People often think of cats as aloof creatures. And to a certain degree, that is correct. Dogs, on the other hand, are known to be people-pleasers, ready to come to their owners at every beck and call.
But contrary to what some people may believe, cats can and do sense sadness in their humans.
Do Cats Know When You Are Sad?
Yes, cats can know when you are sad. In a study conducted by Oakland University researchers Jennifer Vonk and Moriah Galvan published in Animal Cognition journal in 2015, it was discovered that cats changed their behavior based on the expression of their humans.
The study involved 12 cats and their humans. The owners were asked to smile. In turn, the cats responded positively and exhibited behaviors like sitting on their humans’ laps, purring, and rubbing. When the people were asked to show a frown, the cats seem to be ambivalent.
The study indicates that like dogs, cats are capable of reading human facial expressions. Furthermore, the results of the tests show that cats are more than capable of learning how to read human expressions.
How cats read your emotions
These two conclusions challenge the long-held belief that only dogs can read human expressions. However, this does not necessarily mean that cats can feel empathy for their humans. Most likely, cats understand how to read cues and the resulting benefits.
But apart from reading human faces, cats can sense sadness through situational cues. What are these situational cues?
1. You have changed your routine
Cats are creatures of habit. Even the slightest change in their routines can throw them off.
Furthermore, felines spend an inordinate amount of time watching and observing their humans. That gives them an awareness of how their housemates go about their day.
When something seems amiss, your cat will instinctively go to you to find out what may be wrong.
2. You forgot to feed your pet
While wallowing in your sadness, you might have forgotten a few of your chores. That might include feeding your cat.
And when your cat is already hungry, his first instinct is to find his human. If your pet finds you lying on your bed, his initial reaction is to cajole you into feeding you.
A hungry cat is not beyond giving his human cuddles and purrs just to get his next meal.
3. Your voice and tone has changed
Although cats do not always come to you when you call them by their name, they are more than capable of recognizing your voice.
This ability to recognize a voice also means that cats can detect subtle changes, like a change in the tone of your voice when you are sad.
Although your pet may not understand what caused that change in your voice, they know something is different and they will try to investigate what is wrong with you.
4. You are paying extra attention to your cat
Some people tend to pay extra attention to their cats as a way to cope with stress and anxiety. Naturally, your cat learns that he can get what he wants if he sidles up close to you during your down moments.
And the next time your cat senses that you are feeling depressed, he will pay extra attention to you, knowing that he will be rewarded for this behavior.
Can your cat copy your emotion?
If cats can detect sadness in people, can they mimic that and other emotions? To a certain degree, a cat is like a toddler that takes his cues from the behavior of his human especially if an unfamiliar situation arises.
In one experiment, both cat and owner were placed inside a room with a fan with ribbons attached to the blade. The goal of the experiment is to determine how the cat will react to this situation.
The participating cats looked at their humans instinctively, looking for cues on how to react. Typically, cats will be spooked in this situation. But when the owners remained calm, the curiosity of the cats was piqued.
On the other hand, when the owners displayed signs of anxiety, the cats searched for the nearest escape routes.
Can cats get sad?
Cats can get sad or depressed. But not exactly the way people do. Cats can experience a surprisingly diverse range of emotions, from sadness and anger to fear and jealousy to joy.
However, your cat might not get sad as humans do. Instead, cats experience negative emotions in extremes. People can have a down day and then move on as if nothing has happened.
Cats, on the other hand, can become depressed for an extended period. When a cat is depressed, he will be lethargic and he will forgo his usual routine like grooming, playing, and even eating.
Usually, a cat will become depressed during a major change, like the death of a person or another pet in the household.
Because the symptoms of cat depression are similar to the symptoms of some illnesses, it is crucial to have your pet checked by the vet to rule out diseases or disorders.
How cats and dogs differ in reading emotions
The differences in how these animals read and react to human emotions have a lot to do with the domestication and history of each.
Dogs are adept in reading and reacting to human emotions because they have evolved to live with humans for a longer time. Additionally, dogs have been bred to highlight specific traits, including being people-pleasers.
Compared to dogs, cats have lived with humans for a shorter period. Furthermore, the domestic cat behaves more or less like his wild ancestors. It also does not help that there is a dearth of research on cats and their emotions.
Finding comfort in your cat’s company
Although your cat may not fully understand what you might be going through now, he is more than capable to provide you some comfort during this trying moment.
So go on, give your cat lots of cuddles and pets. All he asks for in return are a few treats.
Image: istockphoto.com / artsandra