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Does My Cat Know if I’m Sick?

Persian Cat sat on owners lap.

So, you’re not feeling well, and you’ve settled on the couch with your tissues, fuzzy blanket, tv remotes, and other essentials. You don’t plan to move from your spot unless necessary. After a while, your cat, who’s been lazing in the sun, settles next to you, purring and making biscuits. Does your cat know you aren’t feeling well?

Cats seem to have strong intuition and sense various emotions, but can they sense illness in their humans? We’re going to explore how and why cats may be able to sense their humans’ diseases.

Though there isn’t much scientific research about cats being able to sense sickness in their humans, there is one documented case where a cat could predict death. This story starts in 2007 in a Rhode Island nursing home and a cat named Oscar. He lived in this nursing home, giving comfort to the elderly patients living there. But, according to medical staff, Oscar predicted the passing of fifty patients between 2007 and 2010.

Some studies indicate cats can detect illness by their owner’s breath. A study at the University of Massachusetts Medical School found that cats can distinguish between breath samples from human volunteers who had either lung or breast cancer and others with no illness. The cats were able to tell the scientists whether the volunteer was ill or not. The second study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior found cats may act in specific ways when their person is sick. This study found that cats were likelier to curl in their owner’s lap and purr at a low frequency, considered a more comforting sound than a higher-pitched purr.

How Does My Cat Sense I’m Sick?

Changes in Smell

Cats have a keen sense of smell, fourteen times more powerful than humans. This sense of smell is what some scientists think helps a cat detect specific changes in their person’s body. Cats may also recognize changes in their owner’s behavior or routine when ill. If a person spends more time in bed, their cat may want to cuddle more because of these changes. Other times they may become more protective of their person. For example, they may not want others in the house to get near their person or may even become aggressive with others.

We might not realize it, but our scents change if we become sick. The reason is that illnesses cause fluctuations in our hormones. With their exceptional sense of smell, cats may pick up on any minor change.

Almost every illness causes hormonal shifts as you recover. Hormone changes are more evident in some diseases than others. Below are some conditions that affect the endocrine system and hormone levels:

  • The underproduction of insulin indicates diabetes.
  • High cortisol levels cause Cushing’s syndrome.
  • A lack of adrenal gland hormones causes Addison’s disease.
  • The overproduction of thyroid hormone causes hyperthyroidism.

Cats may be able to sense the change in hormones when a woman becomes pregnant. Estrogen and progesterone levels rise, helping the mother’s body prepare for a child. Your cat may get clingy if you’re pregnant because they pick up the changes in your body.

Even with this information, this still doesn’t tell us that cats understand you are ill. They are naturally curious, and a new scent will have them investigating. However, the fact that their behavior changes beyond curiosity may indicate they understand on some level that their owner may be ill or pregnant.

Body Temperature

Cats detect changes in body temperature. For example, if you’ve ever run a fever, you know your skin becomes hot to the touch. Cats can feel this more easily than another human. Cats love warmth. Mine loves to lay in the sun streaming in a window or open door no matter how warm it is in the house.

Cats’ core body temperature is higher than that of humans, so your cat may seek more warmth even if your house temperature is perfect for you. In addition, cats will curl with their owners for warmth; when you are ill, you may be warmer than usual. So, it’s no surprise your cat may want to sit on you.

Your Habits May Change

Another way your cat may know you’re sick is by your habits. You wake up feeling sick, so you call the office, letting them know you won’t be in. You skip your breakfast and morning shower. You may not even get out of bed. Your whole day will be different. You will probably spend more time in bed or sitting on the couch to rest and get through your illness. You may not eat on your typical schedule or skip meals altogether.

Cats like to have a set routine. They get used to following your schedule throughout the day and will notice the change right away. Try missing a meal for your cat. You will get told about it. They want their meals on time and will know if you don’t follow that routine. Cats are smarter and more intuitive than you might think.

Your cat will probably be the first to spot it when you’re sick and your routine changes. They will know something is up. Why are you still in bed? Where is my food? Are you okay?

My Maine Coon will chirp at me, knead on my chest, and purr louder and lower than usual. After that, she will tuck herself against me and keep me company. Cats want to be sure their human is okay. So, even if they don’t realize you are sick, they want to ensure you are all right.

Specific Illnesses Cats Can Sense

We are starting to see that cats can sense or at least smell illnesses in humans. But can they detect all conditions or only a few? The answer is that they are more likely to sense severe diseases than mild ones. In other words, they may smell cancer before the common cold.

We’ll look at some conditions and how your cat might sense each. This list may help you see what a fantastic creature your cat is.

Mental Illness

A chemical change in the brain causes mental illnesses. Because the brain controls all of our bodily processes, these chemical changes alter hormone production throughout the rest of the body. As a result, people with mental illness tend to act unusual compared to what is expected. For example, many people with depression or anxiety spend more time at home. As a result, these people become withdrawn, lack social interaction, and no longer do activities they once enjoyed. Their irritability also tends to increase.

Your bond with your cat allows them to sense these changed habits, behaviors, and mood changes. In addition, your cat’s incredible sense of smell will enable them to detect hormonal changes.


No scientific studies have been done on whether cats can smell cancer in humans. There is anecdotal evidence of this fact. Several other articles state that in the Annals of Internal Medicine, cats may be able to smell cancer. I can’t find that article. Why would cats be able to smell cancer? The reason is that cats have olfactory systems that can sense up to fourteen times what humans can.

Many cancers alter the metabolism of polyamines. Polyamines (PAs) are small, organic molecules regarded as growth substances. These polyamines regulate gene expression and are essential for average cell growth. However, they increase above normal levels in cancerous cells.

With cancer, cats can smell these polyamines like they smell hormones in other conditions. In addition, cats can sense brain tumors before any other cancer because a brain tumor increases the number of polyamines much faster and in a larger quantity than any other cancer.


Cats smell diabetes in humans because people with diabetes have hormonal imbalances in their bodies. These people lack insulin. If cats can smell insulin, they may be able to smell the lack of it. Something else a cat may be able to smell in people with diabetes is glucose. These people’s bodies can’t regulate their blood sugar levels which causes the amount of glucose in their blood to reach extreme highs. Glucose is pure sugar and will have a sickly, sweet smell. In people with diabetes, the extra glucose is released in their urine and sweat.

Cats can smell the sugary scent when near a person with diabetes. If you have diabetes and high blood sugar, your cat may not want to be near you. However, if they don’t recoil from you, they may knead or dig at your clothing as if to remove them. This reaction can indicate that your cat can smell your high glucose level.

Cats can also sense if your blood sugar levels drop too low. The scent of glucose won’t be as strong, but your cat will act differently. You may be lethargic and weak. You may notice your cat acting strange if you don’t see the symptoms of low blood sugar. You should pay attention to what your feline friend is trying to tell you.


Cats know when a person is nearing the end of their life. At the beginning of this article, I wrote about Oscar, the nursing home cat who predicted about fifty deaths. Perhaps this is what cats can sense most of all. A body preparing for death undergoes several changes, including chemical and hormonal shifts. Cats can smell these changes.

Cats are Healers

Cats can improve human health as well as detect sickness. Of course, they can’t treat cancer or give one of their supposed extra lives, but they can help you through an illness and help you feel better faster.

A cat’s purr has magic all its own. Although scientists aren’t sure where a cat’s purr sound is made, they still make the soothing, vibration sound. The frequency at which a cat purrs is the same frequency used in vibration therapy for humans. A cat’s purr has several benefits.

1. Purrs help to relax your muscles, which lowers your blood pressure and improves heart health. Plus, purrs can help muscles recover from injuries.

2. They stimulate the production of osteoblasts. Osteoblasts produce bone. With the help of a cat’s purrs, bones can heal quicker and ease joint issues.

3. Purrs lower stress levels and have a calming effect. Your body recovers faster in a relaxed state, so the soothing sound of a cat purring helps with mental health issues like depression.


So, do cats know when you’re sick? Cats detect changes in hormones, body temperature, and daily habits. In addition, cats are curious creatures by nature and may become clingier with their owners if they sense changes.

Cats can sense certain illnesses, including mental issues, diabetes, cancer, heart attacks, and death. Your cat can’t diagnose diseases, but they can tell you something isn’t right. They may act clingy and affectionate, trying to help you through your issues.

If you are like me, you love it when your cat sits or lays with you and purrs. Cat purrs are one of my favorite sounds. Enjoy your cat when they want to sit or sleep with you. You may feel their healing energy. On the other hand, if your cat acts oddly around you, you may want a check-up. It could be your feline friend who may save your life.

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