Humans do things like crying or ‘moping around’ when we are sad or depressed.
Children will actually shake sometimes or throw tantrums when they are sad.
In many cases, we just assume that felines have the same set and spectrum of emotions like we do.
So, can cats sense sadness? Do they know when we are feeling depressed, sorrowful, dejected, or downhearted?
Or are we just anthropomorphizing our cats?
Can Cats Sense When You Are Sad?
Yes, cats sense when you are sad and are usually very aware of most other emotions.
They can tell when we humans aren’t feeling optimistic, out of sorts, or downright miserable.
It isn’t some mystical aura of emotion we give off or a strange and mysterious mental connection you share with your cat.
There is no all-powerful magic that allows emotions to flow from human owner to cat either.
Still, our cats can absolutely sense when we are sad, often better than we can sense the sadness in each other. But how do they do it then?
Our cats sense sadness because they can sense the changes that occur because of it.
The following statement is probably more accurate: Our cats can sense change (not emotion).
Our Cats Read Body Language
Unlike you or I, cats don’t talk in a spoken language to each other.
They will send vocal signals through meows, yowls, hisses, yelps and use an intricate system of howling to express various things.
However, these sounds still aren’t used as a felines main form of communication.
Cats communicate mainly through a set of visual cues. In fact, their bodies are designed for it.
A cat's tail acts as an antenna, immediately letting other animals know their state of mind based on tail position.
His ears, eyes, posture, and even a cat’s fur itself can be used to send signals.
A careful observer will be able to tell exactly how a cat is feeling about any given situation in the fraction of a split second it takes signals to travel along our optic nerves to the visual cortex in our brains for interpretation.
To most cat owners, this happens as naturally as breathing.
We rarely put any conscious thought into it at all.
If we can learn to easily read a cat’s visual communication so well, how natural do you think it is for the cats themselves?
They’re constantly observing.
You might say cats know their owners better than they know themselves.
Your cat is constantly watching you for even the slightest visual change.
They are always reading our emotions, constantly tracking our movements.
If there is anything out of the ordinary, or we carry ourselves differently somehow, they want to know what it means for them.
If we are showing signs of anger or frustration with this video game or after that phone call, our cats almost always know to keep their distance.
If you have a gamer friend, for example, take note of the ways her cat reacts.
They also follow our gestures if we point somewhere and there have been experiments where seemingly more resourceful wolves lost against domesticated cats since they knew that following the human’s finger = reward.
Pheromones of sadness.
We all know cats enjoy one of the most powerful senses of smell of all land animals.
The few animals with stronger olfactory senses will never be capable of a cat’s empathy, so they might as well enjoy the strongest sense of smell.
Many scientists think we might secrete pheromones depending on our emotional mindset.
Whereas our tears are odorless to us, a cat will absolutely be able to detect the sugar and sodium in them.
Not only can cats easily detect subtle changes in the visual cues we give off, but they can also probably smell certain changes in emotion.
There’s a reason why people want to hire “animal communicators” to lay a bridge to their cats.
However, reading their mind is simple than you might think.
How Do Cats Comfort You When You Are Sad?
Imagine yourself sobbing or hunched over in the kind of submissive posture we display when depressed.
Your furry little cuddle buddy notices this change in your behavior and lies down next to you on the couch.
Simply by sitting there with us, perhaps offering the swipe of a cool, wet tongue, our cherished companions are offering the much-needed comfort that companionship provides.
Just like cats, we humans thrive on companionship (most of us).
The mere presence of another living empathetic creature we can cuddle up next to provides a strong sense of security.
We want to offer our cats attention when they approach, especially when we are sad.
That feeling of loving devotion helps console us in our times of sadness.
“It’s possible that cats learn to approach crying people because their owners give them affection when they do, the researchers wrote.”LiveScience – Feline Comfort: Do Cats Know When You’re Sad?
This is a slightly more complicated question, and the answer would depend on how each person reacts to sadness.
Your cat might become upset when you cry, but not sad from a human’s perspective.
We have learned a lot about feline social behavior.
Highly educated biologists have spent endless hours detailing the countless minute habits of our feline friends.
That being said, we can make a very general determination.
Cats will react to our emotions based on what they get out of them.
Keep an eye out for negative emotions.
For example, certain people might become very confrontational, screaming, or displaying signs of physical aggression when extremely sad.
These intense human reactions are going to give cats anxiety, causing them to avoid us for fear of our own outward aggression.
Your cat would absolutely become upset in these situations.
Consider the example of a screaming match with a significant other, causing intense crying.
Many cats become extremely anxious, even to the point of visibly shaking, when owners scream at each other.
They’ve likely learned to fear potential outcomes, such as the owner venting frustration by screaming at them.
Sadly, some cats have simply learned to fear their owner’s emotional imbalances.
They’ll either try to escape the situation, make themselves seem as small and non-threatening as possible, or react defensively themselves.
What behavioral changes do you see in your cat when you are feeling sad or depressed, as opposed to happy and cheerful?
So, felines do learn to avoid angry people. How good for them.
They can be defensive of their human parent.
Your cat might also see physical vulnerability in your sadness.
Thinking their human family member could be facing a potential threat to their well-being, your pet could show aggression to the instigator.
Have you ever either noticed your own cat or heard of a friend’s cat growl as one human yelled at another?
Beneficial companionship is also possible.
Consider the opposite scenario.
You thrive off your cat’s companionship, offering plenty of attention, pets, scratches, and praise.
Your signs of sadness would let your cat know she has something to gain from your companionship.
He would want to be around you, and wouldn’t become upset at all when you cry.
Do you become very depressed when you cry, closing yourself off away from your cat ?
Your cat would be upset because she knows she is about to become an afterthought.
With all things considered, your cat becomes upset when you cry because it doesn’t mean good outcomes for her.
If you only want the absolute best relationship with your furry companion, check out ‘The Right Way to Bond With Your Cat’.
Do Cats Reflect their Owner’s Emotions?
You already know cats are able to read our emotions or reactions extremely well.
They chose how to judge a certain situation based on how we seem to perceive it.
If we seem scared, shaky, or frightened, our cats will automatically know something is wrong.
For example, if something seems to have us visibly frightened, they will know something isn’t safe and either become anxious or defensive.
Cats don’t always reflect our emotions as much as respond to our emotions.
But I’ve Seen My Cat Cry!
You might have actually seen tears from around your cat’s eyes.
You probably thought this was either a spectacular show of empathy or extremely sad.
Posts of crying mother cats are especially popular on social media outlets for the gut-wrenching emotions they make you feel.
Not even the author always knows these are misleading.
Though it might be disappointing, cats are in fact physically incapable of shedding an emotional waterfall, no matter how depressed or anxious they may be.
In a physiological sense, their bodies just don’t work this way.
Cats don’t express sadness through tears, but they do have lacrimal glands that produce tears as a method of lubrication, just like us.
A normally functioning feline tear duct shouldn’t produce so much moisture they appear to cry.
To veterinarians, epiphora describes an overflow of tears from the eyes and can be associated with several possible eye problems in cats.
According to VCA hospitals “The most common cause of insufficient tear drainage is a blockage of the nasolacrimal ducts or poor eyelid function due to a deformity”.
So look out for your feline if she seems to cry.
Can Cats Sense Grief?
Cats are very much able to notice grief through the body language cues we give off, changes in tone of voice, and smells only a cat would notice.
Our cats can usually tell if there is a big problem or not based on how we react to it.
If we are grieving the loss of a loved one that also meant a lot to our cat, for example, studies show they won’t just sense our grief but grieve themselves.
This is a drastic change in their lives because they also just lost someone very important to them.
This makes perfect sense from a psychological perspective.
The cat also feels distressed towards this undesirable change that means discomfort (or less comfort, uncomfortable anxiety) to them.
Cats mourning alongside their owners is a common denominator and not all too rare sight (although we all hope that it’ll never come to that).
Can we hide our grief?
Only humans that are extremely good at internalizing emotions are able to mask grief from their cats.
If you’re able to express a consistently happy, joyful persona on the outside while sad or depressed on the inside, your cat probably won’t know the difference.
You would have to be very good at maintaining a visual body language constant, or your cat will detect a change and know something is up.
Any change in behavior will alert our cats to potential problems.
We don’t yet know the full extent of our cat’s ability to smell changes in our body chemistry.
Cats are being trained in medical settings to ‘smell’ abnormalities, alerting physicians faster than human detection methods, so this is a natural conclusion.
“Cats are most famously known for detecting cancer. They can be trained to sniff out a variety of types including skin cancer, breast cancer, and bladder cancer using samples from known cancer patients and people without cancer.”UAR
The age-old expression we’ve all heard ‘The cat can smell your fear’ probably has more truth to it than we realize.
A cat’s nose is really quite amazing.
Next time you have a heated argument or you’re grieving, think about the implications this can have for your cat as they might share your pain unintentionally.
Cats are sensitive beings and a real treasure we should preserve by trying to keep them happy as much of the time as possible.