Do Cats Know When You’re Sad?

Do Cats Know When You’re Sad?

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Almost all cat owners will tell you that their furry friends know when they’re sad.

It’s almost like cats have a sixth sense because they seem so in-tune with us, but can they really tell when we are sad?

It’s been known for some time that dogs are able to recognize changes in their owner’s facial expressions – now it’s time to discuss whether cats can do the same.

Much less research exists about cat behavior to tell us if cats are as attached as dogs are to their humans, but that is starting to change. 

Keep reading to find out more about our mysterious and sensitive feline companions.

How attached are cats to their owners?

According to a 2019 study from Oregon State University, the majority of cats form secure attachments to their owners.

In the study, they had the cat owner leave the room for 2 minutes and then return. The cats that had secure attachments to their owners continued to explore while paying attention to their owners.

The cats that had insecure attachments to their owners started to show signs of avoidance when their owners re-entered the room.

Based on this study, if your cat greets you when you walk through the door or follows you around the house, that’s a great sign that he/she has secure attachment to you!

Does your cat recognize your voice?

In order to know if your cat can tell when you are sad, first you need to understand if they even recognize your voice. A change in how you sound will signal to your cat how you feel.

A 2013 study by Japanese scientists showed that cats do recognize the voice of their human versus a stranger calling their name.

A cat won’t come running over to you like a dog when you call its name, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care.

Cats simply acknowledge their owners in different ways, like moving their ears and head when you call their name.

Does cats prefer spending time with their owners?

This is definitely a pre-requisite to cats knowing or caring if/when we are sad. There’s some really cool research that explains why cats prefer spending time with us.

Another study from the Journal of Veterinary Behavior tested to see if cats engage more with their owner or a complete stranger when left alone in a room with them.

As you might expect, cats were more likely to pay attention to and play with their owner, while they usually ignored the stranger.

This means that cats clearly like their owner more than anyone else.

Separation Anxiety May Offer Answers

Another hint that cats can detect we’re sad is how upset they get when we’re away. Just like a toddler with a parent, cats can get separation anxiety when their human is away.

They often misbehave, over-groom, or vocalize their displeasure. This suggests that cats are definitely attached to their owners and feel uncomfortable when their owner is away.

But are cats clever enough to detect our mood and comfort us?

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How do cats know how we feel?

2015 animal cognition study showed that cats behave differently based on if their owners are smiling or frowning. 

The study noted that when the owner was smiling, the cat tended to purr more, rub up on their owner, and try to curl up in their lap. On the other hand, if the owner was frowning, the cat was more aloof.

When the researchers conducted the same experiment with strangers, rather than the cat owners, the cats didn’t respond to the strangers at all.

It didn’t matter if the stranger smiled or frowned; it only mattered when their owner did.

Cats do not understand the meaning behind smiling or frowning, but they do understand how to predict our behavior based on our facial expressions.

The study demonstrated that cats are intelligent enough to recognize these human patterns in expression.

The study also showed that cats prioritize their owners over strangers.

But if they know to approach us when we’re happy and stay away when we’re angry, how do they know when we need their love the most?

That’s a tricky question. Most likely, our cats are learning about us over time based on our past behaviors.

We owners tend to love up on our furry critters when we feel good. We may pet them more, play more, or even give them treats just for being fluffy and wonderful.

So over time, your cat is paying attention to your face and associating your facial expression with your behavior. Cats are no fools!

They know how to get what they want form us: attention, food, and love. Cats get these things by snuggling up to their human, giving us a few head bumps and purrs, and then gazing up at us with those eyes we can’t refuse!

Cats Copy Their Owner’s Emotions 

Another study from the journal of Animal Cognition showed that cats react differently based on their owners reaction.

The way the scientists tested this was simple. The cat and its owner were put into a room with a fan that had ribbons attached to it. If the owner acted like the fan was no big deal, so did the cat.

If the owner panicked and showed fear, the cat took its cue from the owner again and did the same thing.

If you have children, this might sound familiar! Often when toddlers fall over, scuff a knee, or clonk their head, there’s a delayed reaction before they cry or brush themselves off.

The parent runs over and usually tells the kid that they’re okay and magically there’s the crying stops. If the parent rushes over in a panic, screaming, the child is likely to do the same.

Cats have a tendency to do this too!

You might have observed your cat running up to you during a loud thunderstorm, checking in to see if they need to worry.

As long as we play it cool, they usually do too. So it’s no surprise that cats comfort us when we’ve got the blues.

They’re tuned into us just like we’re tuned into them.

Conclusion: Can Cats Sense Sadness?

There’s evidence that suggests cats tune into our moods based on our faces and how we act. Somewhere along the line cats learned that being there for humans when we’re down was in their best interest. Cats learn just as much about us as we do about them!

Do you think cat knows when you’re sad? Tell us in the comments below.

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25 Replies to “Do Cats Know When You’re Sad?”

  1. Most definitely cat’s share our same emotions. I fell in my kitchen and my foster kitten who was six months old came to me crying. He kept crying and laying in my lap. I told him I was okay I just needed to sit there for awhile before I get up. He calmed down as if he knew what I said. I still have his Mom and she has made It known that she loves me. She follows me everywhere is always in the room that I’m in. When I sit down she’s in my lap. When I wake up in the morning she is still beside me. I am so torn rather to keep her. I have 5 cats but they don’t have the personality like she has. She is amazing when her and her four boys came to me they were four weeks old. I already had nine kittens from two litters. I couldn’t turn the man away with them so I took them without even thinking. I put them in the kitten room for a week and when I opened the door all the kittens started playing. Momma cat decided that she would take on all thirteen of them. She is only probably a year old and she was Momma to all of them. She nursed all of them and loved and cared for all of them. She was strict with them but I guess she had to be. She is now mothering my new foster kitten. I love her with all my 💜 and I am so torn between keeping her or letting her go.

    1. Keep her! If you are torn that deeply you should listen to those feelings. I can’t say “No.” to a pet screaming they love you. Easier said than done, I know! My spine hurts so badly I can hardly clean out my girl’s litter boxes. I do know this, my girl won’t hesitate to be by my side but a human would! I hope you are able to keep that sweetheart in your home. God bless you for fostering. 🌷

  2. Oh you must keep her! She will be devastated if you don’t.! She has bonded with you and she loves you deeply or she wouldn’t want to be with you all the time. Please keep her! Maybe let some of the others go that are not as close to you.

  3. I lost my husband 5 years ago and I don’t know what I would have done without my 5 wonderful cats. They have made my life worth living again,not to mention the emotional support they’ve given me. They know when I’m upset and comforts me!

  4. Please keep this cat! She loves you so much. Do the others all love you as she does? Believe me I could never part with a kitty like her. Sending prayers!

  5. I struggle with bipolar. When I am sad depressed or so happy my 🐈 senses it. If I am frowning and crying lil bit comes to my aid and lets me pet him and he gives great kisses. He’s never been a cuddler but when I am super down he will let me hold him and cuddle with him. Lil bit has become my emotional support animal. Without his love and encouragement I don’t know what I would do.

  6. Sure cats can tell your moods. When someone in my house is sick our house panther Sly is in the room checking on them.
    Here recently our cat has been trying to climb in my lap at every opportunity, running up to me, and acting funny. It didn’t click that he was trying to comfort me as I slid further into depression until recently. As a young person I was all about a dog. But as a busy adult with kids and a job, a cat is perfect.

  7. I have anxiety. When I’m having an anxiety attack or even a full blown panic attack my cat knows and will come to me. I don’t know exactly how she knows. She’s 10 years old and will act like a kitten. Rolling around on my lap and batting softly at my face and hands. She’ll do this until I start petting her. Then she curls up and sleeps and purrs. It’s like she knows that when mom starts petting the attack is on the way out.

  8. My current cat, Maxine is now 7 years old and I’ve had her a little more than 6 1/2 years. When depression and anxiety get the better of me she is there. If I’m lying on the bed she will lay on my chest and stare at me and start purring. She plays nursemaid at that time. She has been more sensitive to my moods than all my other cats had been. Maxine has been able to pull me out of the downward spiral I get in every time. I dread the day she passed over to the Rainbow Bridge.

  9. Yes , cats definitely know when you’re hurting or sad . They snuggle up against you or lay in your lap . My husband dug a splinter out of my finger one time . The one cat laid on my lap the whole time . I fell asleep , woke up an hour later . He was still in my lap .

  10. My cat Cosmo, who has been gone 2 years now, when I would fall would bite me because I would start crying and getting panicky. It was his way of calming me down because I would look at him and say why did you do that? and start laughing. I’d start laughing and pick him up and start petting him and he’d start purring and be so proud of himself. Then I’d ask him, now what do I do. That’s when I could figure out what to do. But, he calmed me down so I could think clearly and he didn’t bite hard! Lol!

  11. Max is somewhat of an a–. I adopted him when he was almost 4 years old. He follows me around a lot a and sleeps with me half the night then moves over to sleep on my husband’s side of the bed. But sometimes when I pet him or brush him, he’ll just swipe at me. He won’t climb into my lap and doesn’t like to be carried. I’ve had Max for 2 years now and love him dearly, but he’s totally self-centered and doesn’t pay any attention to my feelings. When I was a teenager, I had a wonderful Siamese named Theo who was completely tuned into my feelings. When I was upset, Theo would climb into the arm of the chair and pat-pat-pat on my arm. Wonderful cat.

  12. This sounds so much like our Cat. Rusty is a very smart Cat. He has even helped my Husband come out of a seizure just by head butting him, licking his face, or rubbing his body against him.

  13. One of my cats will get under the blankets and lay down by calves, and sleep there all night. That’s when I get stressed, he does this otherwise no he doesn’t

  14. *I do hope that Deborah listened to her heart and kept that special kitten. I have one that has been the same way. Of the 9 cats I have she is most attuned to my moods. She really knows when I am sad. Minuit is nine now and hopefully she and I spend the rest of our lives together. I am 84 so it’s possible.

  15. My cat is a 9 yr old rescue cat and whenever I cry, am feeling sad or stressed, my cat cuddles me and sits on my lap until I am ok again💕

  16. I know that my cat definitely senses when I’m sad. If she hears me crying she runs right up to me and almost tries to comfort me

  17. I was out with my sister who was suffering with low mood and depression. We sat on a park bench while she cried her eyes out. Suddenly a cat came up to us and started to rub against our legs and she jumped up into my sister’s lap to let her know she’s going to be okay. My sister was so shocked and comforted. We didn’t know this car but I was so grateful she sensed how low my sister was and came to her rescue. Cats do deserve more credit than we give them. This cat was more than intuitive and compassionate.

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