Last Updated: 4 months ago

Do cats know when you are sad?

It seems like our cats have a sixth sense and know when we need them to cuddle with us to feel better.

But can cats sense sadness and depression, or are we reading too much into a simple gesture?

If you’re curious about the answers, keep reading to find out how in tune cats are with our emotions.

Do Cats Know When You Are Sad?

Do Cats Know When You Are Sad? A Complete Guide

In our opinion, cats know when you are sad.

People usually mean dogs when they talk about pets that can sense and relieve depression and anxiety.

Cats have the reputation of being self-centered and aloof, so many people believe that cats are less capable of emotional compassion than dogs.

Of course, cat owners would strongly disagree with such statements. But what makes a cat come to you when you’re crying or depressed?

Is it curiosity, or can cats understand human emotions? Can cats tell when you’re sad?

Let’s unravel this mystery by talking first about how attached cats are to humans and their emotional intelligence level.

Are Cats Capable of Attachment?

cat following owner

Cats often seem unconcerned about their owners’ wellbeing or what’s going on around the house.

That’s why many people don’t think that cats can’t sense sadness or that cats can’t tell when you’re sad.

The truth is that cats aren’t used to expressing emotions or what’s going through their heads.

It’s not part of their nature because they don’t like to mingle much with others. Typical introverts, right?

Still, cats do care about their owners, as one study confirmed. The experiment tested how cats reacted when their owners were around and when the owners were missing.

The results showed that most cats were less stressed when their humans were in the room.

According to scientists, such behavior confirms that cats attach emotionally to their owners, just like toddlers and dogs.

Since cats are capable of attachment, they aren’t so indifferent to humans as we’ve come to believe.

So, it’s logical that cats should pick up on some of our emotions, right?

Are Cats Emotionally Intelligent?

why does my cat come to me when i cry

Specialists define emotional intelligence as the self-awareness of emotions, managing emotions, and recognizing emotions in other people.

There’s no proof that cats have self-awareness when it comes to emotions.

In other words, we don’t know if cats know what “sadness” or “happiness” is.

What we call “sadness” might have a completely different meaning for a cat if it appears in their dictionary.

However, there’s proof that cats can read emotions in other species, and it’s a learned behavior.

Do Cats Feel Your Emotions?

The questions “Can cats feel emotions?” and “Can animals sense depression and anxiety?” has been discussed for a while.

If you ask cat owners, they would tell you that cats know when you’re happy or angry and that cats sense sadness.

Science will give you a more cautious answer because cats are terrible test subjects, and it’s challenging to conduct experiments with them.

However, a recent study has confirmed that owners aren’t so wrong when it comes to cats identifying positive and negative emotions. 

The experiment involved 12 cats and tested how they react to smiling and frowning owners. The aim was to determine if cats would change behavior based on how the owner was acting.

The results showed that all 12 cats were more likely to exhibit positive behavior when the owner was smiling.

They purred, snuggled, and wanted to spend more time with a happy human than an angry/frowning one.

These findings suggest that cats learn to associate their owner’s smiles and frowns with positive and negative experiences.

They might not know what a smile is, but they know what to expect when seeing one on their owner’s face.

Cats Can Copy Emotions

Do you know how a child looks up to an adult when confronted with a “scary” situation?

If the adult is happy, the child knows that there’s nothing to worry about and adopts the same attitude. Cats have the same ability to copy their owners’ emotions, a study proves.

For the experiment, the cat and the owner were in a room with a fan and ribbons. You know how unfamiliar objects can freak out cats.

The goal was to check if the owners’ behavior would influence the cat’s reactions. As it turns out, most cats looked to their owners to decide how to react.

If the owner didn’t show any signs of nervousness, the cats were less likely to look for escape routes and more likely to approach the fan and investigate.

On the other hand, cats were distressed and likely to escape when their owners appeared frightened or anxious.

As such, cats likely learn to read their owner’s body language for cues on how to act in certain situations.

Do Cats Understand Human Emotions?

If cats copy their owners’ emotions, can cats understand human emotions?

We would say that it’s unlikely since even humans have trouble understanding feelings.

During the study with the happy or angry owners, the researchers repeated the experiment with unfamiliar people.

The cats exhibited equal amounts of positive behavior, no matter if the stranger was smiling or frowning.

These curious results suggest that cats learn to read their owners’ expressions over time.

They don’t know that a “frown” applies to all humans, but they figure out their owner’s emotions through experience and positive and negative connections.

Moreover, researchers speculate that cats don’t see us as a separate species. That’s because cats act around people in the same way they behave around other cats.

Dogs, on the other hand, alter their behavior when interacting with humans. In our cat’s eyes, we’re large, hairless cats that tend to stumble a lot and can’t catch prey.

How could cats understand human emotions if they don’t know we are humans?

How Can Cats Sense Sadness?

can cats sense depression and anxiety

Why does my cat come to me when I cry?

Stories about cats comforting their owners are a common occurrence.

But why do cats come to us when we’re sad if they don’t understand human emotions well?

While cats might not realize what sadness is, they still know that something is wrong when you’re not your usual perky self.

You give plenty of body cues without realizing that they allow your cat to make connections.

Here are four ways cats might “sense” when you’re sad and come to check what’s wrong with you.

Changes In Routine

You might not notice it, but cats spend a lot of time observing you and watching your every move.

Some cat breeds are so obsessed with their owners that they follow you like a stalker around the house.

As such, cats learn about their owners’ habits and schedules.

When you deviate from your routine, your kitty is bound to know that something is wrong and will come to check up on you.

Missed Meals

When you’re depressed or sad, you might forget to feed your cat, give them the usual treats, or clean the litter box.

Naturally, your cat will come looking for you to remind you of your duties.

As you know, hungry cats can be very determined to get you out of bed and will purr, cuddle, and massage your body until you get up to feed them.

Your Voice

Don’t let your kitty fool you. As studies have proven, cats recognize their owners’ voices among strangers.

They just don’t care to respond every time you call them. Since cats know your voice, they can detect changes in your tone.

Of course, cats might not understand why you sound sad, but it’s enough to make them curious.

And when cats are curious, they will come to you in case you’ve got something tasty for them.

Positive Reinforcement

Do you pay more attention to your cat when you’re sad?

Doting on my cat is one way I deal with anxiety and stress. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

In time, your cat learns that being close to you when you’re “moody” means good things, such as treats and attention.

So, your kitty might seek you out when you’re sad because they know they’ll get a reward. That’s called positive reinforcement.

So, while cats might not comprehend sadness, your kitty is there for you, no matter the reasons.

Do Cats Get Sad?

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Since we’re talking about whether cats can tell when you’re sad, you’ve got to wonder if cats get sad or depressed.

That’s easier to talk about than the cat’s ability for emotional empathy.

Likely, cats experience all basic emotions, such as anger, joy, disgust, sadness, fear, and surprise, and might have complex feelings, such as jealousy.

When cat owners were asked to identify their cats’ emotions, they identified all these emotions, but sadness, shame, and compassion were at the bottom of the list.

Still, cats get sad and might become depressed when separated from their owner, mother, or friends.

Loss of appetite, lack of grooming, loss of interest in toys, and sleeping more than usual are classical signs of depression in cats.

However, sadness might be due to a medical problem, and that’s why you should always rule out illness before you assume your cat is sad.

In general, cats seem to be less in tune with our emotions than dogs. That’s likely because people domesticated dogs and spent a lot of time breeding desirable traits in them.

On the other hand, cats moved close to people to hunt rodents and decided to stay because humans fed them. There was no need to change cats because they were perfect.

So, can cats sense depression and anxiety? I would say that cats know that something is wrong with you when you’re sad or anxious, but they don’t comprehend the emotion behind it.


Can cats sense depression and anxiety?

Yes, cats can sense when you’re feeling anxious and depressed, according to a 2019 study done by Nottingham Trent University.

Like dogs, cats can pick up on your feelings both by reading your face and by sensing the changes within your body that take place as a result of depression and anxiety.

Do cats understand human crying?

While the jury is still out on whether cats specifically understand what human crying means, studies do show that domesticated cats living with humans become very adept at recognizing different emotions within those humans.

If you cry often enough, then your cat may pick up on its meaning.


Do Cats Know When You Are Sad? A Complete Guide
Olfa T
Olfa T

Olfa knows how to get things done and has a keen business sense that others admire. She’s always on the go, coming up with new ideas! Her ability to anticipate the needs of her readers and deliver information that they want is what makes CatVills such a success. She loves cuddling her cat Picaciu. He is her inspiration.