A fair amount of people report (anecdotally) that their cat is always waiting by the door when they get home. Though this is by no means true of all cats, it was enough to get me wondering.
There's very little research on the subject, so I asked Mikel Delgado, a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and co-owner of Feline Minds, what the deal is with these kitties. Are they secretly dogs?
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It turns out that no, cats aren't dogs. Delgado told me that like their canine counterparts, cats can hear the sounds of us coming home: Our car in the driveway, or us walking up the stairs. Over time, she says, they learn that these sounds predict our arrival.
Cats have a good sense of time, and they can figure out if we're coming home at the same time every day. This is why your cat seems to somehow always know when it's dinnertime? Cats can learn our schedules, especially when there is food in it for them. If you have a consistent schedule that puts you at home at 6 p.m. every day, your cat may predict your arrival.
Plus, Delgado points out, "cats get a lot of attention and sometimes meals when we get home, so they probably get excited anticipating our arrival!"
Cats didn't coevolve with humans like dogs did, and domestic cats are a much more recent development than domestic dogs are. We think that wolves were drawn to hunter-gatherer sites way before the advent of agriculture. Cats, on the other hand, started hanging around us as a direct result of agriculture. However, cats have spent enough time with us over the millennia to figure out our habits, and they've gotten pretty good at it. That, and there's food and attention in it for them.