Can Cats Cry Real Tears of Pain or Sadness?

Cats Do Have Feelings, But Tears Are a Different Story

Photo of Sad Woman Holding Cat
Sad Woman Holding Cat. Getty / jean gill

Anecdotal evidence suggests that cats can cry tears when they are upset or grieving. It's true that cats' eyes sometimes get watery.  And cats can and do have emotions -- and do grieve. But if you've seen a cat with watery eyes at around the same time that they have cause to grieve, it's probably a coincidence.

Cat Emotions Are Real

Researchers have found that cats do, indeed, have emotions. They can read human facial expressions, and they can feel a wide range of feelings about human and other animals.

When they have feelings, they can act on them. For example:

  • A happy cat may purr, rub, play, or otherwise, engage with humans and other animals.
  • A sad cat may withdraw, lose its appetite, or become less energetic.
  • An angry or frightened cat may hiss, arch its back, growl, or swat at another person or animal.

Cats who are anxious, angry, or upset may make sounds that are similar to a human whine or whimper. These noises are indications of a cat's emotions -- and so, in that sense, the animal is crying. But according to researchers, human beings are the only animals that actually cry tears when experiencing strong emotions or pain.

The Truth About Cats' Tears

Cats eyes do tear, so it's likely that you've seen cat tears at some point if you're a cat owner.

Cats' eyes will "tear" or water for a number of reasons, but they are all medical, not emotional. They include eye irritation from a speck of dust, a scratch from another cat, or allergy.

They also include contagious diseases, such as upper respiratory infections. Clogged tear ducts (believe it or not) can also result in tearing.

Other possible reasons for teary eyes include:

    If you see your cat tearing up, it's important to know that they are not expressing a strong emotion. Instead, they are showing you that something is medically amiss. Often, the issue is minor -- but in some cases, cat tears can be evidence of a serious problem or a problem that could become serious without treatment. If tearing occurs on a regular basis, it's a good idea to visit your vet.  Stroking and kindness, while always welcome, won't do a thing to stop your cat's tears.

    While cats certainly do have emotions such as grieving or depression, they will never shed tears to show those feelings. If you are concerned about your pet's emotions, look for other signs of their feelings such as lethargy, withdrawal, or disinterest in food. These issues, too, can be a sign of illness -- so before making assumptions about your cat's emotional status, always take the first step of checking on its physical health.

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