We don't know what cats are really thinking but we can have a guess and we can try and work it out. It is a difficult task, though. Certain factors help immediately. Cats (as are humans) are driven by the usual basic needs and desires. Cats get hungry. Cats like to sleep and cats like to watch and sometimes hunt or play/hunt. Cats have heightened senses in respect of hearing and smell compared to us. Their whiskers are extremely sensitive. They are driven by the desire to have a home range, an area that they call their own and they like to communicate with other animals about that. Cats groom a lot too. These inform us as to what a cat is really thinking.
But I feel that the way domestic cats think is more on an instinctive and emotional level rather than rational deduction and decision making which is what humans are meant to do.
Domestic cats sleep or doze for a large part of the day, say about 15 hours out of 24. During this time cats are not thinking that much. They do dream, however. We could argue therefore that for about 60% of the day cats don't think that much.
When a cat is hungry he or she will be thinking about getting food. Domestic cats will ask us or go to the area where the food normally is. So for about 30 minutes of the day cats are thinking about eating! Although it may not be, "I need to eat" but more "I need to get to food".
My cats groom for long periods. I would estimate that my boy cat grooms for about one hour per day in total, over several sessions. When grooming himself I suspect he is not thinking about anything other than where to groom and how to groom, all of which is instinctive. I mean that no conscious, rational decisions are being made - it just happens. When grooming, cats are very focused.
Domestic cats don't have to hunt for their food. Hunting, sleeping and territory patrolling, grooming and eating probably take up most of the day for the average wildcat. If you are a male lion some time is spent managing the pride. The domestic cat therefore is more idle.
They may spend several hours observing, at a window for example. What is he or she thinking at that time? If they see a bird they are probably thinking about getting to it. Hunting it. Sometimes you see cats practice the nape bite. Their mouth vibrates and they make a chattering sound. Clearly the cat is thinking about hunting at that time.
When a cat wants to play with us he will come to us and ask or his presence will communicate the message. At this time the cat is thinking about play and getting us to play. There are other instances when our cat communicates with us to ask us to do something.
A domestic cats life, particularly a cat that is indoors all the time has a relatively limited lifestyle. Not much happens. This must limit the amount of thinking needed.
Where there are two or more cats, some time must be spent in interacting with each other. This can be in relation to territory and hierarchy or in communicating with each other. These times require mental activity. But some communication is instinctive and concerns body language.
How to maintain alpha position in the hierarchy? The answer is to dominate so an alpha cat will be thinking about that but it will happen instinctively.
Having broken down the day into time frames we can get a feel for what a cat is really thinking. It is more instinctive (not conscious decision making) than our way of thinking and is more concerned with the basic requirements for living as opposed to our way of life which, in the more developed countries, revolves around activities related to seeking pleasure.
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