Can cats sense an earthquake coming? No!

Cat is unaware that an earthquake is about to strike

Cat is unaware that an earthquake is about to strike. Screenshot.

Can cats sense an earthquake coming? No, based on the videos I have seen and studies that I have read. I’ve just watched several TikTok videos of cats when an earthquake arrived. Every one of the cats were surprised by the earthquake. They did not, therefore, sense an earthquake coming! The video on this page is illustrative of that conclusion. The cat is taken by surprise. Does that answer the question in the title? I think that it probably does. We will have to further conclude that it is a myth that domestic cats predict earthquakes.


Dr Morris disagrees!

However, a world-famous zoologist and author, Dr. Desmond Morris, who has written many books about animal behaviour including cat behaviour, tells us the exact opposite! He says that “It has been established beyond doubt that cats are capable of predicting earthquakes, but it is still not certain how they manage to do this.”

He suggests 4 possibilities:

Useful links
Anxiety - reduce it
FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important
  1. Cats may be sensitive to vibrations in the earth even though they are very faint and undetectable by humans. Earthquakes build up gradually with these faint movements. We can’t feel them but cats can.
  2. Cats are responsive to a dramatic increase in static electricity which also proceeds earthquakes. Humans might be able to respond to this static charge by developing headaches or feeling as if they are coming down with a cold. These are vague signs. Perhaps cats are more positive in their response?
  3. Thirdly, cats are very responsive to shifts in the Earth’s magnetic field. These shifts proceed earthquakes.
  4. Perhaps all 3 above are detected in varying amounts by domestic cats to allow them to predict the oncoming earthquake.

Dr. Morris says that cats become increasingly agitated just before major earthquakes. And as cat caregivers can recognise their changed behaviour, their cat is providing them with a forewarning.

Sometimes cats run around in the house in panic and when the door is open, they flee from the building. And if the home has a female cat with offspring, she picks them up in her mouth and runs around trying to find somewhere to protect them.

Dr. Morris knows more than I do because he tells us that this sort of feline behaviour “has been reported time and again from the most vulnerable earthquake areas”. He said that serious research was underway at the time he published his book Cat World in 1996. I don’t see research which supports his claim but mention two studies below.

Domestic cats, he says can also detect volcanic eruptions or severe electrical storms because of their exceptional sensitivity. Some people credit the cat with supernatural powers which become evident when they predict earthquakes and other disasters. If they can do it is because of their more acute senses compared to humans.

Studies-some science!

Rather than relying upon anecdotal evidence which is the usual way, I have managed to track down a University of California, Davis study titled: AN EVALUATION OF THE ANIMAL-BEHAVIOUR THEORY For Earthquake Prediction.

Jumping forward to the conclusion in five lines of text, they state: “This study shows that a significant positive correlation does not exist between the behaviour of pets in the San Jose area and the occurrence of earthquakes within the same area over the three-year period from January 1983 through December 1985.”

The study was based upon the number of lost pets during earthquakes. I presume the assumption is that because cats and dogs and other animals became agitated, they ran away. They tabulated “41,717 daily reports of missing pets in the San Jose Mercury News, and of 224 earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or larger”.

That I think is fairly conclusive and my study of TikTok videos (which is not quite so scientific) is also conclusive. The cats that I have seen when earthquakes have struck were very clearly surprised. These were earthquakes at about 6.1 on the Richter scale.

The Seismological Society of America states that for centuries people have claimed that cats and dogs have predicted an imminent earthquake “but the first rigorous analysis of the phenomenon concludes that there is no evidence behind the claim”. The society refers to a study called: Review: Can Animals Predict Earthquakes, which was published on April 17, 2018 on the Geo Science World website.

The study reviewed 180 publications regarding abnormal animal behaviour before earthquakes. Almost all were based on single observations. They concluded that in many cases there was a foreshock which would have been felt by humans as well. They concluded that many of the published reports were too weak to conclude that animals including cats and dogs can foresee earthquakes.

Below are some more pages on earthquakes and cats. I may have come to a different conclusion in some of these ?.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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2 Responses

  1. tamara beinlich says:

    In 2010 a tornado tore my house apart (good thing I had homeowners insurance). I was standing at the glass screen door looking at the storm when my Maine coon Hello Handsome ran up to the door. I let him in, he sat down at my feet, looked at me and SCREAMED and screamed and screamed! Even now remembering that scream I get goosebumps. I picked him up to see if he was hurt and then I heard the train sound tornado’s make. Handsome jumped out of my arms and ran to the kitchen, I closed the door and ran after him. Then the roof tore off and I was picked up by the wind and then the metal roof slammed back down. I would have been sucked out. But as the roof came back down I was dropped on the kitchen table. I crawled under the table with Handsome. I believe Handsome felt the tornado and was screaming to warn me. Had I stayed at the door I would have been sucked out but chasing Handsome put me in the middle of the roof which prevented me from being sucked out. Handsome saved my life. Either he felt the air pressure change or he heard the tornado. I rescued Handsome and his brothers and sister at 8 weeks old, the neighbors kids were using him as a ball and were tossing him around. I yelled at them and made them give me the kittens. I like to think he was repaying me for saving him. 🙂 No other cat in the house screamed like he did. They acted normal. Poor Elizabeth was missing for 2 weeks, finally she came home skin and bones. If she tried to jump up on the couch she’d go straight up then fall to the floor. The vet said she had neurological inner ear damage. He figured she must have been caught in the tornado. Eventually she got better but thunder made her run and hide. I think some cats feel it while most do not.
    When the big Tsunami hit Indonesia people riding elephants were surprised when suddenly the elephants ran up the mountain the handlers could do nothing to stop the elephants. Had the elephants not run up the mountain all would have drowned.

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