Can Cats Sense Depression and Anxiety?

If you own a cat, you have most likely experienced a moment where it seems like you and your pet are in perfect sync – your cat does exactly what you need them to do in a moment to comfort you, and relieve your stress or negative emotions. However, you may be wondering whether this is just a coincidence or if your cat knows more than they are letting on.

In this article, we will discuss what the experts suspect cats can sense in their owners. We’ll also give you some signs to look out for that indicate your cat knows how you feel and is trying to help out, in addition to information on how cats can act as emotional support animals, depending on the situation. Read on to learn more about the unique bond between cats and their owners.

What Cats Can Sense: The Science

For decades, scientific studies have attempted to identify the bond between cats and their owners and to expand on the emotional intelligence of cats. As cats can’t exactly tell us their feelings themselves, these studies aim to help us further understand the inner life of cats which, many cat owners could tell you, certainly appears complex from time to time. Among these studies, there are some conclusions that stand out.

In a study published in 2020, it was shown that cats can integrate both visual and auditory signals to interpret human emotions, changing their behavior accordingly based on the emotion(s) that they are detecting. The study goes on to discuss that this emotional recognition in cats helps the cat maintain positive social bonds both with humans and any other cat that they happen to live with or spend time with on a regular basis.

Another study published in 2019 demonstrated that cats form attachment bonds to their owners. These bonds are a key factor in how cats interpret the emotions of their human owners and how they react in accordance with what they see or hear around them.

Overall, these studies prove that cats can interpret human emotions, including depression and anxiety, to a certain degree. Your cat will often act in accordance with the visual and auditory cues that you are giving off, such as crying or anxious motion, and they will change their behavior correspondingly. This may be done because your behavior is stressing out your cat as they interpret your emotions, or because your cat genuinely wants you to return to a happier state – there is still much research to be done in order to find answers for this.

Signs Your Cat Knows How You Feel

When your cat starts picking up on emotions such as depression or anxiety, they may act differently to help you calm down or return your mood to a happier one. You can look out for these signs that your cat is picking up on your emotions and trying to help you out.

  • Your cat comes to you purring
  • Your cat insists on snuggling up with you, either by sitting on your lap or by letting themselves be held
  • Your cat looks at you or sits near you to provide you company
  • Your cat wanders around you and rubs themselves against you
  • In some cases, your cat might bring you their favorite toys or treats in an attempt to cheer you up

In most cases, these actions can be interpreted as your cat attempting to help cheer you up or get things back to normal in their world. That’s not to say that your cat doesn’t care about you, but if they are sensing depression or anxiety, it can make them depressed and anxious too. Plus, while they care for you to make them feel better, you give them attention, treats, and snuggles that they also benefit from, something that forms a mutually beneficial relationship.

Can You Train a Cat to Sense Depression or Anxiety?

woman on couch with cat

Though many cat owners may wonder if it is possible to train their cat to sense depression or anxiety, this is not usually something that can be trained in your pet. Rather, this emotional intelligence is a result of the social bond your cat has with you and the actions they take in order to make you feel better.

Sensing depression and anxiety is something that your cat will likely do naturally, at least to some extent, in order to keep their owner in a positive mood and decrease their own emotional stress.

Can Cats Act as Therapy Animals?

Many scientific studies have proven that cat ownership has tangible health benefits. Cat ownership can help lower your blood pressure and heart rate, reduce stress all over your body, calm anxious or negative moods, and provide you with a companion that offers comfort and stability. Spending time loving on your cat or simply being in their presence may also release the hormone oxytocin, flooding your brain with improved mood, and signals to relax or let go of stress.

Because of all of these health benefits and the many first-hand testimonies that cats help their owners feel calmer, fight off depression, and maintain a more stable mental health routine, cats can often act as therapy animals. However, cats are rarely classified as service animals, because these are animals that need to be trained to perform a specific task. Instead, cats are almost always registered as emotional support animals (ESAs).

The requirements for an emotional support animal are less stringent when it comes to training and performing specific tasks; your ESA simply needs to be there for you in times of low mood and help support you through periods of anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. When combined with proper mental health treatment, cats can be incredibly helpful as ESAs.

Registering Your Cat as an Emotional Support Animal

If your cat has helped you through some tough times and you benefit from their snuggles or company when experiencing periods of depression or anxiety, you may want to register them as an emotional support animal. ESAs have certain benefits when it comes to being allowed in living spaces that don’t allow pets; they may also be able to travel with you for discounted or free rates depending on where you are taking your pet.

To register your cat as an emotional support animal, you will need a letter from a registered medical provider that indicates your need for an ESA and the assistance that your cat provides you. You can meet with your primary care doctor for this or reach out to our experts at US Service Animals for help with registering your cat.

The Amazing Bond Between Cats and Their Owners

Cats and their owners have an incredible bond, and recent studies have shown how emotionally intelligent cats actually are. Our furry friends can interpret visual and auditory signals to pick up on our moods and act accordingly, delivering comfort in the form of snuggles, a quiet companion, or a purring lap-warmer.

Your cat can likely pick up on moods of depression and anxiety, and change their behavior to support you, and if you gain great comfort from your pet during these times, they can likely be registered as an emotional support animal. This gives you greater peace of mind about being able to spend time with your cat companion whenever you need to calm your anxiety or raise your negative moods.