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Do Cats Know When You Are Sick And How They Show This?

Do Cats Know When You Are Sick And How They Show This?

Only people who have never owned a cat still believe that this is an aloof animal, uninterested in people.

It’s true that most cats are independent and even capable of living alone. However, once they get bonded with their people they become loyal to them for the rest of their lives.

If you observe your cat, you’ll easily notice that it senses you taking care of it. In its own way, it’s thankful to you. It could show you this by jumping into your lap or rubbing against you.

It’s believed that felines are also very intuitive. But, are they really capable of recognizing their owners’ emotions? Do cats know when you are sick?

Let’s delve into whether your feline friend can detect your illness.

Does Your Cat Know You’re Sick?

cat lying next to a sick woman

I still remember noticing this for the first time. I caught some nasty flu and was lying in bed for most of the day. The cough was severe and I had the worst headache you can imagine.

My kitty Piper first began to lie down on the floor next to my bed. Then she got up and cuddled up in a ball near my feet.

Later on, she started licking my nose and rubbing against me. I felt like it was her way to soothe me. Despite my experience in veterinary medicine, there are still some feline behaviors that leave me surprised.

Was this a certain sign that my cat knew I was sick? Most likely, yes. Cats are able to recognize the change in their owners’ mood and attitude.

I’m sure many of you have experienced something similar. It’s truly adorable to have your little furry companion comforting you while you’re sick. But, there are also some people who would like to have some peace until they get better!

Regardless, if you share a deep bond with your cat, there’s a good chance it will exhibit specific behaviors when it senses that you’re not feeling your best.

How Cats Recognize Sickness In Their Humans?

Okay, so, cats can sense something different about you. But, what exactly helps them achieve these?

We all know they can’t use words to communicate with us, but they can still understand some things we say.

For instance, Atsuko Saito and Kazutaka Shinozuka [1] investigated the vocal recognition of owners by domestic cats. 

The results of their study showed that cats recognize their owners’ voices even though they were unable to see them. They showed this recognition by orienting behavior, such as head movement and ear movement.

Many cats will react when you call out their name. Of course, this doesn’t mean cats can understand all the words we use. Therefore, even if you’ve had a conversation with someone about being unwell, there’s no chance your furry friend comprehended the details.

So, how do felines recognize you’re sick? Let’s look at the three explanations for this.

1. Sense Of Smell

woman sneezing next to a cat

When you’re sick, your body goes through certain hormonal and chemical changes. This can cause you to smell different than usual.

The sense of smell is one of the most important things for our feline friends. It’s the basic way that helps them identify their people, objects, and other animals.

Paws Chicago explains how cats have more than 200 million odor sensors in their noses. The fact that we have just 5 million of them can help you understand how sharp a cat’s sense of smell actually is!

Their sense of smell is so sensitive that, thanks to it, your cat will have specific reactions to something from its surroundings. For example, you could notice your cat likes smelling and licking your hands after you’ve just prepared a meal.

Most likely, it feels the scrumbles and the leftovers of the food on your hands and enjoys that nice smell and taste.

When you’re sick, your cat feels your body smell is changed. It could also notice other signs, like you breathing faster than usual.

Your cat is curious about this and wants to get close to you to figure out what’s happening.

2. Your Cat Senses Your Behavior Has Changed

Another important thing about felines is that they’re creatures of habit. Your cat will react to any change in its environment, especially anything related to you. After all, you’re your cat’s favorite human!

Under normal circumstances, you likely spend the majority of your time with your feline friend, engaging in playtime or sharing cozy moments. 

Now it observes you lying in the bed, drinking tea, or eating soup. You probably don’t have energy for anything other than these on the days you’re feeling unwell.

Your kitty senses this change in your behavior. It also misses your routine and your everyday activities.

This is why it’s likely to cuddle up by your side and keep you company in your bed.

3. Your Body Is Warm

ginger cat sitting on sick woman on couch

Since fever is one of the common signs of different types of sickness in humans, chances are that your body will be warm.

This is another change your cat will certainly notice. As Cattitude Daily explains, our domestic cats are a descendant of wild desert cats. These ancestral felines enjoyed warmth during the day, but when night fell, they needed to seek out a cozy spot to survive.

This is a natural instinct that domesticated cats still have today. 

So, there’s no way your cat will ignore your warm body! It will sense it right from the start.

Why Does Your Cat Become Clingy When You’re Sick?

Most cats will show some behaviors upon noticing their owners are sick. Many of them will react to this by becoming more clingy

This happens because my cat just loves me so much, right? Well, there is a chance this is true. Your cat adores you since you’re its provider and protector. Laying close to you and grooming you is its way to comfort you.

But, there’s also a possibility that your cat is feeling more attracted to you when you’re sick. They don’t only seek warmth for survival: Cats also love to be close to anything warm!

So, your cat could also be just enjoying your warm body and the sense of cuddling up close to you.

But, I’ll go with the first option and say that your feline friend is just being supportive of its favorite human companion!

Can Your Cat Recognize You’re Sick Even Before You?

cat and man leaning heads on each other

You could notice your cat becoming more attached to you even before you realized you were sick.

All of a sudden, it started licking you and following you all around. The next morning you get up and notice your throat is sore, and you started sneezing like crazy,

What’s happening? Does this mean cats can predict the future?!

No, not exactly. This one is again about hormonal and chemical changes in our bodies when we’re sick, and about cats’ powerful sense of smell.

Thanks to it, they notice certain changes in our bodies even before we’re aware of them. 

So, your cat isn’t actually foreseeing that you’ll wake up sick the next morning. It’s simply exceptionally intuitive and gifted with an extraordinary sense of smell.

Final Thoughts

Do cats know when you’re sick?

Yes, they do. They are capable of recognizing the change of smell of their owners’ bodies, as well as the shifts in their behavior.

Your cat’s sudden clingy behavior does not have to be related to its mood and emotional condition. It can be about you and your cat’s reaction to your sickness.

What should you do in this situation? Well, nothing much, really. Just enjoy the attention you’re receiving from your cat! Their desire to cuddle and stay close to you isn’t behavior that cat owners tend to witness every day.

As soon as you get better, your cat will return to its standard habits and more aloof behavior.

Another topic you might find interesting to read is about whether cats have souls. Hope to catch you there!


[1] Saito A, Shinozuka K. Vocal recognition of owners by domestic cats (Felis catus). Anim Cogn. 2013 Jul;16(4):685-90. DOI, Retrieved October 10, 2023.