Yes, domestic cats sense that there is something wrong with the relationship. I’m sure that there are many examples of a cat guardian falling out of love with their cat companion. It happens a lot less than when the companion is a person. But it must happen nonetheless. It might even happen to a person who dearly loved their cat but their cat became difficult perhaps because he or she was never truly domesticated and this element of their character irritated occasionally but then became tiresome leading to a breakdown in the relationship. The problem may be exacerbated by the person suffering from a chronic illness and becoming irritable.
I thought I’d test my cat to see whether he would change his behaviour if I shunned him. That might sound cruel but it lasted for a very short time and I don’t think it is cruel. I basically stopped doing all the usual routines that I normally do with him first thing in the morning which includes letting him come on my lap in bed and my general demeanour towards him was cold. I was quiet with him. I did not talk to him. I did not stroke him or respond to his meows for attention.
I then went outside to buy the newspaper at about 7:15 a.m.. Now, when I go out to buy the newspaper he follows me out to the hall and then sits on the stairs where he waits for my return about 15 minutes later. He didn’t do it on this occasion. He stayed on my bed. Also, when I return he always either goes outside to greet me or he is waits just inside the front door. On this occasion he did neither.
I might be misreading his expression because people can tend to project their feelings onto their cats but I also felt that his general demeanour and expression was different. He looked a little uncertain and perhaps more anxious.
From this very basic and simple test I conclude that cats know when you don’t love them any more. That’s too strong a statement. Perhaps to put it less dramatically they sense when you have become less loving towards them and that there is a potential problem with the relationship.
As soon as I picked up where I left off and was loving again he was particularly delighted. Cats need that constant level of reassurance in the relationship. This is partly because they get very used to it. They get used to the petting, the emotional, the loving voice and general behaviour of the human companion. To pull the plug on it is a bit of a shock, it breaks the routine.
There is that simple breakage in the routine which affects them but I think it goes deeper than that. I feel that they sense that there is something wrong in the relationship and they wait for things to get back to normal. They are confused. Routines create certainty which is the antithesis to confusion. Break those routines and your cat has a problem psychologically.