If you've ever noticed your cat paying special attention to you while you're upset or acting strangely during a crisis, it's for a reason. Humans have many hormones and our bodies emit chemical scents that are undetectable to other humans, like pheromones and adrenaline. However, the powerful nose of a cat and its 200 million olfactory scent receptors will pick up that smell in a heartbeat -- and because they're so curious, they'll come to find out what's up.
Fact or Myth
There are no clear-cut studies on just what a feline truly is capable of sensing when it comes to human emotions, but it is a fact that they can smell chemicals and hormones released by the human body. Consider Oscar, resident cat at Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island. He accurately predicted 25 deaths with the only sign being Oscar's lying on the patient's bed when it was their time to go. Certainly he could not have ascertained their deaths by their emotions, but rather the chemicals and hormones being released by their dying bodies.
When You're Scared
A lot can be said for the way animals act when a human is afraid, and it's because they can smell the adrenaline that is released from our bodies that initiates the "fight or flight" response. If you are afraid and attempting to interact with your cat, it will not only smell the fear, but respond to the change in your demeanor and heart rate. Though every cat is different, most likely will scramble to get away or become panicked themselves, hissing at the strange smell and possibly even becoming agitated.
When You're Sad
There are many stories of cats comforting humans when they are sad, crying or just upset in general. Those people would like to say it's because their cat loves them -- and maybe it is -- but the more likely explanation is that cats smell the hormones that are released in tears. A stressed-out body also releases hormones, so there is a fine mixture of scents for the cat to investigate. Because your cat is your companion, while they are there they likely will head bump you and express affection. But once the tears cease, do not be surprised if they continue on about their business.
When You're Content
It's no secret endorphins are released when we are happy or in love, and cats can smell that too. A happy cat is one who sits on a happy pet parent's lap, both enjoying life and the pleasure of the affection of each other, which only produces more happy hormones. If you speak in calm, pleasant tones, the cat is more likely to come near. Even a happy lilt to the voice, as many women adopt when speaking to felines, produces a happy reaction from the cat.
- It's A Cat's World...You Just Live In It; Justine A. Lee, DVM
- The New England Journal of Medicine: A Day in the Life of Oscar the Cat
- Brand X Pictures/Stockbyte/Getty Images