Cats gazing out of windows are a common sight in houses worldwide. They spend countless hours lazing by the window, fascinated by the outside world. What may seem like a boring view to us piques our cats’ interest in ways we can’t understand. If you are a cat parent, you’ve probably wondered why your cat loves looking out the window so much.
Since our cats can’t tell us why they enjoy looking out of windows, we have come up with some possible explanations. Keep reading to learn more about why your cat loves looking out windows.
Window Watching Amongst Cats
Windows are an unlimited source of entertainment for felines. Indoor cats need diverse activities to keep them engaged and reduce the risk of behavioral problems. The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery refers to window watching as an essential environmental enrichment activity. While there are various environmental enrichment strategies, visual enrichment is what most cats crave. Access to windows, which provide mental stimulation, is important for your cat.
In 2005, some animal behaviorists wanted to learn more about what cats do for fun. They surveyed 304 pet parents with indoor cats to learn more about enrichment activities. With structured interviews, they asked owners about using windows and other activities that served as a source of entertainment for their cats. The owners answered questions about how long cats spent looking out of windows, their assumptions about what their cats watched, and other fun activities cats enjoyed.
Out of the 577 indoor cats included in the study, 84.3% spent at least 5 hours a day window-watching. When asked about what the cats watched, most pet parents reported their cats looked at “nothing,” birds, wildlife, foliage, other cats, vehicles, and people.
Even as far back as 1861, the American naturalist, essayist, poet, and philosopher Henry David Thoreau wrote extensively about the behavior he observed in his cats. He observed a kitten’s favorite pastime was looking out the window. His kitten loved looking out the window “as much as any gossip,” alert and sharp while her tail “betrays her interest in what she sees.”
Cat’s Biological Clock
There is a misconception among pet parents that cats are nocturnal creatures. Cats are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk. You might notice your cat staring out the window just as you wake up. Many pet parents assume cats are nocturnal when they observe this behavior. However, cats are waiting for the stimulation that daybreak provides them.
Our eyes contain two types of cells: rods and cones. They each serve different purposes when it comes to our eyesight. Rods are responsible for night vision, peripheral vision, and the perception of brightness and shadows. So rods function better in low light conditions. In contrast, cones are responsible for color vision, so they work best in bright or daylight conditions.
The human eye has a higher concentration of rods than cones, but cats have six to eight times more rods than we. As a result, they can see much better at night than humans can. While we see darkness outside, our cats can sense movement and see other creatures out after dark. Their peripheral vision is also much better than ours since they are twilight hunters.
It is a common misconception that cats see the world in gray, but that is not true. Cats can see the primary colors (red, yellow, blue), but not in the same richness as us.
Why Cats Love Window Watching
After reading about how cats can see much more than total darkness, you are probably curious about why they enjoy looking out windows. There can be many reasons cats enjoy looking out of windows, but they are still just our best guesses.
Enjoying The Breeze
Unlike us, cats and dogs have fur, meaning they feel hotter in summer. When the weather gets warmer, your cat doesn’t enjoy the heat and humidity inside. If you leave the house for a long time and close all the windows, the inside environment can become musty and humid. When your cat stays by the window all the time when you’re back, she is probably just enjoying the cold breeze.
However, some cats are expert escape artists, so supervise their window time if you suspect they might try to leave. You can close the window enough to prevent your cat from escaping without cutting off the cool breeze from outside.
It is a well-known fact that cats are highly territorial. There are probably other animals in your area, so your cat stays at the window to keep guard. Since cats work hard to establish a territory of their own, they don’t want intruders entering. The stray animals outside looking for food and shelter may visit your house, so your cat stands guard to deter them if necessary. In most cases, stray cats will lose interest if not encouraged. If you feed any stray cats, keep them away from your cat to prevent any fights.
In this case, you should also note if your cat feels distressed by others entering her territory. She might start scratching your windows or pacing back and forth. Use blinds or windows to cover up the window in that case.
Watching For People
Many cats stay by the window to watch for their humans. You may see your cat in the window waiting when you return home from work. Similarly, if you have children or your partner/spouse is away for work, your cat stays by the window to watch for their return. Cats like routine and understand that their humans come home at a certain time. They will usually perch by the window around that time to keep an eye on the door.
If your cat is not spayed/neutered, she could have other intentions to stay by the window for long periods. When cats go into heat, they are constantly looking for a mate. You will also notice your cat showing other behaviors if this is the case. She will become more affectionate, demand attention, be aggressive towards other cats, and vocalize frequently. Your cat will mostly stay by the window, vocalize, and watch intently for a mate.
Having your cat spayed/neutered is important if you don’t want them to have kittens. Heat cycles repeat every two to three weeks and can cause issues such as roaming, escaping, and aggression.
Cats are highly intelligent and curious creatures. Even domesticated cats still hunt and crave the freedom of the outdoors. An indoor cat without access to the outdoors can become bored and frustrated. Due to their curious nature, cats need to stay engaged, and window watching is an endless entertainment source. Cats love watching the outside world and are fascinated by other people, vehicles, and animals.
During the lockdown, you probably felt the same boredom and frustration while cooped up in your house for months. Since indoor cats spend so much time within the four walls of their home, they need the stimulation stemming from window watching.
Even though we provide food and water to our cats, they are hunters at heart. Most indoor cats hunt for fun rather than food. When cats are alert and awake, they spend time by the window looking at small creatures they can hunt. Since cats like hunting at night, your cat might spend time searching for prey by the window after dark. This sequestering can frustrate a cat that has no access to its prey. Playing hunting games with your cat before bed can help burn off some of their “hunting energy” and saves you the joy of finding dead rodents in your bed. Under-exercised cats tend to bop you as a reminder that they need some playtime.
Cats love warm spots, whether a ray of sunshine by the window or a cozy corner by the fire. There are no clear answers as to why cats enjoy the heat despite their body temperature being higher than ours. However, science has some interesting explanations for this behavior:
Research on cat DNA shows that they evolved from a wild species used to living in desert climates. Since the temperature in these regions is so high, their wild ancestors evolved to lose heat much faster. Domesticated cats might also lose heat more easily because of their genetics.
Cats thrive on a protein-rich diet, unlike humans, who derive energy from carbohydrates. Proteins are complex molecules, and the body takes longer to break them down. Your cat might need heat from other sources, like the sun, to keep itself warm in the meantime.
When cats sleep, their body temperature drops, so they can wake up feeling cold, leading them to seek a warm sunlit spot to sleep. Even if her temperature drops, an external source of heat will be there to keep her warm. You’ll notice that if your cat wakes up and sees the sunbeam is in a different spot, she changes her position and goes back to sleep.
Although cats spend a large portion of their day asleep, they still need exercise daily. When your cat wakes up, she is full of energy and needs activities to release it. If your cat doesn’t get enough exercise during the day, she will be restless at night. Window watching at night could be a way to seek stimulation at odd hours.