Despite their aloof reputations, cats can tell when you’re depressed. I think.
Ever find yourself heartbroken sitting on your couch with a wad of tissues, nothing to watch on Netflix, and when all seems of total despair– your kitty comes up and snuggles you at just the right moment?
So, can your cat tell if you are depressed? According to the experts, there may not be a one size fits all answer. Animals like humans are unique and while some friends and family may just naturally be more intuitive, able to know when things are not right with you without you ever having to say a word, animals are no different.
According to, Dr. Zoe Greenfield, a veterinarian at The Animal Medical Center in New York City, the world’s largest non-profit animal hospital, (and the author’s sister), “there is a good likelihood that your pet can tell when you are depressed. Animals are attuned to their humans and most likely sensitive to changes in the moods of their owners.”
My ten-year-old rescue cat, Spike, seems slightly indifferent to my moods. He often comes and like a doctor doing rounds, observes, but rarely offers any comfort and then once in a while, when I least expect it, there he is cuddling next to me.
So what might your feline friend be tuning into exactly?
Kitty Cues and Context.
Cats are observant creatures. When your emotions are running high, they may be picking up on habits you didn’t even know you had. In addition to looking at your behavior for cues on when they’re most likely to get love and attention, your cat is also going to pick up on situational clues. Your habits when you’re sad or depressed won’t go unnoticed by your cat.
Cats can sense a change in their humans including health issues and anxiety levels, Many cats respond with wonderful, comforting sensitivity. If like many humans you spend all day in bed because you’re down in the dumps and don’t have the energy to get up, your cat may take this as a cue to sleep in next to you. You can both receive the benefits of warmth and comfort.
Am I bumming out my feline friend?
Cats’ emotions are not a 1:1 ratio to humans. Although the scale of emotions is different from people to cats. Cats probably don’t experience “sad” the way we do.
If your cat is sad, it’s not because you’re sad. Your cat’s sadness is most likely tied to an illness from a chronic health condition to the death of an owner or fellow pet. This drives the cat to be depressed more than just sad. If you notice a change in your pet’s behavior seek out medical attention for them.
Cats, like many humans, can be motivated by self-interest. If your cat associates your sadness with love and attention, it’s going to seek you out at your low points. There’s a mutually beneficial exchange that happens when you are emotionally raw and more willing to pay attention to your four-legged housemate. Your cat gets the attention it wants from you and you both get snuggles.
Think about it this way. If you’re sad, depressed, or downtrodden and you crawl into bed, your cat may just be looking for a warm place to nap. But, you might find it soothing to pet them or cuddle them when they approach. Over time, the cat may learn that your sad mood comes with plenty of petting a scratching, which will make them more prone to seeking you out when you’re exhibiting signs of sadness.
So, while your cat may not exactly understand your mood, it does understand the nuances of your behavior while you’re exhibiting a certain emotion. It’s a bit less romantic than the idea that our cats can comfort, but it does mean they care enough to recognize our behaviors!
What to consider before bringing a pet into your home, especially if you’re depressed
Assuming that you have the financial resources to welcome a four-legged friend into your home (yes- pets can get expensive with food, litter, regular and unanticipated medical bills) it is important to assess your finances before making the commitment. If you are depressed, continue drawing upon your inner strength to groom, pet, play with or talk with your cat.
If you are investing in a dog, it requires substantially more responsibility and time than a cat. There also may be dog walking bills or doggie daycare to consider as well.
Pets can bring a tremendous amount of joy and comfort to your life. They can help stave off feelings of isolation and loneliness. During the pandemic pet adoption soared.
Many of these animals, though not official service pets, provided a sort of therapy throughout a lonely and scary year. Of course, no pet, even a registered service animal is a substitute for actual therapy but the love and companionships, as many will tell you, is priceless.