Is Your Cat Able to Tell When You Are Happy or Angry?

Is your cat able to read your emotions from your facial expressions? I don’t expect a cat to be able to read the subtle emotions and feelings of others. But is your cat able to know when you’re happy or sad? Is your cat able to tell when you are angry or relaxed and contented? If so, can they do it through facial expressions?

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We know that cats have feelings and empathy. They have emotions. We don’t know how refined their emotions are but they are there. We also know that cats can understand when you are displeased. They understand through the tone of your voice. If you are angry the tone changes and cats pick up on this. Cats may also pick up on your general body language and demeanour. I think it is more about tone i.e. the sound of your voice which conveys your mood to your cat. I don’t mean shouting which is cruel.

So, as mentioned if the sound is harsh your cat will know that is done something which displeases you (not necessarily something that is wrong). Conversely, if you speak gently to your cat it reinforces the bond. But we don’t know for sure whether companion animals can read and understand the signs of our emotional state.

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A recent study with dogs conducted by Austrian scientists at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna indicates that dogs can read the emotions of their master. This apparently is the first indication that any non-human species can read the emotions of another species.

The study involved 18 border collie dogs. They were trained to identify happy and angry faces by pressing their noses on a touchscreen. When the dogs could just see the mouth or the eyes and forehead they were able to tell with a reasonable degree of accuracy which person was smiling or which person was angry.

The person who led the study, Corsin Muller, says,

“our results show that at least some dogs realise that smiling eyes mean the same thing as a smiling mouth, and angry eyes mean the same thing as an angry mouth.”

I don’t think this study is conclusive partly because the border collie is a particularly intelligent dogs, which been bred for close interaction with humans. This makes them better able to read human emotions. Also the testing method may mot be precise enough.

Personally, my experience indicates that my cat picks up my emotions but I don’t know if it is through my facial expression. I don’t think it is but I don’t know. As mentioned at the beginning, the sound I make and my body language are perhaps the sorts of signals which he picks up enabling him to understand to a certain degree my emotional state.

There is one remaining topic. Is there anyplace in our relationship with our cat for our anger or annoyance; to be annoyed with our cat? And if so should we express it? Ideally, we should not. This is because our cat can do no wrong. All they can do is displease us because they don’t fit in with what we want or expect. This is not doing wrong. In which case we should accept it. Therefore we should not be angry. In an ideal world our cat should only see us happy or neutral. This makes for a better environment for our cat companion who will instinctively be cautious and defensive. We don’t want to bring that defensiveness out of him/her.

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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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11 Responses

  1. Bastet says:

    One more instance was when I was telling the mean ol man off and to stay out of my garden (1 month ago) and he was trying to bait me and make me mad , telling I eat cat poop, one of my feral Colony, who I can’t touch, heard my voice (and his) and I heard him crying, the mean ol guy said “there’s one of your dirty cats” Now this was 1:30 pm an that cat would never be out in the Garden at that time, esp with the mean guy. But he was telling me as if by ESP, “c’mon Mama, get away from that jerk and follow me , and I did,(just walked away and followed my big Orange boy) and he walked in front of me with his tail high like a flag, until I was near my own garden. The mean guy saw this, and that kitty saved me from getting angrier at the mean guy and his lousy, dirty talk about me eating cat crap sandwitches and baiting me.

  2. Bastet says:

    Michael………. I believe they have an extra ordinary sense of intuition,(we humans are too busy thinking of the past and future) Just like my outside Colony learned to stay away from the mean people here that live in my Apt building. They can read your feelings and who you are! Funny thing is ………..someone called the Company and complained about cat poop for years, yes, once in a great while , one of the kitties would go in someone’s garden but the day the bkig Company cat poop inspector came, there was not even one little poop to be found anywhere!! I told them all My fur kids) to stay away from the gardens and the bad people and they went next door to an adjacent field and only God knows where and the inspectors couldn’t even find a cat on the property where I live when they came to inspect, not a one. So they went away saying “there is no cat poo problem there and that stuck with the management and the Company , so they never did another inspection, despite the fact a mean man lied and complained to all Gov’t agencys for years about my fur kids. Go figure, Cat’s are so smart and so is the Creator who created them. They are so smart that when they see me outside near my Garden, like little fairies , they pop out from behind bushes, trees, out of nowhere, there they are, all happy to see me. They know how much I love them and they love me, they can tell my feelings, heck anyone who loves someone can sense things, don’t you think???

    • I am convinced that people in general don’t fully appreciate the intelligence of animals in general and cats in particular. There is much more going on inside the head of a cat that we as people give credit for. Intelligence does not have to mean high IQ.

  3. Bastet says:

    My kitties always know, they would sense my emotions, over the years when I was upset about a particular person,(You know who) my cats would sense my emotions and try to jolly me out of a bad mood, if that didn’t work, my female 14 yr old, would get mad at me and try to attack me, she was extremely sensitive to my mood and my energy.

  4. My cats can sense our human moods and understand if they have done something wrong akin to dogs.Only difference is that akin to dogs they are not obedient and will repeat the same truant or mischief again and sulk when scolded !

  5. Dee (Florida) says:

    So funny.
    Yes, they know full well when I am happy or displeased.
    They know me like no one else knows me.
    They even anticipate my reactions to situations.
    It’s a run and hide state sometimes.
    They understand my words…
    “What the Hell…”
    “Who did this?”

  6. Barb from the cats of North Hills says:

    always, they are my little mind readers,

  7. Alan says:

    In my limited experience cat’s choose people with laid back personalities to befriend rather than people who have changeable flighty characters. Maybe being a pretty laid back animal they look for the same in a human. So I think it goes further than just reading our emotions, which I am sure they do. I can’t say I get angry as such with my cat, fleetingly annoyed maybe a better way of putting it, then I point at her and say “No”, she knows what it means. She gets “the point” so to speak.

    • In my limited experience cat’s choose people with laid back personalities to befriend rather than people who have changeable flighty characters

      I think you are spot on there. I do the same as you saying ‘No’. I have never before had to say ‘No’ to my cat but Gabriel is unneutered and 4 months old so he is a big manic and can hurt himself and me. I am forced to take control sometimes.

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