Can Your Cat Sense That You’Re Sick?

It was late one night when Cathy was startled awake by her cat Henry insistently pawing at her chest. At first she pushed him away, annoyed by the disruption. But Henry persisted, seeming agitated as he continued pawing and nudging the same spot on her left breast. Perplexed, Cathy examined the area and felt a small lump – one she had not noticed before. A visit to the doctor the next day revealed it was breast cancer, caught early thanks to Henry’s strange behavior. Cathy credits her beloved cat with saving her life.

Many cat owners have similar anecdotes of their intuitive feline friends detecting illness and injury. But is it all just coincidence and wishful thinking? Or can cats actually sense when their human companions are unwell? This article will examine the evidence that cats can detect human illness, discuss possible explanations, describe warning signs to watch for, and provide recommendations for caring for your sick cat and knowing when to involve a vet.

We will analyze scientific studies on feline senses and behavior, look at real-life examples, and present perspectives from veterinarians and animal behavior experts. The powerful bond between cats and their humans may allow these sensitive creatures to pick up on subtle physical and emotional cues indicating health problems. While cats should not replace human diagnostic skills, understanding their capabilities can lead to earlier medical interventions and better health outcomes.

Evidence of Ability

There is some evidence that cats may be able to detect certain illnesses in humans. A few studies have suggested cats can identify diseases like cancer or diabetes by smelling subtle chemical changes in the body:

A 2020 study published in PLOS ONE trained cats to discriminate between urine samples from healthy people and those with diabetes. The cats were able to correctly identify the diabetes samples 64-76% of the time.

In another study, dogs trained to detect skin cancer correctly identified melanoma samples 88% of the time. The researchers believed cats may have similar capabilities (ABC News).

There are also many anecdotal reports of cats detecting illnesses like cancer in their owners before a formal diagnosis. For example, some cats have persistently sniffed at or laid on parts of the body where tumors were later discovered (Scientific American).

While more research is still needed, these examples suggest cats may sometimes recognize diseases through smell before symptoms become apparent to humans.

Possible Explanations

There are a few key reasons cats may be able to detect illness in humans:

Cats have a far superior sense of smell compared to humans. Their sense of smell is estimated to be 14 times better than humans. This allows them to detect even minute changes in odors that humans would never notice. When disease strikes, subtle changes occur in the body, including chemical changes. Cats may potentially smell these chemical variations caused by the illness.

Research has shown that cats can detect extremely diluted concentrations of certain hormones, pheromones, and neurotransmitters. Some illnesses are known to cause hormonal or neurotransmitter changes early on. Cats may be capable of smelling these slight hormonal shifts when humans fall sick. This could allow cats to identify the onset of disease even before major symptoms appear.

Overall, cats’ enhanced olfactory capabilities compared to humans, paired with an ability to detect even small chemical and hormonal changes, allows them to potentially sense illness in humans before noticeable symptoms arise.

Warning Signs

When a cat senses that their owner is unwell, they often exhibit behavioral changes in an attempt to get attention and comfort them. According to, cats may change their typical sleep patterns to be closer to their sick owner. They also frequently check on the owner and meow more insistently for attention. A cat’s appetite may also be impacted when they detect illness in their human. They often eat less, potentially because they are stressed or want to remain near the owner.

Cats are very routine-oriented animals, so significant changes like altered sleep schedules or eating less are indicative of their perception that something is wrong with their human. Cats likely recognize sickness-related behaviors and symptoms in people that prompt them to provide attentive care. Their strong desire for closeness and physical touch when an owner is unwell demonstrates their nurturing instincts.


Cats are very perceptive creatures. If your cat starts acting differently around you when you are sick, pay close attention to those unusual behaviors. Your cat may be trying to alert you that something is not right with your health. According to the AVMA, cats are adept at sensing physiological changes in humans. Some common warning signs include a cat frequently checking on you, meowing more than usual, or laying on or near you more often. If your cat seems distressed or fixated on you being sick, it’s a good idea to see your doctor. Your cat’s instincts about your health should not be ignored.

For more tips on caring for your cat and assessing your own health, check out the AAHA guidelines on preventive healthcare for cats at


While there are many anecdotal reports of cats appearing to detect illness in their owners, these alone do not conclusively prove that cats have an ability to reliably sense sickness. More controlled scientific research is still needed to understand the potential mechanisms behind this perceived phenomenon. It’s important to note that a cat exhibiting unusual behavior around its owner is not a definitive diagnostic tool and should not replace seeking medical assessment and diagnosis from a qualified healthcare professional if symptoms of illness are present.

Bond with Your Cat

Building a strong bond with your cat is the best way to understand its normal behavior and notice when something is off. Cats thrive on routine, so establish regular play sessions, petting times, and treat giving to strengthen your connection.

Set aside 10-15 minutes twice a day for interactive play with toys like wand toys or laser pointers. This mimics natural hunting behaviors and allows your cat to expel pent-up energy. Finish each play session by petting or brushing your cat when it seems most relaxed.

Get in the habit of giving treats, like pieces of cooked chicken or fish, when your cat responds to its name or interacts with you positively. Treats help reinforce desired behaviors.

Over time, you’ll get to know your individual cat’s personality – for example, whether it prefers to initiate cuddles or not. Pay attention to subtle changes in behavior outside your cat’s normal patterns. A cat that suddenly withdraws or acts needier may be showing signs of illness. Familiarize yourself with common signs of illness in cats.

Strengthening your daily connection through play, petting, and treats builds trust with your cat. This helps you detect any abnormalities early on and in a subtle way.

When to See a Vet

There are certain signs that indicate your cat requires an urgent vet visit. Dramatic behavior changes like aggression, reclusive behavior, or vocalizing pain are red flags. Persistent signals of distress such as reduced appetite, lethargy, vomiting, and litter box issues also warrant a vet trip. Other concerning signs of illness include skin problems, weight loss or gain, balance issues, breathing trouble, and diarrhea. While many problems can be treated at home, a vet should evaluate any persistent or worsening symptoms in your cat.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, you should take your cat to the vet at least once yearly for a wellness exam and vaccinations. Kittens need more frequent vet checks for boosters and spay/neuter surgery. As cats age, twice-yearly senior wellness exams help monitor health. Seek immediate vet care if your cat has trouble breathing, severe vomiting/diarrhea, seizures, or trauma from an accident or fight. While judging the severity of symptoms is tricky, err on the side of caution if your cat seems ill.

Caring for a Sick Cat

When your cat is sick, adjusting their care and environment is crucial for supporting their recovery. Make sure your cat has easy access to food, water, and litter. Feed small, frequent meals of high-calorie, easily digestible food like chicken, tuna, or pilchards. Warming the food to body temperature can increase palatability for a sick cat. Provide fresh, clean water at all times, and place litter boxes in easy to access areas. Give any medications prescribed by your veterinarian as directed. Carefully monitor your cat’s symptoms and note any changes to update your vet. Keep them in a calm, quiet space away from commotion or high traffic areas. With attentive at-home care and close monitoring, many cats can recover comfortably from illness without hospitalization.



In summary, there is evidence that cats may be able to detect when their human companions are sick or not feeling well through their impressive senses of smell, sight, hearing, and intuition.

While cats seem to be able to tell when something is “off,” they cannot diagnose specific illnesses or conditions. Any behavior changes in your cat related to your health likely stem from picking up on cues that something is different, not an understanding of what is actually wrong.

More scientific research is still needed to better understand the full extent and reliability of cats’ ability to detect human illness. But many cat owners have experienced the uncanny perceptiveness of their feline friends firsthand.

Whatever a cat’s actual ability, strengthening your bond with your cat and paying attention to any unusual behavior can still be beneficial. Always consult a veterinarian for any concerning health symptoms in either you or your cat.

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