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Can Cats Tell When You’re Sad? Vet-Reviewed Feline Senses & Emotions

Written by: Christian Adams

Last Updated on June 20, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team


Can Cats Tell When You’re Sad? Vet-Reviewed Feline Senses & Emotions


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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Many cat owners will attest that their cats can tell when they are sad and claim that their pets will comfort them in times of distress. But can a cat actually sense how you are feeling, or are they just behaving normally and you’re trying to see something that isn’t there?

Science hints that cats may definitely be able to perceive states of emotional distress in humans, including depression. If you are interested in learning more about your cat’s behavior (and whether they have psychic powers), keep reading as we look at this question and the reasons that people might believe it, so you can better understand your pet.

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Can Cats Tell If You Are Sad?

Many people think that cats are self-absorbed, with little concern for others, and usually point to dogs as the family pets that care about their owners. However, many people who own a cat will tell a different story, one that suggests that while most cats do like their personal space, they are more friendly and compassionate than some might admit—especially when their owners are going through a rough time. They will often snuggle and sit by you when you are sad or sick and can seem to tell when you need a friend. But what is the reason for this behavior?

happy cat with closed eyes hugging owner
Image Credit: Veera, Shutterstock

Cats Are Able to Read Body Language

One study involving cats showed that cats were able to discern when their owners were feeling depressed 1. This study also highlighted that those who had cats seemed to be able to handle depressive episodes better; although they had reservations about starting an interaction when depressed, they also tried to initiate interactions when in such a state of mind. Their pet cats were able to be of assistance in this instance.

Other studies 2 also highlight that cats are indeed able to read human body language, and are able to identify their owners through sound. This means that despite cats acting aloof when called, they’re likely very much able to recognize their name.

One Study Suggests Cats Don’t Form Strong Attachments

One study published in 2015 3 suggests that cats do not show signs of secure attachment to their owners and do not require them to survive. The suggestion here is that since cats do not form strong attachments and would prefer a life in the wild, they are not concerned about your feelings and would be unlikely to try to comfort you, even if they could sense your sadness.

Other experts suggest that while many people like to compare cats and dogs, they are two very different animals and not just in appearance. Dogs are pack animals that often live in groups in the wild. This lifestyle requires them to find ways to communicate with each other and is likely a large factor in why they can show affection so easily. Conversely, cats are solitary hunters that often spend all but the mating season alone, with little need to communicate with others. This lack of communication has prevented cats from being adept at expressing themselves the way dogs can, but it does not necessarily mean that cats don’t have the same range of emotions.

young woman holding cute siberian cat with green eyes
Image Credit: evrymmnt, Shutterstock

Another Study Suggests Cats Do Form Some Attachment

Another study meant to indicate how cats feel about humans showed that cats can experience anxiety while their owners are away, which subsides when they’re reunited. This study shows that cats form bonds with humans, though it does not go as far as to say cats love us or have the same feelings for us that we have for them.

What the Public Says

Anyone who has owned a cat for several years will agree that cats could use better communication skills. However, there is little doubt that the cats care for us. They tend to stay in the same room, if not on our laps, and they purr and make plenty of vocalizations that are purely for our benefit. If you let them outside, they often return in a few hours, and if you are feeling sad, they tend to give you a little more attention. They will lay beside you when you are sick, and there is some evidence that they can sense death and attempt to comfort you during your last hours.

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While there is evidence pointing both ways, scientists need to complete many more studies to be sure if your cat can tell when you’re sad or is just curious about your strange behavior. Most owners already know cats are much more compassionate than people believe them to be, and for them, there is strong evidence your cat knows when you need some cheering up and will attempt to do so, even if they don’t have the skillset.

We hope that you have enjoyed reading this short guide and have learned a few new facts about your cat.

Featured image credit: Impact Photography, Shutterstock

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