Are Cats Attracted To People With Depression?

It’s no secret that pets provide comfort, companionship, and unconditional love. But could our feline friends actually help manage depression? A survey by the American Psychiatric Association found that 86% of pet owners said their pets have a mostly positive impact on their mental health. Specifically, cat owners were just as likely as dog owners (87%) to report mental health benefits. With more and more people experiencing depression and anxiety, understanding the science behind the human-cat bond has important implications.

The Link Between Cats and Depression

There is evidence that cats are often attracted to and try to comfort people who are experiencing depression. A few studies have shown that cats are able to distinguish between different human emotional states such as happiness and anxiety [1]. It’s believed that cats use visual and auditory cues to pick up on sadness and depression in humans.

Some key observations about cats sensing and responding to human depression include:

  • Cats often come to sit near or on the laps of people experiencing depressive episodes.
  • They may rub against or bump their heads on the person repeatedly as a comforting gesture.
  • Purring and kneading are common cat behaviors to try to soothe their depressed owner.
  • Cats tend to be very persistent about getting attention and interacting with the depressed individual.

While the exact mechanisms are unknown, cats likely pick up on subtle body language, changes in tone of voice, alterations in pheromones, and other sensory inputs to determine when a person is feeling sad or depressed. Their nurturing instincts motivate them to provide support and comfort during these difficult times [2].

Theories Behind This Connection

One theory is that pheromones released when people are depressed may attract cats. Pheromones are chemicals that animals release that can impact the behavior or physiology of others. There is some research showing that depressed individuals give off different pheromones that cats may be able to detect.

According to a study published in PMC, pheromones given off by those experiencing depression may attract cats who want to provide comfort and companionship. The study suggests cats can potentially sense when someone is feeling down and are drawn to them in an effort to make them feel better.

However, more research is still needed to fully confirm if pheromones are the reason for this connection between cats and depression. But it remains a compelling theory that cats can pick up on human emotions and behaviors using their advanced senses.

Cats Can Sense Human Emotions

It’s well established that cats have a keen ability to sense human emotions. Cats pick up on subtle cues such as facial expressions, body language, pheromones, and tones of voice to determine how their human counterparts are feeling (Basepaws, 2022). For example, cats may recognize when a human is experiencing sadness, anger, or fear through visual and auditory signals. Their powerful sense of smell also enables them to detect physiological changes caused by shifts in mood or heightened emotions.

Research indicates that cats are especially attuned to their owners and can discriminate between positive and negative emotional states. There are a few theories as to how cats developed this emotional intelligence. One is that reading human emotions helped cats better survive and thrive while domesticating with humans over thousands of years. Another is that the ability stems from cats’ innate tendency toward attachment and social bonding.

While the precise mechanisms are unknown, it’s clear that cats demonstrate an impressive capacity to pick up on human feelings. Their awareness and sensitivity to our emotions is likely why so many cat owners feel their pets provide comfort and companionship during difficult times.

Cats Provide Companionship

One of the main symptoms of depression is feeling lonely and isolated. Human contact and companionship can help alleviate these feelings. As pets, cats can provide the companionship that depressed people often lack. Cats are known for being independent, but they also enjoy spending time with their owners. According to research from Zoivane Pets, interacting with pets has been shown to help with loneliness and depression by providing comfort through companionship.

Having a cat around means always having a friend, even if you live alone. Cats often follow their owners around the house and like to cuddle up next to them when they settle down. This constant companionship and physical affection from a cat can help depressed individuals feel less lonely. The soothing presence of a purring cat nearby can provide a sense of comfort and security. Just having a living being in the home and spending time together such as during playtime, petting, or feeding can make a real difference for someone dealing with depression.

Cats Don’t Judge

One of the key reasons cats can help people with depression is that they provide unconditional support and companionship without any judgement. Cats don’t care about superficial things like how someone looks or dresses. They show affection purely based on how they are treated in return.

For individuals struggling with low self-esteem or dark thoughts, this non-judgemental companion can be very comforting. The cat provides a safe space for them to open up and be themselves, without fear of criticism. Just having a cat nearby purring or rubbing against their owner can relieve anxiety and make depressive thoughts more manageable.

Cats are very sensitive and seem to notice when their owner is feeling down. Unlike humans, cats won’t try to give unsolicited advice or tell someone to “cheer up.” They simply provide soothing support through their presence and physical affection. This unconditional acceptance and lack of judgement is therapeutic for many people dealing with depression.

Cats Can Help Manage Symptoms

Research has shown that petting and interacting with cats can release oxytocin, a hormone associated with improving mood and reducing stress and anxiety in humans. According to studies, oxytocin is produced when owners pet, cuddle, and play with their cats.

In one study from the University of Missouri-Columbia, oxytocin levels in cat owners rose by an average of 23% after a 10-minute play session with their cats. The increase in oxytocin helped improve participants’ mood and decrease negative feelings.[1]

The release of oxytocin from petting and interacting with cats may also have calming effects that can help manage symptoms like stress, anxiety, and depression in some individuals. The companionship and emotional support cats provide can further alleviate loneliness and isolation associated with mental health conditions.[2]

While more research is still needed, the available evidence indicates that cat ownership and cat-human interactions can help increase oxytocin levels and provide mood-boosting benefits that may aid in managing certain mental health symptoms.

Anecdotal Evidence

There are many stories of depressed people who have reported feeling calmer and more at ease around cats. One article on NAMI shares the personal account of a woman named Jessica who struggled with severe depression and anxiety. She decided to adopt a cat named Binx, and found that having him around helped soothe her anxious mind and provided companionship during her hardest days [1].

Similarly, in a Rover article, a college student named Claire recounts how her two cats helped her tremendously when she was experiencing depression. She reported that her cats could sense when she was feeling down and would come cuddle with her to provide comfort. Their steady purring helped relax her [2].

These stories demonstrate how the presence of cats has emotionally supported people struggling with depression. The companionship and affection cats provide can make a real difference in uplifting someone’s mood and easing feelings of loneliness or isolation.

Other Explanations

While there appears to be a correlation between cat bites/scratches and depression, it’s important to note that correlation does not equal causation. There are likely other factors involved that contribute to this connection.

For example, people with depression may be more likely to isolate themselves and turn to pets like cats for comfort and companionship. Spending more time with cats naturally increases the chances of getting bitten or scratched. Additionally, symptoms of depression like fatigue and apathy can make people less attentive to their cats’ body language and warning signs before biting or scratching.

There are also concerns about the directionality of the correlation. Depressed individuals may be more likely to acquire cats in the first place. And pre-existing mental health conditions could make people more susceptible to diseases linked to cat scratches, like toxoplasmosis.

More research is needed to understand the complex interplay of factors. But it’s unlikely that cat bites or scratches single-handedly cause depression. The relationship is probably bidirectional and involves mental health status influencing behaviors that lead to increased cat injuries.


In summary, there seems to be some evidence that cats are attracted to people with depression or other mental health issues. Some theories suggest cats can sense the emotions and energy levels of their owners, so may be more inclined to comfort those feeling sadness or distress. Having a cat can provide companionship and give people routine and purpose which may help counteract some depression symptoms. Cats are independent and seem to judgement free, which may appeal to some who feel socially anxious or isolated. The anecdotal reports of cats flocking to depressed individuals are intriguing but more controlled research would be needed to determine if there’s a real correlation. While cats may help some people feel less depressed, they should not be considered a treatment for clinical depression. Having a pet can enhance wellbeing but mental health issues should always be discussed with a doctor or therapist.

More research is still needed to understand if cats are truly sensitive to human mental states, or if other factors explain their attachment to depressed owners. Since depression has physical symptoms that cats may detect, like lethargy and changes in appetite, some scientists suspect simpler explanations for the apparent cat-depression bond. Controlled experiments specifically looking at cats’ responses to depressed and non-depressed individuals would help shed light on this interesting phenomenon.

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