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Do Cats Know When You Are Sick

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Cats have a strong sense of smell and can detect changes in their owner's health through chemical changes in their body.
  • Cats can detect illnesses such as cancer, hypertension, and diabetes through their sense of smell.
  • Cats can also sense physical symptoms of sickness, such as changes in heartbeat, breathing, and body temperature.
  • Cats can recognize and respond to human emotions, including sadness and anxiety.
  • Cats can detect changes in their owner's behavior and routines when they are sick, but it is unclear if they understand the connection to illness.
A pet lover passionate about educating readers about animal health and care. Love reading studies and recent research.
Licensed veterinarian and animal behaviorist with over three years of experience and a Ph.D. in Poultry Science.
Published on
Monday 15 January 2024
Last updated on
Monday 30 October 2023
Do Cats Know When You Are Sick
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Sickness is an inevitable part of life, and we can become ill anytime. Still, nothing beats recovering from such times with someone by your side. Our pet cats may be enough to keep us company at times. As a result, you may wonder: Can cats tell when you are sick? Let us get more into it!

Do Cats Know When You’re Sick

Cats, like many other animals, lead with their noses. The sense of smell is the most powerful of a cat’s five senses, and the feline olfactory system is 14 times stronger than a human.

The ability of cats to sense chemical changes in their environment, according to Applied Animal Behaviour Science, plays a role in stress reduction. Cats feel safe around familiar scents and are intrigued by unfamiliar odors.

Cats can smell when something is off about their owners, including a change in the person’s health. They use this to detect illness in humans and other animals. Furthermore, cats rub against each other as a greeting to determine each other’s health. It helps cats avoid disease carriers in feral colonies.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that cats can detect illnesses like cancer, hypertension, and diabetes. For example, Oscar, a Rhode Island cat, could tell when patients in an intensive care unit did not have long to live. He would pick patients to snuggle with seemingly at random. A few hours later, at least 50 of those patients died.

Dogs may be able to detect odor signatures associated with specific types of cancer and even diseases such as COVID-19. It is not unreasonable to think that cats have similar abilities.

Do Cats Sense Physical Symptoms of Sickness?

When you are sick, your smell is not the only thing that changes. Many illnesses cause physical symptoms such as rapid heart rate, high temperature, coughing, sneezing, vomiting, weight loss, or gain.

If your cat stays with you a lot, it will be familiar with your heartbeat. They also know how your skin feels typically and how your breathing sounds. They are wise enough to notice when these things shift.

When women are pregnant, cats can detect hormonal changes as well. During pregnancy, estrogen and progesterone levels help prepare the mother for childbirth. Cats become clingy when you are pregnant for the same reason: they can detect hormonal changes and react accordingly. 

Cats have an uncanny ability to detect changes in your body temperature, even when you’re feeling fine. Remember how often you’ve had a fever and your skin felt warm?

The fourth way cats detect illness is through changes in their habits. When we are sick, our routines frequently change. We will spend more time in bed, sleeping. We may also have time off work and thus spend more time at home. When you are sick, you might enjoy a relaxing bath or not eat as much as you usually do.

Can Cats Notice Mental Illnesses?

You might be wondering if cats can feel emotions like sadness. According to a study on emotion recognition in cats, cats can recognize conspecific and human emotions through auditory and visual observations. They may, however, see things from a different perspective. Cats can sense the sadness in humans by associating their visual and auditory signals, such as frowning and a listless voice. 

Although cats are known to be independent, they form bonds with their colony in the wild. At home, your cat views you as a member of their colony. They understand the importance of emotional signals in harmonizing with you as their fur parent.

Cats can detect anxiety and anxiety attacks, according to research. When their fur parents are depressed, cats, in particular, may come closer. Some even purr and rub themselves more when they notice their human is depressed. But this depends on the cat’s personality. Cats have different characters and may have ways of adjusting their behavior when they are depressed.

A study by Animal Cognition demonstrated that cats look at their owners for signals, or what is known as “social referencing.” The researchers invited several cat-and-owner pairs into a room with fans and streamers tied to them, intending to instill anxiety and uncertainty. In response to the owner’s emotional message, 79% of cats showed referential looking between the owner and the object.

Do Cats Notice Behavioral Changes in Humans?

A cat can tell when a human is sick by observing how that person behaves—your routine changes when you are sick. You may not set your alarm, skip work and stay in bed all day—all of these actions send a message to your cat.

Cats are hyper-aware when things in their environment, including your behavior, are different because they enjoy routine. It is unclear whether a cat will associate these strange behaviors with your illness. They are more likely to recognize patterns and act accordingly.

If you are frequently sick and stay in bed, your cat may notice the pile of tissues by the couch and learn to anticipate a change in routine. Their altered behavior makes you believe they are acting to make you feel better.

It is also clear that they recognize sickness-related behaviors. But it is still being determined whether they have the cognitive ability to combine that sensory information and link it to how they feel when they are sick. 

As a result, your cat’s desire to spend time with you when you’re sick may be linked to curiosity or confusion rather than deliberate caretaking. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that your cat makes you feel better when you are sick.

What Illnesses Can Cats Detect? 

People ask the same question: Do cats always know when their owners are sick? Could they only detect a few? Cats are better at catching serious illnesses than less severe ones. For example, cats are more likely to see someone nearing death than they are to see someone with a common cold. 

The following are some illnesses that your cat may sense:

Mental Illness

People who are anxious or depressed may spend more time at home, and irritability tends to worsen. Since you and your cat are close, they can tell when your habits, behavior, and mood change. Cats have a great sense of smell and can notify when hormones change. So, yes, they can tell when a person has a mental illness.

Broken bones

If you break a bone, your body will show how painful it is. Cats could do this by making faces or wincing from the pain. Your cat will notice these clues.

Most of the time, broken bones also make it hard to move. For instance, you will walk much less on a fractured leg than on a healthy one. While you heal, you will probably spend more time resting and will not do any exercise. If you change your routine, your cat notices and knows something is wrong.


It is not clear whether or not cats can smell cancer. But non-scientific evidence suggests that they could. There have been reports of cats finding a part of the body where the tumor was later found. 

According to an article in the Annals of Internal Medicine, cancer might have a smell that cats can pick up on. Polyamines are organic compounds that get more in the body when someone has cancer. These chemical compounds have a strong smell that helps cats find them.

Heart attack

Many people also think cats can tell when someone has a heart attack. This is partly true since they can tell when your body temperature changes. During a heart attack, your body temperature will rise above what it usually is.

Other signs your cat could see if you had a heart attack are shortness of breath and painful facial expressions. They might not know you have a heart attack, but they’ll know you need help.


Diabetes, like cancer, is distinguished by a distinct, sickly-sweet odor caused by an excess of glucose. This aroma does not appeal to cats and may bother them. 

The cat, for example, may sniff you and recoil or flee in disgust. Alternatively, it may begin digging at your clothes to discover the source of the strange odor. If you notice any changes in your behavior, make an appointment with your doctor to have blood tests done. Your cat may be detecting early warning signs of diabetes.


Hypoglycemia is when a person has less glucose (sugar) in their blood than usual. It usually has signs and symptoms like sweating, lethargy, an increase in heart rate, and body tremors.

Cats are very good at picking up on these signs of illness through smell and changes in their bodies. This means that your cat will probably know you are sick if you show signs of hypoglycemia.

Why Do Cats Become Clingy When Their Owner Is Sick? 

A cat’s attachment to its owner is deep and meaningful. Consequently, their furry companions become more attached to and concerned about them when the former becomes ill.

Cats show this behavior by spending extra time with their owners, grooming them, rubbing against them affectionately, and even attempting to entertain them. Some cat owners find their feline’s clinginess annoying. Still, for others, it is a tremendous source of comfort and strength as they battle an illness.

Unfortunately, cats develop a disturbing tendency to act similarly to their ailing owners. Your cat may adopt your feelings of depression, apathy, and loneliness if you experience any of these conditions yourself.

Due to this, many people who are sick will put on a happy face around their cat. Ask a loved one to care for the cat while you rest and get better if you are too sick to handle it yourself. If your cat seems depressed, do not think twice about taking them to the vet.

Do Cats Know When You Are Sick: FAQs

Here are some answers to the most common questions people ask about cats knowing when their owners are sick.

Do cats know when you are sick or sad?

Because of their keen smell, cats can detect when their owners are ill. It enables them to identify chemical and hormonal changes in their owners’ bodies. When people become sick, their hormonal background changes, and their bodies acquire new scents.

Why is my cat following me everywhere all of a sudden?

When their owners are sick, cats will sometimes follow them. This is usually because your cat wants you to protect him or because he feels reliant on you for his safety, like for his food. Another reason may be your cat is sick or under excessive stress; it may show more intense body language than usual.

Why do cats sit on your chest healing?

Suppose your cat is lying on your chest for no apparent reason. In that case, it may indicate that your cats are anxious or that something is wrong with them internally. If they climb up to your chest, wrap their arms around you while gently patting their heads to calm them down.

What do cats do when you are sick?

Cats are empathetic creatures and can read human emotions by looking at them. Analysis of psychological and physiological indicators can determine whether or not a person is experiencing discomfort. Such behaviors include flinching, grimacing, moaning, limping, breathing heavily, and fidgeting in bed.

Do cats worry about their owners?

Yes, cats get close and worry about their owners like dogs. You are more to your cat than just a food source. A study shows that cats also look to their owners for comfort and safety. Cats are often considered cold and distant, even by those who love them the most. Simply put, cats love their families, and their families also love them.

So, to answer the question, yes. Cats do know when you’re sick. They might not be able to diagnose your illness, but they will act more clingy and display their affection towards you. If you have a cat, then definitely pay attention to how your kitty reacts to you when you are sick. You might be surprised!

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