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Do cats know when you're sad?

Girl lying on the bed with her cat in her arms advice

Cats can sense our emotions.

© Shutterstock

There is something quite comforting about having a soft and warm ball of fur cuddled up to you when you are feeling down. But while you may assume it’s just your cat taking advantage of your sadness for their own comfort, it could be that they understand how you are feeling and are trying to make you feel better.

By Zoë Monk

Published on the 12/09/2020, 14:00

Do cats know what you’re feeling?

Cats can sense our emotions by reading our facial expressions when we smile or frown. Their ability to pick up on your body language and feelings is something that a cat will develop over time as they get to know you. Cats, in essence, train themselves to link positive things with happy facial gestures.

Meanwhile, less rewarding things are associated with what a cat may perceive as negative signals such as frowning or crying.

A study into cats and human emotions found that cats who saw their owners being happy wanted to spend more time in their company and as a consequence demonstrated familiar feline traits such as rubbing on their legs and purring.

Can cats sense our emotions?

If you are someone who likes to crawl into bed and hide under the covers when you are feeling sad, you may find that you aren’t alone for long and soon joined by your feline companion.

While it may be incredibly comforting and soothing to have your cat cuddle up to you when you are feeling down, your cat may also have learned that when you are feeling sad, they get lots of attention and strokes, which will make them more interested in being around you when you are showing signs of sadness.

Also, if you tend to comfort eat when you are feeling sad, this may not have gone unnoticed by your cat. They might be keen to be around you in case any crumbs drop their way. This is, of course, a far less romantic idea than the notion of your cat intentionally wanting to comfort you.

However, it does show that they care enough to at least recognise that your mood has changed.

Can cats sense sadness?

You may not have noticed it, but it’s common for our feline friends to behave differently when we are smiling to when we are frowning. It's thought that cats may be able to read human facial expressions which is something they learn over time.

The volume and tone of your voice will also likely change when you are feeling sad which your cat can sometimes pick up on.

While your cat will discreetly check out your behaviour for cues, when they are most likely to get love and attention, they can also pick up on situational cues. This means that your habits when you are sad won’t go unnoticed by your feline friend.

Time spent in bed because you are feeling down is a big signal that your cat may come to associate with the opportunity for cuddles and attention.

How do cats know how we feel?

We assume that dogs understand human emotion because of the way they visibly respond differently to angry, sad and happy faces. Their response is fairly obvious. However, a cat’s response is generally more subtle. Cats are extremely observant animals and could be picking up on certain habits and cues that you don’t even realise you have, especially when you are feeling emotional. Your cat can even link something like crying or blowing your nose to something that benefits them as you may tend to give them attention and treats when you are feeling emotional.

Do cats copy their owner’s emotions?

Cats are intelligent animals and also have long memories. They watch and learn from the humans around them and take a mental note of the patterns of our actions. This is shown by cats knowing where their food is kept and when they can expect to be fed, how to open a cupboard door that someone hasn’t closed properly, where their food bowls are and where they should go to the toilet.

But they can also take on some of our human habits too. A study of 3,000 cat owners found that particular personality traits that are more dominant in owners were also displayed by their cats. For instance, owners who were extrovert owned cats who enjoyed being outside more. Meanwhile, particularly neurotic people will likely have cats who also demonstrate these behavioural problems.

Find out how you can read your cat's body language.

How do cats feel emotion?

Cats have a variety of different emotions, including:

  • Fear: Cats can be very easily frightened or startled by just a sudden movement you make, the hairdryer, vacuum cleaner or even your phone’s ringtone.
  • Aggression: Aggressive behaviour in cats is often recognised as scratching, biting or hissing. This can be triggered by feeling threatened or frustrated.
  • Happy: When cats feel happy and safe with their human family, they can become attached to them. While some cats purr when they are happy, others will follow you around or sit on your lap.
  • Sadness and grief: Cats can feel sadness and grief. A cat may grieve for a lost companion or toy or feel lonely and depressed if they aren’t getting enough social interaction.

Can cats sense when something is wrong?

Cats are incredibly sensitive animals and just like their canine counterparts, they have an incredible ability to detect illnesses and diseases in humans. Cats have an excellent sense of smell and can sniff out chemical changes in the body that have been caused by disease. They can also sense a change in your mood and behaviour that affect the routine of the household. With their heightened hearing and sense of smell, cats become very attuned to their environment so can detect abnormal smells and sounds before humans do, such as fires or gas leaks.

Can your cat tell when you’re sad?

While our feline friends may not be emotionally intelligent enough to realise that you need comfort when you are feeling sad, they can read your expressions and be receptive to the concept that you are paying them attention. If your cat links your sadness to love and attention, don’t be surprised if they seek you out when you are feeling low. But while your cat gets the attention they want from you, you also get the comfort of a cuddle. Snuggling a cat creates a mutually beneficial exchange.

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