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Can a Cat Sense Pain in Humans? Vet-Reviewed Science & Info

Written by: Jessica Kim

Last Updated on February 27, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

cat sleeping with owner

Can a Cat Sense Pain in Humans? Vet-Reviewed Science & Info


Dr. Luqman Javed Photo


Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

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

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Research 1 shows that cats can form secure and strong bonds with humans. So, naturally, one might ponder if there are several different ways they may be able to sense pain in humans. Cats have extraordinary senses that they’ve developed for survival, and they may look out for their favorite humans in their own ways. Here are some ways that cats have the ability to sense pain in humans.

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How Cats May Sense Pain in Humans

Studies show that cats may be able to sense different kinds of pain from people. They can form emotional bonds with humans and may be able to sense distress 2. Research is also being done to see if cats can detect certain illnesses in humans.

Cats most likely use their five senses to detect pain in others. So, rather than strong intuition, they probably rely on visual, olfactory, and auditory observations to sense pain.

cat head bunting on its owner
Image Credit: hsuenlx5, Flickr

Cats Detecting Illnesses and Physical Pain

Some cats may be able to sense when their owners are in physical pain. Cats are very observant animals and will be able to detect any inconsistent or strange behaviors from their owners. So, it is plausible that they may sense that something is wrong if you’re sick and stay in bed when you usually get up in the morning.

Cats are also sensitive to sounds and can feel distressed if you yell. So, if you yell in pain, it is possible that your cat may know that something is off. Obviously, your cat wouldn’t know exactly what is bothering you or the nature of your discomfort, however, they would likely know that you are not acting like yourself.

It is thought that cats may also be able to sense illnesses, however, this hasn’t been definitively proven by science and research. It is thought that this is because they have strong noses that can smell chemical changes in the body. Some research may point to certain cats having the ability to smell cancer. Cats have very well-developed olfactory bulbs that may be able to smell tumor necrosis. Tumor necrosis causes a decomposition process that emits toxic diamines, which have a distinct odor. While this scent isn’t detectable to humans, animals may be able to smell it. However, training cats for this specific purpose seems like a tall task and hasn’t been reliably accomplished as of yet.

Cats Detecting Emotional Pain

While cats feel different ranges of emotions and experience them differently from humans, they can still form strong emotional connections. Cats can form social bonds with other cats and humans and can identify emotional facial expressions and match them with corresponding vocalizations.

One study revealed that cats can identify happiness and anger in humans by observing facial and vocal expressions. Some cats may even respond and reflect these emotions by hissing or purring.

Cats that have formed strong bonds with humans may respond to emotional pain by feeling stressed or uneasy. So, if you notice any changes in your cat’s behavior, take a moment to consider if they’re responding to any stress you’re emitting. Your cat may sense your distress but not know what’s causing your stress. Sometimes, observing our pets can reveal things about our own emotional state.

Young man in white t shirt holding a black Scottish fold cat
Image Credit: Vershinin89, Shutterstock

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Cats are remarkably observant animals that can sense physical and emotional pain in humans. They can respond to our pain by expressing different behaviors, including, at times, anxiety and distress. Your cat is capable of forming a strong and secure bond with you and can be affected by your pain. Being observant of your cat, like how they’re observant of you, can help you identify when they’re responding to your pain and help you better understand your cat.

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Featured Image Credit: masik0553, Shutterstock

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