Cats are famous for loving solitude, comfort and quiet. Despite looking awfully snugly, not many of them favor touches, squeezes, and hugs.
But the mystery of Why does my cat sleep on me when I’m sick has been puzzling cat-owners for pretty long.
Some believe that cats aren’t capable of empathy or compassion — it’s just the pride instinct talking in them. Others say it’s an act of love and care. Plus, cats allegedly have some magical healing powers.
As always, truth is hidden somewhere in the middle. Let’s see what scientific research and reports from other cat-owners can tell us about this peculiar case.
The Fluffy Psychic
You’ll be surprised, but there is a legit scientific study about the emotional intellect of felines. Conducted by Moriah Galvan and Jenifer Vong, the study involved 12 cats whose reaction to human vocal intonations, posture, laughter/crying, and other emotional cues was documented.
The volunteers faked anger or happiness in the presence of their pets. As the research showed, cats aren’t that great at reading and decoding our emotions. Disappointing, isn’t it?
However, just a dozen cats is a number too small. And millennia of living together have taught us to better understand each other: cats monitor your tone of voice, they always know when it’s time to cook dinner, and they even react when you’re in danger.
Doctor Kitty to the rescue
So, do cats know when you are sick? That’s when things get interesting. Although cats don’t seem to have medical diplomas, they have something else: olfaction. Or a sheer sense of smell in other words.
Cats can brag about 200 million scent receptors. That’s almost as much as some hunting dog breeds have! And it’s a known fact that dogs can smell diseases: lately, they have been trained to identify Covid-19 by smell. Can cats sense sickness, too, maybe?
Your tabby can surely do the same with such a powerful smell detector. Each disease affects the chemical balance of your body in one way or another. And when sensing it, your cat can instinctively understand that something is really off.
Actually, various mammal species do that. For example, it is speculated that wolves can identify the sick packmates through smell and assist them by bringing food. It is unlikely that your cat will bring you a moose. But some snug comfort is already something, right?
So, why does my cat lay on me when I’m sick? There are a few popular theories. Let’s investigate each one.
So, can cats sense illness in humans? If you check forums like Reddit or Quora on the given topic, there will be hundreds of posts telling stories of how caring cats turn when their human friends become ill.
Now, there’s no scientific evidence for that. Quite probably, a cat can smell something like a viral disease. They also might be sensitive to cortisol levels. It’s a stress hormone, the amount of which grows when someone’s affected by pain, depression, anxiety, etc.
Also, almost every cat-owner can confirm that kitties react to your migraine and headache. It’s not rare for a cat to come and give you a relaxing massage or licking when it happens.
2. Body language
I’ve said it before: cats are brilliant at learning the cause-and-effect correlation. They know how to ring the doorbells, flush the toilet and even open the blinds, as the YouTube videos prove.
A cat can also learn the alphabet of your body language and know when you want to feed it, play with it or grab it by the chubby sides. Or when you’re not feeling well.
Sometimes, illness or pain makes us assume specific poses, like curling up, for example. An insightful kitty will see that when you’re not feeling well, you move, play, and talk much less than usual. So, paying you a polite visit becomes an obligation.
3. Blame it on routine
Cats are beasts of habits. Day by day, they get used to your routine. A kitty knows at what time you’re back from work, what you prefer to make for breakfast, which slippers are your favorite, and so on.
Consequently, if your schedule, rituals and habits change due to sickness, the cat will notice it. And since they are allergic to chaos and disorder, they will come to you seeking comfort and consolation.
4. Body temperature
A pretty prosaic reason behind a cat sleeping on me riddle is that cats might be doing it just because you emanate warmth. Especially if you have a fever — 99 F (37.2 C). And if you’re cold, most likely, you’ll resort to blankets, sweaters, and other similar items.
Cats are opportunists. They always seek for tastier food, easier prey, or a warmer place. No wonder if your improvised fort of pillows and blankets and the higher body temperature trigger a desire to stick around in its little opportunistic mind.
Cats seem to be egotistical, that’s true. But it’s just a facade created by millions of years of evolution and adaptation. In reality, kitty-cats seem to develop an emotional connection with their owners.
According to a zoologist Dennis Turner, your cat misses you while you’re away: “They miss their owner, for example, during a holiday stay — even if they may only give them the cold shoulder on their return.”
So, there’s no reason to reject the idea that your cat might actually be worried about you. And helping the pridemate in need might be one of their instinctive urges.
A few popular questions about feline behavior.
Can cats sense when you’re sick?
Nobody knows for sure, but we have a good basis for assuming that. Some dog breeds like Labrador hound have about 220 million olfactory receptors, which allows them to sniff sickness. And the feline sense of smell is almost as sheer.
Why does my cat lay on me when I’m sleeping?
As you can see, for various reasons. But in most cases, your cat simply enjoys your company.
Do cats get clingy when sick?
Mostly, they don’t. When feeling sick, cats prefer to find a comfy hideout where no one will disturb them.
Do cats know when they are going to die?
No, but they feel how their body weakens due to old age. As the first end-life symptoms appear — loss of appetite, extreme weakness, and others — cats search for a quiet place to spend the last moments alone.
When You Need a Helping Paw…
So, can cats tell when you’re sick? Probably yes. As a cat person myself, I can confirm that felines develop a deep emotional connection with you if you raise them from their kittenhood days with love and care.
They watch you and analyze your habits. They know a lot more about you than you can imagine. And if something goes wrong, their keen little eyes and pointy ears will spot it. The fluffy doctor will come to help you, whether you like sharing your bed or not.
Does your cat often sleep on you? Has his/her presence in bed helped you get better sooner than usual? Let us know in the comments!