To know whether cats can have broken hearts, we have to know whether cats can feel love. Science can't answer that question, but those who live with cats know the answer. Of course, cats feel love. Cats love their people, other cats and, sometimes, they even love dogs.
Scientists warn pet guardians about assigning human emotion to animals. This is called anthropomorphizing. However, there is no way to know what our cats feel without talking to a cat and, as of yet, we haven't figured out a way to translate "meow" into human language. What we do know is that cats and other mammals have similar brain structures to humans, and one of the most renowned scientists of all time, Charles Darwin, did believe animals feel emotion.
They're Not Dogs
Many who live with animals are quick to believe that dogs feel emotion, and there are many stories of dogs dying of a broken heart while sleeping on their deceased guardians' graves. However, our feline friends don't wear their feelings on their paws as their canine counterparts do. While your cat may not run to greet you at the door, tail a-wag, you know he is happy you're home when he curls up in your lap and purrs. If you come home late -- or not at all -- he's not going to shred the couch cushions, as your dog might, but it's reasonable to assume he's going to be sad -- and maybe even a little heartbroken -- that he missed his regular cuddle time.
Protecting Those They Love
Again, there are copious stories of dogs rushing into burning buildings to save the ones they love from certain death. Rarely do we hear such stories about cats, but they do exist. There is the story of Scarlett, a cat who went back into a burning building, time after time, until she had removed each of her five kittens. Would she have faced such danger and injury if her heart weren't broken by the possibility of her babies perishing? In another such story, Sosa the cat fought off a poisonous snake to protect her person. We have to assume that Sosa loved her person to take on such a perilous fight. By extension, can we assume Sosa would have been heartbroken had her person been hurt?
Those who live with cats know that cats bond with people and other pets. Many pet guardians tell stories of their cats sensing their emotions, knowing instinctively when their humans have had a bad day and offering a little extra love and attention when their person is in a bad mood. There are also countless tales of cats traveling hundreds of miles to find their person after that person has moved. Scientists call this ability psi trailing and have yet to find an explanation for how it is possible. What except a broken heart could cause an animal to brave elements, hunger and dangers to reunite with the one they love?
Bethney Foster is social justice coordinator for Mercy Junction ministry, where she edits the monthly publication "Holy Heretic." She is also an adoption coordinator with a pet rescue agency. Foster spent nearly two decades as a newspaper reporter/editor. She graduated from Campbellsville University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in English, journalism and political science.