black and white cat bites the woman's hand

Cats are highly intelligent pets that have a range of senses that help them to understand their owners. If you are sick, having your feline companion by your side can help you through the recovery process. For the most part, cats can detect when their owners are feeling under the weather, which is why some cats will act differently towards their sick owners.

When we are sick, things in our bodies will change and our daily routine might be altered—which can be sensed by cats. Not all cats will act the same towards their owners when they are sick, as it depends on how close your bond is with your cat and how much time you spend together for them to detect when something is off with your routine.

Can Cats Sense When Their Owners Are Sick?

Yes, cats can usually tell if you are sick with their heightened senses. They use these senses to smell or detect when something is off with your body chemistry when you are sick. However, it is important to note that cats do not have a supernatural sense that can detect when a person is sick.

From a cat’s perspective, when we are sick our natural body heat increases as the result of fever if our body is fighting an infection, and cats seek out warmth. We may also stay home from work which will be abnormal for your cat and indicate a change in your behavior because they might not be used to having you at home.

How Do Cats Know When We Are Sick?

A cat’s strong sense of smell can identify chemical changes in our bodies that may happen when we are sick. Any changes in our behavior and patterns in our daily routine can give your cat an indication that you are sick. It is also possible that cats can detect the physical and emotional changes that we face when we are sick.

Cats have between 125 to 300 million smell receptors that allow them to identify with their environment, whereas humans only have roughly 5 million of these smell receptors. This shows just how strong your cats’ sense of smell is. Sick owners will smell different, act differently, and not be as energetic as their cat is used to.

Some cats will show more affection towards their owners when they are sick because you feel warmer with them. Other cats might pick up on your altered energy and try to cheer you up or get a better understanding of your unusual behavior by being closer to you than normal. Other cats may not even pay much attention to their owner if they are sick, so it can vary depending on your cat and how close your bond is with them.

ginger cat with the owner
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Are Cats Able to Sense Pain In Humans?

Cats who share a strong bond with their owners will be able to tell if their owner is in pain. There has even been a study at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre in Rhode Island where a cat named Oscar—who is usually distant—has been known to snuggle up affectionately to older patients who were sick or on the verge of passing away.

It is believed that Oscar was potentially reacting to the chemicals that are released by the bodies of humans who are not feeling well, rather than responding to the physical symptoms noted by a few animal behavior specialists. It has since been theorized that when the body starts to shut down, it releases biochemicals that a cat’s heightened senses can detect even before we notice it.

What Illnesses Can Cats Detect In Humans?

Interestingly, there have been cats who have saved their owners’ lives simply by being able to detect illnesses. It is theorized that cats can detect hormonal changes in humans and when people are close to death, cats will react to the different chemical smells that are being produced.

There have been some instances where cats have detected high blood pressure, seizures, certain cancers, and diabetes when their owner’s blood sugar drops. This has led to many nursing homes having therapy cats around to let the nursing staff know early if something is wrong with one of the residents.

High Blood Pressure

If your blood pressure starts to spike and your cat is used to your normal heartbeat, your cat might be able to detect this change thanks to their good hearing abilities. They might even come to sniff and rub themselves against you because they are unsure why your heart is racing. Hypertension can also cause people to act disorientated, which your cat will notice, especially if you have a close bond.


Some people who suffer from a condition called epilepsy may have trained therapy cats or dogs to alert them when they are going to have a seizure. Even if you have never had a seizure before, it is possible that your cat could pick up on this due to several changes that your body undergoes.


It is believed that cancer has a specific smell that dogs and cats can pick up, because of situations where cats have continuously sniffed and bitten an area that was later discovered to have tumor growth. Cancer has a smell because of the increase in polyamines that your body gives off, which is detectable to cats.

However, although there have been many reports of this occurring, it has not been able to be properly tested like it has been with dogs because researchers found that the reward system does not work the same on cats.


Since cats have over 100x more scent receptors than humans, they can smell diabetes, which has a similar smell to cancer. They can also detect the sudden change in your heartbeat when your blood sugar drops, and some therapy cats will even alert owners with this condition—they know when medication is needed because their owner’s blood sugar levels are dropping.

Final Thoughts

It is possible that cats can tell when we are sick by sensing changes in our bodies and the way we act towards them. To sum it up, our bodies change when we are sick, both chemically and physically—such as our temperature rising. Your cat’s heightened senses will pick up your warmth and they will act more affectionate to you by rubbing their bodies on you or even lying next to you. This makes cats the perfect companion when you are sick, and most cats will rarely ignore their owners if they are sick.

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