Sometimes it feels like you could set a clock by a dog or cat’s eagerness for mealtimes. Whether they are waiting at their bowl or they come to get you when it’s time to eat, animals have an amazing sense of breakfast and dinner routines. But how do pets know when it is time to be fed? 

Impressive Sense of Smell

Believe it or not, your pet’s superior sense of smell can actually help them tell time. For animals (specifically dogs), scents correlate to time. Older scents will have faded, for example, while newer scents are much more prevalent. If you feed your pets at the same times each day, eventually they will recognize the scent patterns that occur before mealtime and sense it is mealtime. They can also use this ability when you leave the house. Your scent fades while your’re gone. 

Your dog can use that sense to be waiting for you at the door when you come home from work, it’s because they know through smell that’s about time for you to return. If you’d like to read more about this, check out Alexandra Harowitz’s “Being A Dog: Following the Dog Into A World Of Smell”.

Light Cues 

Pets, like humans, have a particular circadian rhythm that helps them fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning. The body uses light to regulate certain internal processes. As your pet gets used to feeding time, he will start to recognize light signals that let him know that time of day has returned. You might notice slight shifts in dog’s recognizing mealtimes as the seasons start to change (or after Daylight Saving Time).

Hunger Cues

Both dogs and cats get hunger cues that let them know when it is time to eat. While these times might differ in the wild when they are must find their own food, they become like clockwork for domestic pets. The brain will send a signal to the stomach to alert the animal that it is time to eat. When meals are served on a schedule, these cues will become even more regular. If your cat is crying and pawing at her bowl, it could be because her stomach is rumbling.

Signals from the Brain

Researchers are starting to study the medial entorhinal cortex in animals. In 2018, they performed a study on mice and found that a mouse’s memory can help them determine time. They’ve recently discovered that dogs (and other mammals) have similar abilities. Animals aren’t necessarily telling time the way we do, but they do use memories to make educated guesses about it. They can essentially compare the current situation to memories of other ones (for example, past meals) to know when it is time for another.

Treats Count, Too

If you regularly give your dog or cat a treat at a certain time of day, they will get excited at that time. Animals can also start to follow routines, so if you offer a treat whenever you leave the house, they will get excited even if this time varies. Once you start to do your leaving routine (turning off lights, putting on shoes, etc.), they will get excited for a treat.

How do pets know when it is time to be fed? They use one or more of these special senses to “tell time” in their domesticated worlds.

Union Lake Pet Services provides the pet services you need to continue to give your pet the best life. From helpful pet ownership resources to our pet care services, we are always here for you. Please call (248) 363-6262 to learn more about our training, grooming, daycare, boarding, and behavior services.