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Do Cats Know Other Cats Are Sick?

Even though a human has five senses the same as a cat, there remain marked differences, such as a cat can turn its head and ears towards the direction of the sound. A cat’s senses are incredibly acute compared to those of a human. Researchers who study cats admit, for instance, that a cat’s sense of smell is 14 times greater than that of a human’s sense of smell.

You may be aware of stories from cat parents about how their cat saved their life when the cat found out they had cancer in the early stages through the sense of smell. They were able to have their doctor diagnose and treat them sooner. Otherwise, the tumor would have quickly spread, making treatment impossible.

Do Cats Know Other Cats Are Sick?

If it were not for the heightened sense of cats, it is unlikely that cats would survive long in the wild. It is vital to a cat’s survival that they can climb out of harm’s way, jump incredible distances and land on their feet, and hunt for food in the wild. The cat’s ability to smell is acutely sharp. This heightened smell allows cats to hunt, become aware of the dangers in the wild, and avoid unfamiliar animals or people.

I began my journey to rescue and care for cats 30 years ago. I cater to various cat species and can attest that when one of our cats becomes sick or terminal, some of our other cats pick up on this illness. It was pretty apparent due to noticing that a few of our other cats would rally around the sick kitty, giving it more attention and sometimes bathing the ill kitty.

Researchers into cat behaviors say that a healthy cat knows when another cat or human is sick or dying. These other cats act differently towards the cat or human who is ill. Since no two cats are the same, one cat may react differently than another cat in the household towards sickness and impending death. The reactions of cats to illness are significantly different among cats.

Researchers of cats in the wild find that when a cat such as a lion is ill, other lions make food available to the sick cat. This action tells researchers that lions have a solid understanding of illness and know when another cat is sick. If that lion dies, another lion within the pride shows symptoms of depression. The same holds true for a domesticated cat.

We have seen firsthand how a cat’s behavior changes when another cat dies throughout our early cat rescue and cat care years. If this happens in your household, you may be able to see this between closely bonded cats and especially those cats related to each other.

It is most difficult to understand these different behaviors. This notion is supported by what researchers found during the study of cat behaviors. Cats have been noted to pick up a human’s emotions related to the sickness or death of another pet or beloved human and display an element of grief and depression due to this grief.

Cat parents across the globe reported that when another cat or human in their household became sick or died, the behavior of other pets in the house changed in the following ways. However, these changes were temporary.

  • Another cat’s appetite decreased
  • Slept more
  • Became less active
  • Became more vocal

I can attest to these reports that when sickness or death involved one of our cats or one of our human relatives or friends, one of our cats reacts. Our cats seemed attuned to medicine and treatment imposed on another cat or human in our household. When we return the sick cat home, it now has a different odor, possibly from alcohol, medicine, and the overall vet’s office smell to the other cats in our household.

Cats are found to definitely feel and know the loss of another cat or human, and they go through an element of grief which accounts for changes in the survivor cats’ behavior. This happened to us when our cat Hercules was killed by a pack of three pit bulls, and Lil’ Luke witnessed this incident. Lil’ Luke no longer goes outside as there are too many dangers.

Luke also went through a time of grief with me. As my husband buried Hercules, Luke kept his eyes glued to this burial. I believe that Luke knew what happened and was in shock as he was with Hercules, but he successfully escaped to the top of our tree. Luke knew what had happened, and it took him several weeks to shed some of this grief. However, his eyes, on occasion, wander to the burial site. Cats, like humans, need time to heal and must go through an element of grief.

No one can prove that cats know when another cat is sick or in the dying process. We can assume that cats know when you or a fellow pet is ill or dies. Nothing has to be proven to me because I have lived through this grief of our cats.

How Do Cats Treat Sick Cats? 

We have six rescue cats in our household. When another cat does not feel good, or my husband or I am ill, most of our cats want to snuggle with us. I can see each cat keeping their eyes on us. It is as though these cats are on high alert.

If one of our cats is ill, some of our other cats bathe and stay with the ill kitty. If these cats were in the wild, I would not be surprised if the healthy cat brought food to the sick cat. From all that I have read about this issue, scientific reports related to this subject support our experience of seeing a few of our healthy cats become more attentive to the ill cat. The healthy cats may nap close to the sick cat.

Do Cats Grieve The Loss Of Other Cats?

Throughout our 30 plus years of cat rescue and cat care, I have seen numerous times where some of our cats grieved the loss of another cat.

  • I witnessed noticeable signs of depression in surviving cats.
  • I saw our mama cat grieve her adult daughter’s death due to kidney failure.
  • I witnessed mama Beebe’s anger and frustration over this loss.

I saw one of the cats, Papa Pudge Bear, grieve with my husband when his dad died. Pudge shed tears. You may have difficulty believing this, but it happened, and I was stunned to witness this cat grieve with my husband.

Grief for cats is the same for humans and comes in the form of decreased appetite and activity with no interest in anything, even a reduced ability to play. When grief overtakes a cat, they do not want to play with their toys and remain active, filling their days with sleep.

Do Cats Isolate Themselves When Sick?

I have had numerous instances of ill cats hiding. Also, I have seen soon-to-be mama cats search for and find quiet, secluded places to deliver their litter of kittens. And, I have had ill cats vegetate in the more active places of my home. However, these cats may or may not want anyone to fuss over them when sick. While our ill cat did not hide and remained in clear sight, they did not want attention. They simply wanted everyone to keep their distance.

Cat researchers say that ill cats will hide most of the time until they feel better. However, when I noticed a cat in hiding and if that cat did not want to eat or drink, we would call the vet for an appointment. We would await the doctor’s exam to tell us why our kitty did not feel well and start medical intervention.

If and when your cat becomes ill, it may or may not hide. Cats dehydrate and lose weight quickly, so the vet needs to examine your cat and treat it accordingly if, after 24 hours, there is no change in your kitty.

Ways to Help Your Cat Grieve

  • Spend more quality time with your grieving cat.
  • Frequently talk to your cat.
  • Help your cat to groom.
  • Never replace a deceased cat at this time.
  • Allow your cat to see the deceased cat.
  • Seek your vet’s advice regarding grief issues.
  • Make sure your grieving cat eats and drinks.