Do Cats Know When You’re Crying? The Surprising Truth


Cats and humans have shared a special connection for thousands of years. As pet owners, we form close bonds with our feline companions. An interesting question arises – can cats actually detect our emotions and tell when we’re crying? This article will examine cats’ sensory abilities, capacity to read human emotional cues, documented experiences, and scientific research on the topic. The evidence suggests cats do seem capable of detecting human emotions, including sadness and crying, through sound, scent, body language, and other subtle signs.

Cats’ Senses

Cats have extremely heightened senses compared to humans. Their sense of smell in particular is highly developed. Cats have more than 200 million odor sensors in their noses, while humans only have about 5 million ( This means a cat’s sense of smell is roughly 14 times better than a human’s. They use their powerful sense of smell to identify other cats, people, and food. Their sense of smell also enables them to detect illness in other cats or people.

In addition to their amazing sense of smell, cats also have excellent hearing. They can hear frequencies up to 64 kHz, while humans can only hear up to 20 kHz ( This allows cats to hear high-pitched sounds that humans can’t detect. Their mobile outer ears and precise ear movement help cats detect and locate the source of sounds. This heightened sense of hearing aids cats in hunting.

Cats also have superior vision to humans. They have a wider field of vision and better night vision. Cats can see in light that is 6 times dimmer than humans need to see. They also have a third eyelid called a nictitating membrane that protects their eyes while allowing vision. Their slit-shaped pupils help filter extra light and sharpen focus. All of these visual adaptations help cats be effective hunters.

Cats’ Ability to Detect Emotions

Cats have a remarkable ability to detect human emotions through various cues like senses, body language, and facial expressions. Their powerful sense of smell allows them to pick up on pheromones and hormones released when humans experience different emotional states. Cats can detect the scent of tears, which may prompt them to comfort sad or crying owners.

In addition to their nose, cats rely on excellent vision and hearing to interpret human emotional cues. Research shows cats watch for visual cues like body posture, limb movements, and facial expressions to understand how their owners are feeling (Quaranta et al., 2020). Their hearing picks up on audible emotional cues like tone of voice, cries, or yelling. With their fine-tuned senses, cats notice subtle changes in human behavior and mood.

Cats especially seem adept at recognizing when humans are experiencing negative emotions like sadness, anxiety, or fear. Some experts believe this is an adaptive behavior, as responding to human distress creates bonds between cats and their owners.

Human Emotional Cues

Humans display emotional cues through various forms of verbal and non-verbal communication that cats can potentially pick up on. These include:

Vocal cues: Humans convey emotions through the tone, pitch, volume, and patterns of their voice. When feeling sad or crying, humans often have a shaky, uneven tone and make sobbing sounds. Cats may recognize these vocal patterns as signs of distress. (

Facial expressions: Humans show emotions on their faces, like frowning, smiling, or furrowed brows. Cats frequently focus on human facial cues and may learn to associate certain expressions with particular emotional states.

Body language: Posture, gestures, and movements can reflect human moods. For example, someone feeling downcast may have slumped shoulders or move more slowly. A cat may pick up on subtle shifts in their human’s typical body language.

Crying behaviors: Visible tears and sobbing gestures are human emotional signals. The act of crying often accompanies feelings of sadness, grief, or pain. Cats respond to human weeping, though may not fully understand the complex causes behind it.

Energy level: Humans can project their internal feelings outward through their general activity level. Anxiety, stress, or anger might make someone seem more agitated. While calmness or fatigue can lower energy. Cats notice these energy shifts during interactions with their owners.

Why Cats Respond

There are several theories as to why cats try to comfort crying humans. One theory is that it is part of their protective instinct. As solitary hunters, cats are hardwired to be alert to potential threats. When a human cries, the cat may interpret it as a sign of distress or danger, prompting them to take action to protect and reassure their bonded human (1).

Another possibility is that cats have learned to associate crying with wanting comfort. Cats are intelligent animals capable of making connections and learning through observation. If a cat notices that their human seeks affection or reassurance when crying, they may replicate comforting behaviors in response to tears (2).

Additionally, crying and other displays of human emotion release pheromones and vocal cues that cats can detect with their heightened senses. They may investigate or attempt to intervene as a reaction to these stimuli communicating sadness or anxiety (3).

Overall, experts believe cats respond to human tears due to their capacity for social bonding, ability to recognize emotions, learned associations, and innate drive to protect. Their attentiveness and attempts to console appear to arise from empathy and concern for their human companion.




Anecdotal Experiences

Many cat owners have reported that their cats seem to notice and react when they are crying. For example, one Reddit user shared a story about how their cat came over to comfort them when they were crying after a bad day (source). The cat jumped up on their lap and started purring and nuzzling against them in an apparent attempt to soothe them. Another cat owner reported a similar experience, saying their cat ran over when they started crying due to feeling stressed and overwhelmed. The cat rubbed against them while meowing softly, as if trying to provide reassurance (source). These anecdotal reports suggest cats may pick up on human emotional cues like crying and try to offer comfort in their own way.

Scientific Research

Several scientific studies have examined whether cats can detect human emotions. A 2020 study published in PMC reviewed existing research and found evidence that cats are sensitive to human emotional signals, though not as much as dogs. The study highlighted research showing cats respond differently to positive versus negative human emotions.

Another 2023 study published in Nature looked specifically at whether cats can detect human crying. The researchers had cat owners cry in front of their pets. They found the cats responded with social support behaviors, such as approaching their crying owner, meowing, and rubbing against them. This suggests cats can perceive human crying and attempt to comfort their distressed owner.

While more research is still needed, these studies demonstrate cats do seem capable of detecting human emotions like sadness and distress through behavioral cues like crying. Their comforting behaviors show they understand the emotion behind the cues.

Cat Behavior Changes

Cats often exhibit changes in behavior when their human companions are experiencing emotions like sadness or anxiety. Some common ways cats may alter their behavior include:

Cuddling: Cats are known to be independent, but they can become more affectionate and want to cuddle or sit on your lap when you are sad. The warmth and contact from a cat can be comforting. Research shows that when humans cry, some cats will come over and rub against them or lay next to them.

Meowing: Cats who are usually quiet may meow more frequently when they sense you are upset. Some cats respond to human tears and crying with increased vocalizations, as if asking what is wrong or trying to comfort the person.

Purring: A cat’s purr can have a calming effect on humans. Cats may purr more often or loudly as a response to human stress, sadness or anxiety, as if trying to soothe their human companion during emotionally difficult times.

Attention-seeking: Cats who pay little attention at times may suddenly become more attentive and affectionate. They may follow you from room to room or want to sit near you. Some cats respond to human emotions by being more clingy.

Grooming: Some cats may try to groom you with licks as a nurturing response when you are sad. They exhibit social grooming behavior just as they would groom another cat.

Cats can pick up on cues like crying, tone of voice, body language, or changes in human behavior routines and respond differently as a result. Their own behaviors are a reflection of their bond with and sensitivity to their human’s emotional state.

Caring for Cats

Cats can be very sensitive to human emotions, so it’s important for cat owners to be aware of this and provide extra care when needed. Here are some tips for caring for cats that seem affected by your moods or anxiety:

Give them plenty of affection. Petting, cuddling, brushing, and playing with your cat can help reassure them when you’re stressed or upset. The contact and positive interaction can help calm both you and your cat.

Create a predictable routine and safe spaces. Cats feel more secure with consistent schedules and places they can retreat to like cat trees, hiding spots, and high perches. This can help if they seem unsettled by changes in your emotional state.

Use calming supplements or pheromones. Products like Feliway diffusers or calming treats/chews can help reduce anxiety in cats. Talk to your vet about options to try if your cat seems extremely distressed.

Consider anxiety medication. For cats that react strongly to emotions like depression or anxiety, medications may be prescribed by a vet. This can help minimize the effects on your cat.

Give them activities. Puzzle feeders, toys that dispense treats, catnip, and playtime can all help distract an upset cat and engage their natural behaviors.

Make vet visits if needed. If your cat displays signs of stress like inappropriate urination, aggression, or reclusiveness, talk to your vet to rule out medical issues. Your emotions may be affecting your cat’s health.

With some extra care and understanding, you can help minimize the impact your moods have on your sensitive feline friend. Pay attention to their behaviors so you can provide the support they need.


In summary, cats do appear to have the ability to detect human emotional cues and respond to them. Their advanced senses allow them to pick up on visual, auditory, and olfactory signals that may indicate sadness, anger, or distress. While the scientific research is still limited, many cat owners have anecdotal experiences of their cats behaving differently when they are crying as opposed to when they are happy.

Cats may comfort crying owners by purring, rubbing against them, or sitting on their lap. They also tend to become more alert and cautious when sensing negative emotions. It’s clear that cats are highly intuitive creatures who can perceive human emotional states, likely as an adaptive mechanism to feel safe and secure with their owners.

Though more research is needed, the evidence so far indicates cats can tell when you’re crying or experiencing other intense emotions. Their emotional intelligence and empathy help strengthen the special bond between cats and their human companions.

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