Do Cats Know A Bad Person?

Cats have long been regarded as mysterious creatures with a “sixth sense” for danger and the supernatural. Their keen senses and intuitive nature have led many cat owners to wonder – can cats tell if someone is a bad person? It’s a fascinating question that reveals the complex social skills and threat perception abilities of felines.

This article will examine the evidence behind cats’ character judgements. We’ll explore whether science supports the idea that cats can identify good and bad people through sight, smell and body language cues. While anecdotal stories may point to certain abilities, controlled studies are needed to truly understand if and how cats discern human morality and intent. The bond between cats and their owners can also sway perceptions.

By the end, you’ll have a more nuanced view of cats’ capacity to differentiate between good and bad people. While conclusive proof may be lacking, understanding cats’ threat response systems can still help owners foster positive relationships with their intuitive felines.

Can Cats Sense Emotions?

Studies have shown that cats can sense human emotions and respond to emotional cues. For example, research from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that cats can read human facial expressions. In the study, cats were shown photographs of human faces expressing different emotions – happiness, anger, sadness, surprise. The cats reacted differently based on the emotion expressed, indicating they could perceive the human feelings (Quaranta et al., 2020

In another study from Current Biology, cats were exposed to audio recordings of humans experiencing positive and negative emotional situations. The cats responded with behavior changes that aligned with the emotions they apparently sensed from the human vocalizations. This suggests cats have the ability to decode human emotional cues through different senses (Saito & Shinozuka, 2013

Overall, scientific research indicates cats can recognize human facial expressions and vocal emotional cues. Their behavior responses show they sense our emotions and moods to some degree.

Do Cats Judge Character?

There are many anecdotal stories of cats seeming to judge a person’s character and show dislike or distrust toward certain individuals. According to a 1991 New York Times article titled “Cats Are Excellent Judges Of Character”, some believe cats have a sixth sense for determining if someone is of good or bad character.

One possible explanation is that cats may be able to pick up on subtle cues and body language that humans miss. Cats have a powerful sense of smell and may detect chemical changes in a person that correlate with emotions. They also have superior hearing and may notice slight changes in tone of voice or breathing patterns. Additionally, cats are very observant and seem to notice small movements and facial expressions that people exhibit when feeling certain emotions.

While cats do not have some supernatural ability to judge morality, their sharp senses allow them to become aware of cues signaling a person’s mood orintentions. If someone feels tense, angry, or potentially threatening, a cat may pick up on this and become wary or unfriendly toward them as a result.

Scientific Research

Recent studies have examined cats’ social cognition abilities and capacity to form bonds with humans. Research has shown that cats can recognize their owner’s voice and distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar people based on scent alone ( One study found that cats reacted more positively when hearing their owner’s voice compared to a stranger’s voice, demonstrating cats’ ability to recognize familiar people.

Additional studies on cats’ social intelligence indicate they are able to socially bond with humans and prefer interacting with humans over food or toys ( When given a choice, cats spent more time with humans who had positively interacted with them previously, suggesting cats can form attachments and remember kind treatment. While more research is still needed, current findings show cats exhibit complex social cognitive abilities in relating to humans.

Cat Body Language Signals

Cats use body language to communicate how they are feeling, including signs of discomfort or aggression towards humans. Some warning signs that a cat is feeling upset or aggressive include:

Ears flattened back against the head – This is a sign that a cat is feeling scared or defensive. The ears flatten to protect them in case of a confrontation.

Arching back – Also called Halloween cat, when a cat arches their back it is a sign they are feeling threatened and are trying to appear larger.

Swishing tail – A swishing tail often signals agitation. A stiff, rapidly moving tail often means a cat is angry.

Hissing or growling – These vocalizations are clear warnings that a cat feels threatened and may lash out.

Bared teeth and flattened ears – A cat exposing its teeth with ears drawn back is a clear sign of aggression, indicating they may bite or scratch.

Swatting or batting – If a cat starts swatting at a person, this indicates they are feeling distressed and want the perceived threat to back away.

Pupils dilated – Dilated pupils can signal fear or agitation, and often occur along with other body language cues.

By learning a cat’s subtle body language cues, owners can better understand when cats are feeling uncomfortable or upset. Paying attention to these warning signs allows people to avoid aggravating the situation.

Creating Positive Associations

There are several techniques you can use to help a cat positively associate you with things they enjoy. Going slowly and letting the cat take the lead is crucial. As stated by the ASPCA, “Our best advice is to move slowly and heed your cat’s body language.”

Some key tips include:

  • Associate yourself with treats and food. Feed or treat the cat in your presence.
  • Play with the cat using toys like feather wands at a distance they are comfortable with. Let them initiate play.
  • Sit quietly near the cat and let it come to you. Avoid direct eye contact or touching to start.
  • Pet the cat gently if it rubs on you, but stop if it pulls away.
  • Put catnip or treats on toys you play with together.
  • Use calming pheromones to reduce stress.
  • Give the cat space and don’t force interactions.

With time and persistence, being patient and letting the cat set the pace, you can build positive associations using rewards, play, and respecting their needs. But some cats may take longer than others based on their personality and history.


When to Be Concerned

While it’s normal for cats to be cautious around new people or situations, there are some signs that may indicate a deeper issue in the cat-human relationship that needs attention:

Signs of real issue versus normal wariness:

  • Hissing, growling, or swatting at a person every time they get near (not just occasionally)
  • Urinating or defecating outside the litter box when the person is present
  • Excessive hiding whenever the person is around
  • Refusing food or treats from a specific person
  • Dilated pupils, flatted ears, arched back around one person consistently (more than just initial reaction)

On the other hand, it’s normal for a cat to be shy or hesitant when:

  • Meeting someone new
  • A person makes sudden movements or loud noises
  • Being petted in a sensitive area
  • A child or baby wants to constantly pick up or chase the cat

Consulting a vet or behaviorist if problems persist:

If a cat continues exhibiting fearful or aggressive behavior toward a particular person over an extended period of time, it’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian or a professional animal behaviorist. They can help determine if there’s an underlying medical issue causing the behavior, or if behavioral therapy and training can help improve the relationship.

With professional guidance, many cat-human relationships can be repaired through gradual positive reinforcement training and creating positive associations between the cat and person. However, the process takes time and patience. If the cat shows no improvement or signs of distress, further veterinary intervention may be needed.

Fostering Healthy Relationships

It’s important to foster healthy, respectful relationships with cats by understanding and respecting their preferences and boundaries. Cats feel more secure when their preferences are supported, such as providing them with vertical space to climb and perches to observe their surroundings. Respect a cat’s boundaries by not forcing interactions if they hiss or swat. Let them approach you instead. Build trust through consistent, positive caretaking such as feeding, grooming, and providing proper medical care. Playing with interactive toys is another great way to strengthen your bond through positive associations.

According to Psychology Today, research shows that “respecting cats’ autonomy and recognizing their sensitivities is key to a good cat-owner relationship.” Things like picking up a cat when they don’t want to be held or petting them excessively against their will can harm the relationship. It’s important to learn a cat’s subtle cues and body language to understand their boundaries.

The Limitations of Anecdotal Evidence

While anecdotes and stories can provide interesting insights, it’s important to recognize the limitations of relying solely on anecdotal evidence when evaluating whether cats can detect “bad” people. Anecdotal evidence lacks the scientific rigor and unbiased methodology of formal research studies.

Specifically, anecdotal evidence tends to rely on assumptions, selective memories, and confirmation bias. When a cat hisses at someone who later turns out to be “bad,” we remember that story and assume the cat detected that person’s negative character. But we rarely take note of the numerous times a cat hisses at someone perfectly friendly. Without systematic documentation, our brains tend to latch onto memories that confirm our preexisting beliefs.

As one scientific review noted, “Anecdotes have limited use in judging the effectiveness of health interventions” ( Rather than isolated stories, we need controlled experiments, statistically significant data, and peer-reviewed research to draw robust conclusions about cats’ abilities.

While anecdotes can provide useful hints for further research, evidence-based science remains necessary to truly understand the relationship between cats and human character.


In summary, while cats may not be able to judge a person’s character in the same way humans can, they do seem to have some ability to sense human emotions and form preferences for certain people over others through positive associations. However, the evidence is largely anecdotal, and scientific research on cats’ ability to judge character is limited. More controlled studies are needed to fully understand how cats form bonds and attachments to humans.

The key takeaways for cat owners are: be aware of your cat’s body language as this can provide insight into their perceptions of people; take steps to create positive experiences between new people and your cat to build trust; and pay attention if your cat shows signs of distress around certain individuals. However, don’t jump to conclusions based solely on your cat’s reactions.

In the end, while cat perception shouldn’t be discounted entirely, it has limits. Cats can detect basic emotions and form preferences, but likely do not make calculated judgments about a person’s character. The most reliable way to assess someone’s character is still through human observation and interaction.

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