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?
SURVEY: Do You Consider Cats Family?
Your opinion matters!
How do cats know how we feel?
A 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.
Saturday 15th of October 2022
I’m not a much of a cryer so of course one day I just let all out. I was crying so bad I couldn’t see from all the tears in my eyes so when my Mackypooh ran to me she meowed really loud at me and I could only see a blurry version of her (lol). But she put her paw on my hand and meowed very different it was more of a gentle meow again and again as if she was asking me if I was ok, it went on until I was done crying. I love her so much I felt like she was really showing her deepest concern for me especially at a time of need. #catsknowyou
Saturday 22nd of January 2022
Cats definitely know when you are sad, when my husband and I would argue or fight I would end up in our bedroom crying. His cat would follow me snuggle up, lick the tears off my cheeks and stay the whole night. Cats are awesome.
Friday 26th of November 2021
I have a self harm problem, but whenever I am tempted my cat will jump up on my bed, put their paw on my hand, and purr. Thanks to my cat I have stayed clean for a while now. My dog will also come in my room when I am deppressed, I am glad to have them
Friday 26th of November 2021
I'm so glad your animals are there for you when you need them. I'm sure it took a lot of strength for you to share this. Thank you and I wish you you the best.
Tuesday 5th of October 2021
I got my cat in April 2021. She is a year and she follows me everywhere. Tonight I had an anxiety attack and just started crying. She was in the other room and I was on the phone with the doctor and she heard me crying and came running in the room meowing and sat there with me awhile. Then I told her it’s ok and I’m ok. Then she went elsewhere. That was the first she experienced since I got her. I waited a long time to get her and now she has brought so much joy in my life. I’m glad I have her.
Thursday 6th of May 2021
That sounds about right. When I was a child qnd living with my schizophrenic grandmother, I remember crying because she kept accusing me of something that I didn't do. All three of our cats came to comfort me, even the one that didn't really like me all that much.