Can cats sense death?

Many believe cats to be endowed with almost supernatural powers. For thousands of years, our feline friends have fascinated humans with their mysterious aura. But is it really true that cats can sense and predict death?

Cats cannot predict death, but they will recognize when something is wrong.
Cats cannot predict death, but they will recognize when something is wrong.  © 123RF/Maya23k

Cats are magic, of that there's no doubt – think about how they can melt your heart with their affectionate but aloof cuteness.

But from ancient Egyptians to modern societies, cats have also carried around a dark, mysterious air that makes them synonymous with superstition.

One of those is the widespread belief that they can sense death.

Cat's reaction to photo of his late dog friend leaves the internet weeping
Cats Cat's reaction to photo of his late dog friend leaves the internet weeping

TAG24's cat guide is here to pull at this thread and separate fact from fiction. Can cats sense death, in a human as well as themselves? Will your cat recognize when you're sick? Let's find out!

Can cats predict or sense death?

Cats cannot predict, nor sense, death – we should get that out of the way from the start. Despite many people's beliefs that cats are able to predict when a person is going to die, animals don't have a conception of death. Awareness of mortality is unique to humanity and one of the many things that set our species apart. While cats and other creatures can feel fear, they cannot grasp the concept of life and death.

Instead, our feline friends focus on the constant pressure and presence of what's going on around them – and while they don't have a mythical seventh sense, their existing six are much more developed than ours.

Smells, sights, sounds, sensations all send information to your cat's brain, which then converts them into some form of situational or contextual understanding.

Logically, while a cat can by no means "predict" death, and doesn't even really understand what death is, it can certainly tell that something is seriously wrong. This is why they have been known to behave strangely around people who are dying – it's a morbid curiosity but certainly no supernatural phenomena.

Do cats know when someone is dying?

As we just established, cats can recognize that something is seriously wrong with their human, but have no genuine understanding of death. There are a few things, however, that will get cats particularly worked up.

Here's what cats can detect and form an understanding of:

  • Smell: Humans have a very specific smell, and this scent is recognized much more strongly by our cats than by ourselves. When a person is on their deathbed, or is recently deceased, they will smell different and this will spark curiosity and worry in our cats.
  • Silence: Even when we sleep, we make noises through our breathing and the movement of our chests against the sheets. When someone dies those sounds cease, and that will be noticed by a cat.

It's all very simple, and there are similar explanations when it comes to your cat's other four "senses", and certainly no need for a seventh to explain why a cat might behave differently when their human is dying or has died.

Cats know when they are sick, but have no concept of death.
Cats know when they are sick, but have no concept of death.  © 123RF/Fotovampir

Do cats know when they are dying?

Cats will respond to negative symptoms in their bodies, will feel unwell and weak, but that doesn't mean they when they're dying. They have no concept of the future or past and, instead, live entirely in the present experiencing everything strongly and immediately.

This is why cat behaviors seem incredibly neurotic and compulsive to us humans º they are literally beings that behave entirely out of impulse, not out of planning or foresight. If your kitty wants food it'll ask for food, when it feels tired it'll take a nap, when doesn't enjoy something then it will walk away.

If your cat is seriously sick or dying, it will know that something is seriously wrong and will likely be scared. What it won't do, though, is ponder mortality and think about death. That's for us humans to do, not our superior feline friends.

Can cats sense sickness?

Cats will recognize that something is wrong with you.
Cats will recognize that something is wrong with you.  © 123RF/Rorygezfresh

As we have established, cats have very keen senses that will detect changes in a human body and will notice when something's wrong. As a result, while your cat doesn't know what sickness is, it will understand that something is wrong and "bad" and will respond accordingly.

This is why when we humans are feeling under the weather, when we have the flu, or when we've broken a bone, our cats will often come to keep us company. Contrary to many dog lovers' beliefs, cats have tremendous love and affection for their owners. Their presence is a way for them to protect and look after us when something's wrong.

You'll also notice that cats respond strongly when you have an emotional response. This is largely due to physical characteristics that change, things like perspiration and tears, as well as non-physical things like the release of different hormones. Cats often respond positively to pregnancies and will come to your aid when in need of emotional comfort and support.

Woman thinks her cat is terminally ill, but the icky truth leaves her embarrassed
Cats Woman thinks her cat is terminally ill, but the icky truth leaves her embarrassed

While they don't have the brain capacity to comprehend death or sickness, they do have innate emotional and physical intelligence and will always come to their human's aid.

Don't worry, your cat's weird behavior isn't predicting your death!

Cats are strange creatures that often behave in odd and unpredictable ways, but that doesn't mean that you should be worried about your own mortality if your feline friend gets unusually clingy.

Sure, cats will recognize when someone is dying, but that doesn't make them harbingers of death.

In the end, cats instinctively know when something is wrong through sight, smell, and sound, but unlike us, they don't have a developed sense of what death is.

Your kitty isn't some Cassandra, a prophet predicting disaster, and it certainly doesn't think that you're about to die. Its weird behavior might seem strange but, let's be real, it can be explained pretty by the fact that it's a cat.

Cover photo: 123RF/Maya23k

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