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Home > Cats > Do Cats Know When You’re Sick? Interesting Facts & FAQ

Do Cats Know When You’re Sick? Interesting Facts & FAQ

cat waking up his owner

Have you ever noticed how, when you’re a bit (or a lot) under the weather, your cat seems to be magnetically drawn to you? You may have fancifully imagined that your beloved cat realized that you were sick and was trying to comfort you. Could there be some truth to that imagining? Does your cat know when you’re sick, or is there another reason for your kitty’s leech-like behavior when you’re ailing?

Interestingly, the answer is yes, cats can sense when you’re feeling under the weather, for both of these reasons. Cats’ amazing olfactory system can be credited for their seemingly prophetic insight. As for the clinginess, well, that probably stems from a desire for self-comfort. Read on to understand more about what this means.


Superb Sense of Smell

Cats’ extraordinarily sensitive olfactory receptors allow them to pick up on so much more than humans can. Although not as highly developed as a dog’s, a cat’s sense of smell is approximately 14 times better than a human’s1. They can actually smell the hormone changes that take place when a person is sick. There is no doubt they’re aware when you are not in a state of normal wellness because they can smell the chemical changes that your body is emitting.

Keen Observation

Cats are able to interpret the observable changes in your habits or routine that accompany a period of illness in the same way that humans can. They can sense a change in your mood which, when coupled with a change in your routine, may signal to them that something is not right.

Cats are also able to read your body language and facial expressions in much the same way that we read those of each other, and of our pets.

Many of us are convinced that certain demonstrations of clinginess or “chattiness” on the part of our cat are an acknowledgement that they have noticed a subtle change in us. Of course, not all cats show these or other signs of acknowledgement. It is, therefore, difficult to know for sure whether all cats can make or even interpret their observations, making much of our current understanding and conclusions anecdotal.

Cat welcomes his owner at home
Image By: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

So, Why the Clinginess?

Why is it that one of cats’ responses to us being sick is to smother us at every opportunity?  On the one hand, since you’re feeling a bit low and sorry for yourself, you may find this comforting. But, on the other hand, as you’re already uncomfortable and irritable, the clinginess can be frustrating. Are they really trying to comfort you, or could there be another reason for this behavior?

Well, it might be a bit of both. You are your kitty’s special human and it could be that they are unhappy that you’re unhappy and trying to remedy that by showing you affection. Another explanation is that they’re more drawn to you than usual due to the additional heat you emit when you have a fever. You’re like a giant hot water bottle, and we know how alluring that can be to even the most aloof kitty cat!

Do Cats Know You’re Sick Before You Do?

One of the things we love about cats is their aura of mysterious superiority. As devoted kitty owners, many of us suspect that our cats may have insights that we do not. But do these presumed insights enable them to predict impending illness?

This question needs to be broken down to be more accurately addressed. Firstly, do cats know about an undiagnosed but developing illness before you do? Secondly, can cats possibly predict an illness in your future while you are still healthy?

The answer to the first question is almost certainly yes. Before you exhibit outward physical symptoms of illness, there are almost always hormonal and chemical changes taking place while the illness is developing. A cat’s heightened sense of smell enables it to pick up on these changes when you still cannot. That might explain why the day after your cat is smothering you with love and affection, you suddenly find yourself bedridden with the flu! It already knew what you did not—that you were getting sick.

As for the second question, the answer is probably not. The odds are against cats being able to predict the future in this manner. There are many instances of reports where people have believed that a cat predicted illness, or even death, in a seemingly healthy individual. However, the most likely explanation is that the person was already ill, even though no one knew or suspected. The cat had simply sensed those physiological changes through its heightened sense of smell.

cat and owner in bed
Image By: Billion Photos, Shutterstock

Can Cats Sense That You’re Depressed?

Depression in humans is a medical condition just like any other illness, and presents associated hormonal and chemical changes, as well as altered moods and behaviors. For this reason, just as cats can detect these changes in any other “physical” ailment, they can pick them up in a person who is suffering from depression.

Your kitty can sense when you are sad or having a tough time in life, and often will even try and comfort you. There are many anecdotal reports of cats seemingly just “knowing” which human in a room needs to be loved, and going to sit on their lap.

Can Cats Detect Cancer in Humans?

Reports of cats detecting cancer in humans are, once again, anecdotal. No formal studies have been conducted to conclusively prove or disprove this. Certainly, these studies would be challenging to conduct.

However, one could logically conclude, given the extra-sensory benefits possessed by cats, that they could probably pick up the sickness in a human before that person realized they were ill themself. It’s easy to see how cats may have gained a reputation for being able to detect cancer, viewed in this light.



Although your kitty may not be psychic, it certainly has access to senses that, at least to us, seem supernatural. Cats can certainly detect illness in humans and one another before obvious symptoms manifest.

So next time your kitty won’t leave you alone, it may be a good idea to take heed and load up on the Vitamin C and Echinacea, just in case!

Featured Image Credit: Kasefoto, Shutterstock

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