Picture this: You’ve got a nasty cold and are spending time off work in bed. You feel terrible in fact! And as you’re lying there in bed your cat comes and joins you. She won’t seem to leave you around and is acting much more affectionate than normal. Is it possible that cats can tell when you’re sick?
Many owners swear that their cats have a sixth sense that can detect illness in humans. And indeed, it appears to be true! In this article, I share more about the reasons behind this and the changes in your body that your cat can sense happening.
I’ll also share more interesting information on the healing powers of cats – not only can cats tell when you’re sick, but they might help you make a recovery too! Think this sounds interesting? You’d be right, so keep reading for all the information.
Can Cats Tell When You’re Sick?
There has not been much scientific research into whether cats can sense illness in humans. But when asking owners “Do cats know when you’re sick?” the overwhelming majority will say yes. There is one story in particular that proves this point well. And it all starts back in 2007 in a nursing home in Rhode Island with their special cat Oscar.
Oscar was the nursing home’s therapy cat, adopted to help bring joy to the elderly residents. Yet according to medical staff, Oscar could do more than this. He could actually predict the death of residents in the nursing home. Between 2007 and 2010, Oscar correctly predicted the passing of 50 patients in the nursing home, and the medical staff couldn’t quite believe their eyes!
Although this is the most famous example, proof that cats can sense illness happens all the time. If you’re reading this article, chances are you have noticed a shift in your cat’s behavior when you’re sick. So, can cats well when you’re sick? We think yes!
In most cases, cats will respond to sickness with affection. My cat follows me everywhere why I am ill and wants to constantly be my side. In fact, many owners asking “Why is my cat so affectionate all of a sudden?” realize later that they were sick. Our cats have come to comfort us and shower us with love – just what the doctor ordered!
However, it isn’t clear whether cats know we are sick. It is more likely that they can sense changes in our bodies that they are curious about. This causes them to act differently, becoming more affectionate and vocal. Sound confusing? I explain more below!
How Can Cats Sense Illness in Humans?
If cats can indeed detect sickness (whether they are aware of it or not), the next question is “How?”. How can cats sense illness in humans? Do they have a magical sixth sense? Or is there something else going on inside your cat that is letting them know how you’re feeling?
According to experts, the ability of cats to sense illness is no magic trick. It is all down to the immense power of a cat’s senses. This allows them to detect changes in our bodies that humans are not capable of sensing. In particular, cats can sense changes in smell, temperature, and habits.
1. Changes in Smell
The most commonly accepted theory is that cats can sense illness because of their incredible olfactory powers. Indeed, cats have a sense of smell that is 14 times as strong as humans. This means they can pick up on smells that we have never even smelt before and from much further away than is possible for humans to detect.
Although we might not realize it, our scents change when we are sick. This is because illness causes hormonal fluctuations in our bodies. These pass by unnoticed by humans, but thanks to a cat’s powerful sense of smell even the smallest hormonal changes are picked up.
Almost every illness will cause some kind of hormonal shift as your body attempts to recover. However, the change in hormones is more evident in some diseases and conditions than others. Below are some illnesses in humans that directly affect the endocrine system and hormone levels:
- Diabetes is characterized by an underproduction of insulin
- Cushing’s syndrome is caused by high cortisol levels
- Addison’s disease is caused by a lack of hormones from the adrenal gland
- Hyperthyroidism is caused by an overproduction of the hormone thyroid
Another instance where cats sense hormonal changes is when we are pregnant. In pregnancy, estrogen and progesterone levels soar to help prepare the mother for carrying a child. Cats get clingy when you’re pregnant for the same reason – they can sense these hormonal changes and act differently in response.
Now, there is no way of knowing that cats can tell these hormonal changes correlate with sickness. Cats are inquisitive creatures naturally. They are drawn to new smells as they are curious to know what they are. As such, it might not be that cats know that you’re sick, rather just that you smell different from usual.
2. Changes in Body Temperature
Cats can also easily detect changes in body temperature. Think about it, how many times have you been ill and developed a fever? Your skin becomes hot to touch and you’re like a human radiator. Cats will be able to feel this change in body heat.
It is no secret that cats love warmth. My cat loves curling up next to the radiator or in a sunny spot in my home. This is because call cats have a slightly higher core body temperature than humans. So while our home’s thermostat is set to be the perfect temperature for us, cats are always seeking that extra bit of warmth.
This explains why many cats sleep near their sick owners. When I’m sick, my cat sleeps on my chest as this is one of the warmest parts of me. Failing that, my cat sleeps between my legs or somewhere else curled up next to me. Does your cat get in your face while you sleep? If so, it could be that they sense your sickness.
3. Changes in Habits
The third way that cats know when you’re sick is through your change in your habits. Often when we are ill our routines will change. We will spend more time in bed resting. We might also have time off work and consequently spend more time at home. You might enjoy having a relaxing bath when you’re poorly, or perhaps you aren’t eating as much as you usually do.
Now, cats absolutely love routine. They are happiest when their life works like clockwork. They like going to bed at the same time every day and having an established feeding schedule. They also like knowing when you’ll be home and get used to your daily habits. These creatures are much more observant and intelligent than you might think!
Therefore, when you’re sick and your routine changes your cat is the first to spot it. They will know immediately something is up. Why haven’t you got out of bed today? Why have you fed them later than usual? Is everything okay?
These thoughts will again spark curiosity in your cat. My cat keeps meowing when I’m sick, and I’m pretty sure this is why. She’s chatting to me, trying to ask what’s up and why I’m being so lazy today! Again, your cat might not necessarily link these habit changes with sickness, but they’ll know something is up and want to make sure everything is okay.
What Illnesses Can Cats Sense in Humans?
The next question people ask is always the same. Can cats sense all illnesses in humans? Or can they only sense a few? In a nutshell, cats are more likely to sense more severe illnesses than mild ones. For example, a cat is more likely to detect someone nearing death than a person with a common cold.
In the below sections, I look at how cats can sense different types of illness in more detail. This list isn’t exhaustive, it just gives you a good idea of the incredible abilities of our pets!
1. Mental Illness
All mental illnesses are caused by a change of chemicals in the brain. As the brain controls all of our bodily processes, these changes can alter hormone production throughout the rest of the body. The two systems are closely connected, and these hormonal imbalances can, in turn, change the state of the brain as well.
At the same time, people suffering from mental illness tend to behave differently from usual. People who are depressed or suffer from anxiety might spend more time at home. It is common for people to become withdrawn, lack social interaction, and no longer partake in activities they previously enjoyed. Irritability also tends to increase.
Thanks to the close bond you have with your cat, they will be able to sense these changes in your habits, behavior, and mood. With their incredible sense of smell, cats can detect hormonal changes as well. Therefore, they can indeed sense mental illness in humans.
2. Broken Bones
Cats are good at hiding the pain they are feeling from you. However, they are inherently good at sensing pain in others. When you break a bone, you will show physical signs of pain. This could be in the form of facial expressions or wincing from the injury. Your cat will pick up on these signs.
Often, broken bones also lead to a loss of mobility. For example, you’re going to be walking far less on a broken leg than a healthy one. This will lead to a change in your habits. You’ll probably spend more time resting and you won’t be doing any exercise while you heal. Your cat can detect your change in routine and know something is wrong.
There is no hard scientific evidence supporting the theory that cats can sense cancer in humans. However, there is anecdotal evidence that points in this direction. According to the Annals of Internal Medicine, cats might be able to smell cancer with their super-charged olfactory systems.
This is because many cancers alter the metabolism of organic compounds called polyamines. These compounds regulate gene expression and are essential for normal cell growth, but are increased above normal levels in cancerous cells.
It is thought that cats can smell polyamines in the same way that they can smell hormones, giving your furry friend an indication that you’re sick. Of all cancers, brain tumors are known to increase the number of polyamines in the brain most substantially. Therefore, it is thought cats can sense brain tumors more than most other types of cancers.
4. Heart Attacks
Many people also believe that cats can sense heart attacks in people. This is partly down to them detecting changes in your body temperature. When having a heart attack, your body temperature will increase to above its usual level.
There are also clear physical symptoms of a heart attack that your cat could notice. Examples include shortness of breath and painful facial expressions. Observing these physical cues lets your cat know something is wrong. They won’t know that you’re necessarily having a heart attack, but they will know you need help.
Cats can easily detect diabetes in humans thanks to their powerful noses. For one, people with diabetes have hormonal imbalances in their bodies. They will have a lack of the hormone insulin. Cats will be able to smell insulin, and so might be able to detect a lack of it circulating through your body.
More pungent though is the smell of glucose. People will diabetes are unable to regulate their blood sugar levels, causing the amount of glucose in the blood to reach extreme highs. Glucose is pure sugar and has a sickly sweet smell. In diabetics, the excess glucose is lost in their urine and sweat.
Cats will be able to smell this sugary smell whenever they are near you if your blood sugar levels are high. In most cases, this won’t smell particularly nice to cats. It can smell overwhelming, and, in many cases, your cat will recoil! You might notice your cat makes biscuits and starts to dig its claws into your clothes if not as if they are trying to remove it.
Cats can also detect when your blood sugar levels drop too low. For one, the glucose smell won’t be as strong. Secondly, they’ll notice changes in habits and behavior. People will low blood sugar levels will be much more lethargic and weak. Noting goes undetected by your cat!
6. Deathly Illness
Finally, felines can sense when a person is nearing the end of their life. Think back to the story of Oscar in the nursing home – this is a prime example. This is perhaps what cats can sense best of all. As the body prepares for death it undergoes several changes, including hormonal and chemical shifts. These changes can be smelt by cats. They can literally smell death on us.
Cat Cats Help with Human Sickness?
Intesteringly, cats can help improve human health as well as detect sickness. Now, they won’t be able to treat cancers or extend the life of someone that is dying, but they can help people recover more quickly from minor illnesses.
This is all done through the power of their purrs. The purring noise we hear is the sound of their voice box vibrating. And the vibrational frequency of purrs is the same frequency used in vibrational therapy in humans. If you are sitting near your cat and they’re purring, these vibrations will run through your body. These vibrations have several benefits:
- They make the muscles throughout your entire body relax. This can help lower blood pressure, improve cardiovascular health, and help muscles recover more quickly from injury.
- They stimulate the production of osteoblasts. These are the cells in our bodies that produce bone. In this way, they can help broken bones heal more quickly and ease joint issues.
- They create a calming effect that lowers stress levels. The body recovers more quickly in a relaxed state, plus this can help improve mental health issues such as depression.
Whenever your cat sits on you and purrs, you get all of these benefits. Sometimes my cat sits next to me but not on my lap. Even this can be enough for your to feel the benefits of your cat’s purrs – stroke your cat and reap the rewards!
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
So, do cats know when you’re sick? According to many owners around the world, cats can sense illness in humans. However, they might not be aware that they are doing it! They can detect changes in hormones, body temperature, and your daily habits. This causes cats to be inquisitive and become more clingy with their owners.
Just a few examples of illnesses cats can sense include mental illness, diabetes, cancers, heart attacks, broken bones, and even death itself. Your cat might not be able to diagnose your conditions, but they can sure tell that something isn’t right with their favorite human. They’ll usually act clingy and affectionate, trying to help you through your illness.
What’s more, cats might even improve minor conditions and help aid your recovery. Aren’t cats amazing!
Bonnie A Gibson says
I loved this article. My husband has stage 4 cancer and our cat Roxy has been very observant of the changes in his strength and ability to be mobile. She never really gets near him or even looks at him much, because she had adopted me years ago. However, she has been watching him, like this staring glaze in her eyes. She sits on the bed with him, but not too close. But at least she is coming along to be closer. He is very weak and just a few moments ago, she was on the bed with him and it appeared she was dropping tears or drool. I think she knows more than she can let on but its comforting. I have noticed her kneeding more like she is making bread on the comforter, but not doing it on his body. I think cats are more amazing than any other animal.
After suffering 15 years now with a life-shortening disability that will be more troublesome as I age further – called “Short-Gut.” Suffering daily with nausea, muscle cramps and spasms, and many others depending on the day (or weather system) . Being alone, I am turning to a kitty to be a companion, but more a Therapy Pet hoping the purring will provide comfort in multiple ways. First step is accomplished! A Tortie has found a way into my life – and from all my reading so far I am excited to see if this vision is realized.
Stephanie Alegre says
I’m praying for you.