Many cultures revere cats, considering felines to be magical or all-knowing. A prominent explanation for this is that cats appear capable of predicting unexpected events before they occur. There is a reason why the black cat is often associated with witchcraft.
Cats do not have innate ESP. Felines do have sharp senses, alongside a mentality of constant vigilance. A cat’s superior senses of smell, hearing, touch, and sight mean they react quickly to events. A cat will see or hear people approaching. Feline paws detect ground vibrations. A cat’s whiskers can even detect subtle changes to air pressure.
Cats are always aware of the world around them. This inclination for observation, coupled with a survival instinct, makes felines appear almost psychic. There is always a rational explanation for a cat’s sixth sense.
Table of Contents:
- 1 Do Cats Have a Sixth Sense?
- 2 Can Cats Sense Bad Energy?
- 3 Can Cats Sense Natural Disasters?
- 4 Can Cats Sense Danger?
- 5 Can Cats Sense Their Own Death?
- 6 Can Cats Sense Fear?
- 7 Can Cats Sense Sadness and Depression?
- 8 Can Cats Sense Medical Problems in Humans?
Do Cats Have a Sixth Sense?
Many cat owners believe that their pets can predict future events. Cats behave differently ahead of weather changes, for example. Cats are believed to be capable of detecting sickness in humans and other animals. Some people even claim that cats can smell fear.
As fascinating as cats are, there is no reason to believe they have any form of sixth sense. What cats do have are four refined conventional senses.
A cat’s sense of taste is less prominent than that of a human. Cats have just 474 taste buds on their tongue. Humans, for comparison, have over 9,000. As explained by The Journal of Nutrition, this is why cats cannot taste sweetness.
A feline’s other four senses are superior to our own. This is why cats appear to have a sixth sense. They do not predict the future. They see, feel, hear and smell much better than we can. This helps a cat react to events before they arise. No hocus pocus is involved.
The potency of a cat’s eyesight varies from feline to feline. Typically, the cat’s lifestyle will dictate how well it sees. Indoor cats are often nearsighted. Cats that roam outdoors, meanwhile, will likely have poor close vision but can see for miles.
This is all part of a cat’s natural instincts. Wild cats will typically find a safe area – usually elevated – and survey terrain. This way, the cat can look out for any threats or food sources. This means that cats can see much further than the average human.
This is especially likely in dim lighting. Cats cannot see any better than humans in pitch darkness. The shape and structure of a cat’s eye is designed to accommodate low light, though. This helps cats detect and define shapes that remain resolutely unclear to humans.
Hearing is a cat’s most prominent sense. As per Hearing Research, domesticated felines enjoy hearing ranges between 48 and 85,000 Hz. For comparison, the average human can hear between 20 to 20,000 Hz.
An example of feline hearing is finding a cat waiting to greet you at your door. You may wonder how your cat knew that you were coming. Your cat is not psychic, and it was not watching the clock. It just heard and recognized your footsteps or voice from distance.
Cats will often react to something they hear. Cats can hear your neighbors’ conversations, a car backfiring from three blocks away, and distant fireworks. The conical shape of feline ears, and their position on the head, encourage 360-degree hearing.
This explains why cats can often seem to predict events. If there was a noise involved, the cat received advance warning. This could pertain to weather, visitors to the home or the impending presence of another animal.
Scent is second only to hearing in a cat’s repertoire of senses. A cat’s nose contains in excess of 200 million odor receptors. That is up to 14 times more than the typical human.
As with hearing, cats use smell to identify friends and foes ahead of arrival. All humans have a unique aroma to cats. Your scent is as unique as your fingerprint. There is no way to mask this smell, no matter what perfume or cologne you wear.
Cats can also use their sense of scent to detect changes to weather or circumstances. A shift in wind direction, for example, will not go unnoticed by a cat. This will give the cat adequate time to prepare for an alteration in conditions.
Have you ever attempted to handle a cat against its wishes? If so, you will understand that felines prefer to keep all four paws on the ground. This is partly a defense mechanism to provide access to claws. It is also because feline paw pads detect ground vibrations.
Cats pick up on vibrations through Pacinian corpuscles. These are nerve endings found on feline paw pads. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica explains how a cat’s paw pads can detect vibration frequencies between 80 and 240 Hz.
80 Hz is the frequency at which sounds becomes difficult to locate. This makes a cat’s ability to detect vibrations even more important. 240 Hz, meanwhile, is akin to the hum of an overworked and overheating electrical appliance. This will create an unmistakable vibration.
Changes to Air Pressure
A cat’s whiskers are not purely decorative. These stiff hairs are critical for aiding cats negotiate the world around them. As extensions of a cat’s skin, whiskers – also known as vibrissae – react to the environment.
Cats can often seem to sense an incoming storm, for example. A cat may verbalize and hide for seemingly no reason. Minutes or hours later, heavy rain, thunder and lightning will follow. This is due to the cat’s whiskers detecting changes in the atmosphere.
Feline whiskers are extremely sensitive. Any change to air pressure, current, or the direction of the wind will be picked up by the tips of the vibrissae. A message is then sent to the cat’s brain. The cat innately understands that it should seek shelter.
Can Cats Sense Bad Energy?
If you are a fan of horror movies, you will be familiar with certain genre clichés. A popular trope is a cat picking up on negative energy and bad vibes. Cinematic cats hiss and hide for seemingly no reason, long before terrible events befall human characters.
This can apply in real life too. As cats are creatures of instinct, they express an instant reaction to people and locations. While this reaction can be irrational, born of a nervous disposition, it could be noteworthy. Just not for the reasons you may think.
Take moving into a new home, for example. Your cat may stare into space, growling and hissing at nothing. This is your cat reacting to things that you cannot see or hear.
We don’t mean ghosts, or bad juju. It’s likelier that your cat’s superior senses detect something in your walls, attic or crawlspace. If the cat gravitates to these areas in particular, investigate. You may find that you have an infestation of rodents or termites.
Many pet owners also consider their cats to be excellent judges of character. Cats sometimes take against a person for seemingly no reason. Those of a new age persuasion will claim the cat senses negative energy. Clearly, this person is not to be trusted.
There are a number of reasons why a cat may dislike somebody. It has nothing to do with auras or spirituality. The person in question may:
- Smell like dogs or an unfriendly local feline
- Physically resemble somebody that mistreated the cat in the past
- Have once handled the cat without permission
- Be in the cat’s way, blocking access to food, water or a litter tray
- Simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time, catching the cat in a bad mood
Cats trust their instincts, and you should to too – to an extent. Cats will often behave in a particular way for a reason. Sometimes, though, cats defy conventional human logic. Do not let the whims of a cat sway your decision-making too much.
Can Cats Sense Natural Disasters?
As discussed, cats pick up on even the most minor change to atmosphere. This means that cats could be said to sense natural disasters. A combination of altered air pressure, ground tremors and unfamiliar scents will capture a cat’s interest.
An earthquake, for example, will not be a sudden event. It may feel that way to humans, as we are not paying attention to the ground beneath our feet. A cat’s delicate paw pads detect the vibrations caused by tectonic plates colliding, though.
The same can also apply to high winds or significant storms. Cats scent the change coming, and their whiskers detect changes to air pressure. This will give the cat advance warning to get somewhere safe, warm and dry.
Can Cats Sense Danger?
Cats are mesopredators. BioScience defines a mesopredator as a, “midranking predator in a food web, regardless of its size or taxonomy.” In layman’s terms, this means that cats are both hunters and prey.
Cats are driven by their hunting instincts. Some breeds make more natural mousers than others, but all cats have this drive. This is why play is so important to felines. It is a way to release the constant desire to stalk and hunt smaller animals.
This means that cats are hyper-vigilant, always on the lookout for potential prey. The flip side is that cats are also acutely aware that they could also be hunted. In the mind of a cat, anything larger than itself is a potential threat.
This means that, yes, cats can sense danger. Or, to be more precise, cats can sense perceived danger. Cats are always poised to react to a threat. This is why felines sometimes sleep on their back, giving access to claws if needed quickly.
Of course, not everything that frightens a cat is a genuine risk. Cats can be spooked by countless seemingly harmless things. This is because a feline is always alert. It is watching, listening, feeling and sensing for any unexpected menace.
With this in mind, never sneak up on a cat from behind. Cats are governed by fight or flight instinct. If a feline chooses to fight, it will not pull its punches. A cat sensing danger will seek to neutralize the threat as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Can Cats Sense Their Own Death?
Cats appear to have an intuitive understanding of when their time is coming to an end. Most cats will hide somewhere private immediately before expiring. Usually this is a cool, dark place. Sheds, garages and even under bushes are popular locations.
Some owners forced into euthanizing their pets believe that cats, “tell them” their time has come. In this instance, the belief is likely an understandable attempt to alleviate grief. The choice to end a beloved cat’s life is one of the hardest anybody will ever need to make.
How about cats themselves? Do felines honestly know when their life is due to end? The reality is, the answer is both yes and no. The cat knows that it is sick, but not necessarily that the end is near.
Cats are loathe to reveal signs of sickness. This applies to both humans and other animals. Cats see illness as weakness, and weakness can be exploited. The cat may be forced to cede territory or belongings. If a cat is feeling weak, it will hide until its strength is restored.
This suggests that a cat does not necessarily know it will die. There is every chance the cat is looking for a quiet place to rest and recuperate. The cat likely hopes to recover and proceed with its routine. The best anybody can hope for is that the death is peaceful and painless.
Can Cats Sense Sickness in Other Cats?
Cats will do all they can to avoid revealing sickness. This is so a healthier feline does not notice this weakness. Most cats wish to retain alpha status in a colony. This is difficult if the cat is unwell or injured, and thus enduring limited physical prowess.
Cats are constantly watching each other. This is because even the friendliest of cats are often locked in a silent war of attrition. Every cat reveres territory. Intact tomcats desire the first refusal on mating privileges. All cats want to eat their fill before another animal steals food.
This all means that cats will immediately notice any sign of sickness or injury. A cat may be able to hide a limp from an owner, but not another feline. The same applies to wounds and sores. Cats lick their wounds to mask the scent of blood, but it will not go unnoticed.
This enhanced sense of smell is another reason that cats detect illness in each other. If a cat is seriously unwell, its entire body chemistry will change. This will be reflected in the cat’s scent.
If you live in a multi-cat home, watch for any change in feline dynamics. If one cat is seemingly being bullied, almost out of the blue, speak to a vet. There is every chance the cat has an undiagnosed illness.
The cat has hidden this for you, but other felines spotted it. Do not berate yourself for this. As discussed, cats are masters of hiding sickness from humans. Other cats have used their enhanced senses to detect the illness, and seized opportunity accordingly.
Can Cats Sense Fear?
Cats do not so much ‘sense’ fear as detect it. Fear is a primal emotion, and one that cats understand well. Cats live much of their lives in a state of mild anxiety, concerned about potential predators.
Current Biology argues that fear responses in animals and humans are not uniform. All the same, the feline reaction to fear is not dissimilar to own. This video of a cat watching the horror movie Psycho shows this to be the case. When humans are afraid, apprehension is visible. Typical body language when we are afraid includes:
- Tense muscles
- Slouching to make yourself look smaller
- Lack of eye contact
- Jaw clenched shut, or mouth slightly open
- Wide, unblinking eyes
- Shaky limbs and jittery mannerisms
- Crossed arms, as though to protect the body
We all express fear, trepidation and anxiety differently. In some people, these will be microgestures that could easily be missed by another human. Cats miss nothing, though. Felines are endlessly observant.
A cat may not understand why you are acting the way you are. It will notice that something is up, though – especially when other senses are activated. Other side effects of fear in humans include:
- Drop in body temperature
- Rapid increase in heart rate
- Breathing faster
This all makes it simple for a cat to detect human fear. Be mindful of this. Depending on the persona of the cat, it may react in one of two ways. Some cats will become nervous and jittery themselves. Others will sense an opening to establish dominance over you.
Can Cats Sense Sadness and Depression?
If you are feeling blue, there is every chance that your cat will seem to notice. Cats can be relied upon to brighten our days when needed most. Again, though, this is not due to a sixth sense. Your cat may not actually be trying to cheer you up at all.
Cats are natural imitators. This means that a bonded cat will ape your physical mannerisms and mood. If feeling upbeat, you may hum to yourself and walk with a spring in your step. Cats will often replicate this, verbalizing and becoming active.
The opposite is also true. If you are feeling morose or depressed, you will be considerably more sedentary. The same applies to the cat, in this case. A feline may join you or sit in your lap. This is not necessarily to offer comfort.
The cat is likely just mirroring your behavior. According to Animal Cognition, cats are capable of reading and understanding human facial cues. This suggests the cat sees your frown and assumes that a low-energy, gloomy reaction is appropriate.
There is also the chance that your cat is trying to remind you of something. If feeling depressed, it is easy to forget routine tasks. This may include cleaning your cat’s litter box or feeding it. The cat may be gently reminding you of your duties.
This is not to say that cats are cold and emotionless. Cats love their owners. They would not live with us, tolerating our unfathomable behaviors, otherwise. Equally, any company from your pet is welcome when feeling sad. Just accept the limits of feline comprehension.
Can Cats Sense Medical Problems in Humans?
Opinion is divided in the medical community on this subject. One thing should be made clear from the off. There has never been a definitive, scientific study to concluded that cats can detect human sickness.
Despite this, anecdotal evidence does suggest that this is possible. Examples of human ailments believed to be detected by felines include:
- High or low blood pressure
- Low blood sugar
- Impending seizures
- Heart attacks
It is also claimed that cats detect human pregnancy before an expectant mother knows herself.
Much like the response to fear, this is likely due to body language betraying us. Cats do not have medical knowledge or understanding of human health. They will, though, spot grimaces of pain and facial tics.
In addition, cats often spend time in the lap of a human. This will aid superior senses of smell and hearing to pick up on anything unusual. If your heart rate differs from the norm, or your scent is markedly altered, a cat will notice. This will pique curiosity.
There is nothing to suggest that cats are eligible barometers of human sickness. You should certainly never rely on your cat to inform you of ill health. Cats react to a range of stimuli for a number of different – often inexplicable – ways.
Cats understand more about the world than we may credit them for. All the same, felines are not psychic and do not possess a sixth sense. Cats can often appear to sense that something is going to happen. This is due to science and biology, though – not magic.