Wednesday 12 May 2021

Can cats pick up on human emotions and respond to them?

Despite there not being much science in the way of studies on this topic, I believe that you will find that anecdotally, from observant cat caretakers, that cats do indeed pick up on human emotions and they do respond to them. 

Can cats pick up human emotions and react to them?
Can cats pick up human emotions and react to them? Cats can certainly understand emotional warmth through human body language, behavior and vocalisations. Photo: Pixabay.

But I would argue, I think fairly, that this only occurs when there is some physical sign such as a change in human behaviour, a change in body language or through vocalisations, e.g. raising one's voice or a soft voice. I don't believe that we can credit cats with being mind-readers. Although some people will disagree with me.

Certainly, domestic cat will pick up on these changes particularly if the relationship between human and cat is close because their interactions will be a kind of 'dance' in which their paths cross in the same way every day. If this dance, as I have called it, is interrupted as the human is emotionally distressed in some way and has become passive then unquestionably a domestic cat will pick up on this. They might be confused by the change or they might even be able to detect the emotion of the person.

Cats can certainly pick up aggression in people and they can pick up passivity and gentleness, behaviours due to emotions, which are at the other end of the spectrum. Dr. Bradshaw, who wrote the book Cat Sense, believes that domestic cats are very sensitive to human body language. 

Body language is certainly linked to emotions, very directly in point of fact. And the type body language can be quite subtle. But it goes further than that because, as mentioned, emotions drive behaviour patterns as well and they will alter routines which will also be picked up by domestic cats who have a close relationship with the affected person.

The conclusion has to be that domestic cats pick up on human emotions when those emotions are expressed in various ways as mentioned. It is an obligation of cat caretakers to present gentleness and emotional warmth towards their cat companion with the aim of reassuring them at all times.

It does not take a lot for a domestic cat to become anxious in the human world which despite 10,000 years of domestication is somewhat unnatural partly because people are so much larger than domestic cats which is a barrier to successful integration.

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