Can Cats Tell When You’re Sad?: Empathy In Cats

Can cats tell when you're sad?

We all want to put on a brave face when we are up against the world and we don’t like those we love and admire to see that we are suffering or in pain.

But there is one special individual that might get a glimpse of us when we are feeling down or sad, and unable to put on a strong face.

Cats see us when we are at our most vulnerable and they are almost constantly around us when we are at home with them, after all.

Can Cats sense when something is wrong?

These animals are known for being aloof at times and even cold according to some.

But, those who love cats and spend a lot of time around them will know that this is not the case at all and they can be incredibly caring and warm animals, even if they tend to show their emotions and affection in unorthodox and inconvenient ways.

Cats can tell when we are sad as they are very tuned in animals and incredibly sensitive to their environment. They can learn to read our body language, facial expressions and moods and react accordingly.

How Do They Know We are Upset?

Studies really can help us gain priceless insight into our pets psyche and why they act and feel a certain way.

In 2015, there was an animal cognition study(1.) done that showed very clearly that cats tend to carry themselves and behave differently based on whether their “humans” were frowning or smiling.

It was proved that when the owner was smiling, the feline purred more, wanted to curl up in their lap, and rubbed on them playfully and carefree.

But, if the owner was asked to frown and look upset, the cat showed visible signs of being more aloof and detached from their owner when he was in a sour mood.

can cats tell when you are sad? woman holding white and black cat in arms. empathy in cats.
can cats tell when you are sad?

This tells us that they can in fact sense how we are feeling, or even read our body language to some degree.

They are brilliant animals, after all.

When the people doing the research conducted the same experiments with strangers instead of the cat owners, the cats didn’t pay attention to the strangers at all.

It did not matter in the slightest to the cats whether the strangers smiled or frowned, and it only mattered to them when their “owner” or specific human did. This clearly shows that the animals are devoted to their owners and prioritize them and their well being over strangers.

So cats are intelligent enough to read these signs of how we are feeling and the mood we find ourselves in.

This does not mean that they necessarily understand exactly what it means to smile or frown, and the deeper meaning behind these expressions. But it shows that they know how to predict our behavior to some degree based on our face and expressions.

They can read their owners expressions and react according to them.

Also read: are cats loyal?

Cats Learn to Read Our Emotions Over Time

So cats can tell when they should stay away from us and when they should come cuddle up against us based on our expressions.

But how do they know these things, is it instinct?

It is difficult to tell, but it is more likely that they learn about us slowly over time as they spend more time with us and start to recognize our moods and behavior patterns.

The cat will start to notice your behaviors and it learns to stay our of your way when you are moody, because then you don’t pet it as much or pay as much attention to it and such.

But when you are smiling and in a good mood, the cat knows that you like to pet it and want it around to play with and cuddle lovingly.

The cat knows this, and learns eventually to notice these signs to indicate our moods.

orange and white happy cat. empathy in cats. can cats tell when something is wrong?
empathy in cats…

How They Will React and Feel

We have known for some time that dogs can recognize changes in their owners facial expressions, but cats are much more mysterious animals than dogs are and studying them can be trickier.

It is not just that they are some sort of natural enigma and clouded in a veil of mystery though, but there seems to be some bias in the scientific world in favor of dogs, but much more studies have been done on dogs than cats.

But, there was one great study in 2019 , that centered around cat behavior which proved that most cats do in fact bond to their humans intensely and form strong friendships and attachments to them.

These animals are loving and caring even if it may not appear so at times, but they show their emotions differently than we are often used to.

Oregon State University did the study, and it proved that cats feel more comfortable when their humans are around and will miss them and show feelings of stress when they are away.

So, if your cat rushes towards you when you arrive home again after a long day at work, it is not just because he wants to be fed but also because well….he loves you.

It is a good sign, that he has bonded with you and considers you their friend and family.

These above studies show that they really are interested in us, despite so often seeming uninterested in whatever we are doing.

Their reactions are much more subtle than our own, but when cats are happy they tend to purr or rub themselves against us. Their tail and body movements can also reveal how they are feeling and it is very much possible to tell how your cat is feeling.

You can read our guide on cat body language here.

They will try to avoid us when we look to be upset and change their body language as if they know that we are to be avoided.

Unlike, when we are happy and they know that we will give them lots of care and treats since we are in such a fantastic mood.

Happiness is infective in that way, kind of.

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But Do They Care, And Feel Empathy?

There is something in cats that proves that they do feel some empathy.

It may not be as deep of an empathy as us humans feel, but it is likely to be there to some degree, since many cats can feel immense separation anxiety when their owners leave them.

Siamese cats are one of the cat breeds that should not be left for long as they get very attached to their owners and need to be a lot around them.

If they are left for too long alone, they will start to become seriously depressed and saddened. They are emotional and caring cats, one of the smartest breeds you can get and it is amazing how deeply these cats can feel.

Do they really care though?

This is the main thing you may ask yourself, we know that they can tell when we are in a bad mood, but do they really care that we are sad?

Do they perhaps only learn to read our emotions so that they can manipulate more tasty treats from us when we are feeling happy…?

It is difficult to say.

What I can say is this though.

A lot of house cats seem to be able to “sense” or know when their humans are upset and will try to comfort them.

Many cat owners report that when they have felt like the entire world was against them and crumbling down, and that life was just too much to bear, their cat had been there for them.

People say that they have been in their homes crying up against a wall feeling miserable, but then their cat came into their lap lovingly to comfort them.

Cats have proven time after time, to reach out towards their owners when they are feeling low, either crying or feeling depressed.

They will meow comfortingly and climb into your lap as if they are trying to take your sadness away and lift you up in the only way they can, with their presence.

Sometimes, that is all we really need from them.

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Author: Cathour

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