It may be tempting to let your cat outside to explore the great outdoors, especially if you've seen her trilling at birds while looking out the window, or looking like she wants to play with the neighbor cat next door. But when your cat stares out the window, does it really mean they want to go outside? Why do cats love to look out the window so much?
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Many times, cats will happily sit for hours at a window sill without making a move to actually go outside. Your cat may look out your window, if he can, all hours of the day or night. Cats are crepuscular, which means they are active in both day and night time hours. And a cat's vision is different than that of a human, so your cat can find something interesting to look at outside even if all you can see is pitch darkness.
Cat window watching
A few years ago, some animal behaviorist surveyed the owners of 304 indoor cats and a total of 577 cats to learn more about what behaviors the cats do for fun. The results indicate that 84.3% of the cats looked out windows a total of 5 hours or less per day. When it came to outdoor stimuli, the owners reported that their cats enjoyed looking at "nothing" (at least as far as the humans could tell), in addition to birds, small wildlife, foliage, other cats, people, vehicles, and insects/reptiles.
Vision is based on two types of cells: rods and cones. Rods control night vision, peripheral vision, and perceiving brightness and shadow. Cones control day vision and color perception. Cat vision is different than humans in all of these ways, some significantly.
Cats have a higher concentration of rods than humans, but fewer cones. That means we can see colors better than cats can, but we can't see well at night. Cats can see much better in low light conditions than we can. Cats also have a peripheral visual field of 200 degrees while humans can see just 180 degrees.
Cats sense movement in low light better than we can, because they evolved to be crepuscular hunters. There is a common perception that cats can only see gray, but that's not entirely true. Cats can distinguish the primary colors of red, blue, and yellow, although they do not experience the richness of color like we do.
Indoor cats can get bored. Imagine if all you had to look at all day long was the four walls of your house! A window perch can be an easy way to add some environment enrichment for your indoor cat. Even if it doesn't seem like there is much to look at, your cat may be enjoying the play of the leaves and branches, or the rustle of leaves on the ground.
If your cat loves to look out the window at night, you can consider leaving the outside light on, which could attract moths or other insects that your cat may enjoy watching at night. If your house doesn't have window sills, perhaps a dresser or other piece of furniture could be moved near a window. Or, consider getting a cat tree that your cat can climb on to see out. There are also enclosed perch units that can fit into a window, much like an air conditioner, to let your kitty have an outdoors view without actually being able to go out.
If your cat stares at birds, you might consider placing a bird feeder or bird bath within your cat's view. But if you do this, make sure the bird feeder or bird bath is placed high enough from the ground that the visiting birds are not at risk from other neighborhood cats or your own cat if she accidentally gets out.
Other window temptations
If the weather is nice and the window is open, your cat may simply be enjoying the cool breeze and the unusual smells that might be wafting in. Cats do like to stand guard, so he could be simply keeping an eye on that cat or dog he sees across the street, to make sure it doesn't wander into his territory.
If the sun is shining through the window, your cat could be perched up there simply because she likes the warmth. It's possible that when your cat looks out the window, she may be seeing her own reflection. Most likely though, she's spotted a bird or mouse and simply enjoys seeing the movement that may be too slight for you to perceive.
If your cat seems disturbed by looking out the window, it could be seeing another cat or dog that is making it anxious. In that case, you might consider actually closing up the window with curtains to prevent them from being upset.
Cats probably love to look out the window because, even though it may seem boring to us, it is stimulating to them. They might be interested in plants or other animals outside, or they may like the feel of the breeze coming through an open window. There is no reason to be concerned if your cat likes to look out the window, unless they seem distressed by it, in which case they might be picking up on the presence of another cat passing by.
- Senior Cat Wellness: Why Do Cats Look Out the Window At Night?
- Pet Place: What Indoor Cats Need to Be Happy
- Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science: Caregiver Perceptions of What Indoor Cats Do “For Fun”
- Humane Society: 10 Tips To Keep Your Indoor Cat Happy
- Okaw Vet Clinic: Outdoor Cats Driving Your Indoor Cat Crazy
- Senior Cat Wellness: Why Does My Cat Keep Scratching Windows?