Do cats have feelings?

Let’s say that a feeling is “an emotional state or reaction”.  We humans experience many feelings, among them fear, anxiety, joy.  Like us, cats are mammals and have many of the same brain structures we do.  Brain imaging studies of humans and other mammals have linked different areas of the brain to positive and negative emotional states. Cats certainly have feelings.

What kinds of feelings do cats experience?

Cats likely experience fear, anxiety, pain, and frustration, as well as pleasurable sensations that give rise to positive feelings. They do not experience more complex emotions, such as guilt and spite. Happiness for cat is different than for a human – the cat certainly will not be writing poetry and singing songs about how good he feels but he may purr or knead a blanket with his paws.

How do cats experience these feelings?

The neurological pathways are thought to be the same for all mammals. Outwardly, how the animal feels is expressed by his behavior. Different individuals may behave differently while experiencing the same emotion. Two cats may both be feeling frustrated while waiting to be fed. One cat might pace and meow; the other cat may swat at the first cat.

How do I know what my cat is feeling?

Observe your cat’s posture (body language) and behavior.

  • Is she relaxed (calm, confident) -OR- tense, and hunched into a ball (anxious)?

Look at your cat's posture

  • Does he approach you with tail in the air, crooked at the end (confident, happy) -OR-  is his tail twitching rapidly back and forth, tucked tightly (agitated, anxious)?



  • Are his ears up and listening (calm) -or- are they flattened out (anxious, unhappy)?



  • Is she vocalizing – hissing (distressed)? purring (calm and happy)? meowing loudly(frustrated)?



What can I do to make my cat feel good?

Make sure that your cat’s environment is rich, emotionally and physically.

  • Each cat needs place of his own, where he feels safe
  • Have several feeding and watering stations and scratching posts
  • Have more than one litter box in quiet, easily accessed places
  • Have toys available that encourage play and hunting behavior
  • Play and interact with your cat daily
  • Cats have a very sensitive sense of smell – avoid using strong smelling household cleaners, air fresheners, perfumes.


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2 thoughts on “A Cat’s World: What does my cat feel?

  1. Karen Gifford says:

    Hi Phyllis:

    I appreciate your perspectives on the behavior of cats. You have studied them well.

    Lost my sweet boy, Tobias, in October of 2019 he was 19 years old. Over the years he gave me all kinds of body language and verbal expressions to tell me what was going on with him. Then there were the times when he read what was going on with me as well. Whenever I was unwell he knew it was his job to comfort me, would lay right by my feet at the end of the bed.


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