Can Cats Feel Emotion?

Think your cat has feelings? Some experts agree (and some say "kind of").

By CatChannel Editors

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Want to know if cats feel emotion? Ask these six experts.

Based on feline physiology, it's probably realistic to assume cats feel emotions, John C. Wright, Ph.D., said. Cats are mammals, they have brain structures, and the way their brain works is similar to the way the human brain works, he continued.

Wayne Hunthausen, DVM, believes cats feel emotions. Although there is no way to tell for sure without talking to the cat, he says that in certain situations, their behaviors might be similar to how we would behave in that situation.One of the hardest things for cat owners to understand is their pets' behavior.

Dr. Hunthausen said fear is expressed through opposite actions, such as withdrawal and avoidance.


Cat therapist Carole Wilbourn said cats definitely have emotions. "They can express different moods happiness, sadness, rage that let me know. A cat acts the way it feels." Wilbourn noted that a cat isn't a person, but people and cats share emotions.

Wilbourn said certain behaviors express a cat's happiness, such as purring and relaxing their bodies.

Yes: Act Accordingly!

Cats feel every emotion humans feel, animal behaviorist Warren Eckstein said. "They may not react the same way, but they definitely feel the same emotions we feel."

"A lot of problems arise," Eckstein said, "when owners don't realize the cat has a range of emotions and don't know how to react to the cat when it might be feeling anxious or depressed." These are emotions that he feels are common in cats. "When you take a cat into a home, you have to treat it like part of the family."


On a less definitive note, Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D., said cats probably experience emotions, but we can only infer from their behavior."

Cat owners are prone to ascribing human emotion to their cat's behavior. Dr. Hetts urges owners to use caution when doing this, because the interpretation of the animal's behavior may lead to punishing animals because they are convinced the animal acted out of spite, which is most likely not the case.
Sort Of
Cats feel emotions "but not necessarily in the same way we think of them," Debra Horowitz, DVM, DACVB, said. "There are emotional aspects to their behavior."

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Reader Comments

Mark    International

3/3/2016 12:44:27 AM

I have 3 male cats of different ages my youngest who mostly stopped for a quick pet coming in or out never slept with me got an abscess having never been off the property the ride to work he vet was noisy when I got him home I could tell he was afraid and no mater what I did insisted on laying on the bare floor it's 15° outside the floor not much warmer it was obvious angry growls anyway I persisted and ever since he now lays on me sleeps with me gets very upset if moved and as annoying as it is sometimes It's easy to see he feels loved and protected and returns that by always being near and all my cats follow me everywhere when I walk the property to me that's love

S. Smith    International

2/23/2015 1:14:55 PM

It's interesting. Our cat has not been well and he walked away when we tried to brush him. Also he spent a lot of time in the inside closet in his box there, I believe he just wanted to be left alone. He wasn't eating much and last night when I held him he acted exhausted when it came to his breathing. I knew then we'd soon be saying our goodbyes.

Debra    High Point, NC

1/30/2015 3:26:55 AM

One of my cats was recently at the Vet Hospital in ICU for some kind of virus. Not sure what was wrong but he had a fever and was dehydrated. He stayed there four days. Now that he is home, my other two cats are hissing at him and are bullying him. This hasn't happened before now. Can you tell me why? thanks

Lien    Toledo, OH

1/29/2015 9:14:04 PM

There's no doubt that a cat can feel emotions. My very own first cat gave birth to her first litter a few years ago and everything would seem normal, until my family have to give all of her kittens away since we can't keep them all. As she watched her last kitten being taken away, I came towards her to comfort her, and I noticed that she had a drop of tear going down along the side of her nose. Seeing that made me want to cry with her.... She was unusually quiet for the next few days, probably really sad that her first children were taken from her.

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