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Home > Cats > Are Cats Nocturnal? Feline Biorhythm Explained (Vet Reviewed)

Are Cats Nocturnal? Feline Biorhythm Explained (Vet Reviewed)

cat at night

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

Veterinarian, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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The list of nocturnal animals is long and varied and includes animals like bats, foxes, owls, and raccoons. You might think cats are on this list too, but cats are not true nocturnal animals. So, what are they?

Cats can behave in mysterious ways, and that includes their sleep/wake patterns.

Most animal experts classify cats are crepuscular animals, some choose to classify them as cathemeral animals.

Yes, those are some exotic words! Let’s look at the different categories that describe what time of day an animal is most active, and how cats can fit into multiple groups.


Nocturnal vs Diurnal

Let’s start with the most familiar categories, nocturnal and diurnal.

Animals that are most active during the day are called diurnal. Humans are diurnal, and so are all kinds of animals like birds, squirrels, and lizards.

Nocturnal animals (like the ones we talked about at the top) are most active at night. Many nocturnal animals have large eyes to see in darkness and enhanced senses of hearing and smell to compensate for lack of light.

Cats do have some of these features that help them hunt in low light, but they are not strictly nocturnal. Let’s look at the less well-known categories next.

black cat with glowing eyes in the dark
Image By: Angeleses, Pixabay

What is a Crepuscular Animal?

Crepuscular is a fancy name to describe an animal that is most active at dawn and dusk. “Crepuscular” comes from the Latin word for twilight.

Crepuscular animals are something like a mix between nocturnal and diurnal. Some may sleep at night and rest during the daylight hours, saving most of their activity for dawn and dusk.

Prey animals like rabbits, deer, and rodents are often crepuscular, which helps to explain why their predators are also crepuscular. Many types of wild cats, such as jaguars and ocelots, are classified as crepuscular.

To get even fancier, there are 2 different subcategories of crepuscular animals. Matutinal animals are most active in the morning; vespertine animals are most active in the evening.

There’s one more behavior category and 10-dollar word left—cathemeral.

cat hunting prey from the bushes at night
Image by: Paul W Thompson, Shutterstock

What Animals are Cathemeral?

Cathemeral animals are not strictly nocturnal, diurnal, or crepuscular. They are best described as irregularly active at any time of day or night, depending on the circumstances.

Animals known for these random periods of activity include several cat species like lions and bobcats, coyotes, and even some frogs.

Often, these animals are active when there is an opportunity to hunt and eat. Their activity levels can vary depending on temperature and time of year as well.

When are Cats Most Active?

Now that we’ve seen all the categories, where do domestic cats fit into these behavioral groupings? This is where it gets tricky. A cat in the wild that needs to hunt for its food lives a very different life than a pet cat.

Chances are, your cat has regular feeding times set by you, or maybe you leave dry food out all day for your cat to munch on. And you most likely sleep at night and are active during the day, which can also influence your cat.

All these things can impact your cat’s natural rhythms. Your cat’s routine is greatly affected by what you do. We’ve all seen cats wake from a sound sleep and run into the kitchen when they hear a can open.

Most domestic cats tend to be crepuscular. They are most active at dawn and dusk and rest during the day and night.

This is usually their natural pattern, and it is often reinforced by living with people. Your cat is probably more than happy to get up early with you for breakfast and then play with you when you get home at the end of the day.


Final Thoughts

Some cats may have more nocturnal or cathemeral tendencies than others, but most experts place cats in the crepuscular category. Of course, cat behavior can be hard to categorize because, well, because they’re cats!

Featured Image Credit: mariavp, Pixabay

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