe that domestic cats exist in a state called 'perpetual kittenhood', which means they regard their owners as their parents or mothers. Like how as children, we thought of our parents when we wanted to show them something, ask for help, or know something kittens do the same with their mother. That is probably why your cat comes running to call you when it has found something interesting - mice, birds, dogs, leaves, rocks, spiders etc. You'd be happy to know that you're always on their mind / in their thoughts for help, support, warmth, love and company.

Although we haven't explored the vastness of a feline mind and don’t have all the answers for how cats think, know that next time your cat is staring blankly, it is probably not for nothing!

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