angry cat

Do Cats Know When You’re Mad at Them?

Those fortunate enough to have been loved by a cat in their lifetime know the finicky nature of this perplexing species.

Their sheer hatred of any change (big or small), their tendency to feel extra playful just as we’re drifting off to sleep, and other not-so-cute feline behaviors are all things that cat people reluctantly put up with in the name of love.

But have we ever stopped to think about how our feline friends perceive us? Humans are surely a strange species in the eyes of a cat.

With our loud voices, desire to move things that have no business being moved, and the enemies we bring into the home — like another cat, a puppy, or the dreaded vacuum cleaner — it would only make sense that we confuse them on occasion!

Since cats and humans have such different communication styles, it also makes sense to wonder how they see human emotion.

Many of us ask the question “do cats know when you’re mad at them?” After all, they’re a sensitive species (and experts at pushing our buttons at times), so it’s a valid subject to think about.

Have you ever wondered this about your cat? Maybe you’ve noticed some subtle (or not so subtle) behavior changes in your kitty when you’re feeling a little off yourself, specifically when you’re mad about something they’ve done? That’s what we’ll be discussing in this article, so read on to better understand how your kitty sees changes in your mood.

Do Cats Know When You’re Mad at Them?

So, what do you think? Do cats know when you’re mad at them, or are they conveniently oblivious to human emotions?

The short answer to this multi-layered question is yes, they know.

In fact, there have been complex studies done to prove that cats do in fact understand emotions; of their own species as well as ours.

However, it’s not such a cut and dry question to answer, so let’s dig a little deeper. The long answer is laid out below to make it a bit clearer.

We’ll discuss some signs to look for in your cat that prove how well they understand when you’re mad at them, as well as some solutions to help them make you mad less often!

How Cats Understand Human Anger

Since cats and humans express emotions differently, it might be a little confusing to picture their understanding of ours, especially when they’re directed at our feline friends specifically. However, cats are incredibly sensitive to the energy around them, which means they can sense tension and mood changes in their human family members.

It may be due to the smell of hormonal changes that occur in human bodies when our moods change (which cats have been known to detect), but it could also be the simple fact that they’re in tune with our behavior. Cats are a very observant species — they’re expert hunters, after all!

Once you’re bonded to your cat and have lived with them for some time, they start to learn your mannerisms — the same way you probably know theirs. This means that when your behavior takes a sudden turn (specifically a loud or scary one), your cat is bound to notice.

This only makes sense: if the tables were turned and your cat suddenly started acting weird, you’d probably notice too, right? This is what happens when we’re close to others: we become experts on their usual behaviors — no matter what species they might be.

The fact that humans primarily rely on logical reasoning sometimes makes it hard for us to wrap our heads around the way other species perceive things. Cats (as well as pretty much all other animals) live according to what their instincts tell them, which means the “how” and “why” take a backseat to the “what.”

What this boils down to is that while your cat may recognize that you’re angry, they don’t stop and ask themselves why — they just know it’s not a good thing! This causes them to react in one of several ways, which will differ slightly with each individual.

How to Tell if Your Cat Knows You’re Mad

Now that we’ve cleared up the question of whether or not your cat knows when you’re mad at them, you might want to know how you can see this for yourself. While I’d never recommend getting mad at your cat, it’s quite possible that it’ll happen organically sometime in the near future!

Next time your feline friend does something to annoy you, keep an eye out for these behaviors (and try to remember your kitty isn’t trying to make you mad on purpose):

They Disappear

Cats are sensitive creatures that react to what’s happening in their surroundings from a survival standpoint. What this means is if they feel threatened, they’ll instinctively do one of two things: prepare for a fight or get out of harm’s way.

As a predator/prey species, they know when it’s time to defend themselves (like when another cat encroaches on their space) and when it’s time to run for cover (like when you’re cursing their name for scratching up your new couch).

If you’re mad at them to the point of yelling, stomping your feet, slamming doors, or otherwise causing a ruckus that you normally wouldn’t, they consider this your version of sounding the alarm and know to give you some space until you cool off (or quiet down).

This doesn’t necessarily mean that cats understand you’re angry with them specifically, or what it is that you’re angry about. They just know that something’s not right with their human, and they’re not sticking around to find out what!

They Change Their Behavior

Cats’ ability to adapt to their surroundings seems to directly oppose their deep hatred for change, but it’s actually something they can do quite well, if the situation calls for it. They’re often known to comfort loved ones in challenging times, which can mean when we’re sad — or even when we’re angry.

Depending on your kitty’s individual personality, their reaction to your anger may not be a simple disappearing act. In fact, they may try to comfort you, or at the very least, stay just far enough out of your way while also remaining close enough to keep an eye on you. Cat people will know this seemingly odd behavior well, but it makes sense from a cat’s perspective!

Personally, I’ve seen different reactions to anger from both of my cats. My boy tends to disappear for a short time, only to return like nothing happened a few minutes later, curiously exploring his surroundings.

My girl is the opposite: she sticks by my side, watching me with her concerned kitty expression — just at a safe enough distance to escape if necessary.

Granted, the boy is usually the one in trouble, which explains the differences in their reactions somewhat. Even though I’ve never directed my anger at him specifically, somehow he knows when I find out about something naughty he’s done, and steers clear of me for a while!

They Internalize Stress

It’s important to mention that stress — especially regular exposure to it — is quite damaging to a cat’s health.

While of course they’ll do things that push your buttons from time to time, taking your anger out on them can both damage their bond with you and cause them to live in fear, which they internalize.

This can have lasting effects on their wellbeing, causing all sorts of health issues that could have been prevented. Just as chronic stress is unhealthy for humans, the same goes for cats — only more so.

I’m certainly not judging you for being human, as we all lose our temper once in a while. But if your kitty has unexplained health concerns like urinating outside the litter box, tummy troubles, or other strange symptoms that aren’t caused by something obvious, it might be time to evaluate the stress levels at home.

If you or someone else in your household are prone to regular outbursts (whether directed at your cat or not), it might be too much for kitty’s sensitive disposition. Implementing some coping strategies will help both you and kitty live a calmer, more enjoyable life together.

They Tell You Through Body Language

Obviously, cats can’t verbalize their feelings, as we all know. However, if you pay a little attention, your cat does actually speak to you — it just might take a little decoding on your part.

All animals have their own form of communication, and cats are no different. Their body language is the way they do this, and it’s up to us to translate what they’re trying to say.

When a cat knows you’re mad, they’ll likely be fearful and/or concerned. So, what do these emotions look like in cat speak? It’s actually easier to tell than you might think —cats can change their posture and facial expressions quite drastically based on how they’re feeling. 

For example, fear usually involves their ears being pulled back or flattened against their head, dropping themselves low or crouching tightly towards the ground, or their eyes being wide, with dilated pupils (not the slit-type pupils you’ll see in a relaxed, comfortable cat).

When your cat is extra scared, that’s when you’ll see the typical cat reaction we all know so well: arched back, fur and/or tail fluffed up, and tail stiffly upright. They may even hiss or growl if they’re really on edge, trying to communicate with you that they’re extremely uncomfortable and you’re not reading their signals very well! 

Concerned body language can be anything from watching you closely to running out of the room — only to come back a moment later and “scope out” the scene.

If you’ve got a particularly secure cat that doesn’t scare easily (lucky you, by the way), they might walk right over and rub their head on your ankles/arm/leg/whichever part of you they can access easily. This is an attempt to let you know they care, which I’ve always felt very flattered by personally!

Coping Tips

Cats inevitably irritate us sometimes; it’s just bound to happen. Even living with human roommates can be annoying at times, right? We all have different personalities, like and dislike different things, and have habits that get on each other’s nerves, whether we’re the same species or not!

However, there are ways to help you and kitty get along a little more smoothly, and they’re not that hard to do. Thankfully, a little effort can go a long way in building (or repairing) your bond with kitty! The next time your little feline menace makes you mad — or better yet before — consider one of these suggestions:

Regular Play

Cats often don’t get as much exercise as they need, which doesn’t fare well for your mood — or theirs. Pent up energy can come out in all sorts of undesirable ways, from peeing outside the litterbox to waking you up at 3am, and plenty of other annoying behaviors!

There’s good news, though: a few minutes of play once (or better yet, twice) a day will help your kitty to relax, allowing them to feel satisfied that they’ve exerted themselves enough for the time being. You might be surprised at the positive changes this can create!

A chilled-out cat is much more enjoyable to live with: they’ll be more friendly (if that’s in their nature), they’ll be more content to just hang out with you, they’ll be less aggravating, and — most importantly — they’ll let you sleep through the night!

After all, anyone can get a little rough around the edges when we don’t get enough sleep, right?

Quality Time

Have you considered the idea that your cat may be acting out because they’re lonely? It could be the very cause of your aggravation. Even though they act like they don’t need us, the reality is that cats secretly miss us when we’re away from home — or otherwise unavailable.

If you’ve been extra busy lately, this may be the reason your cat is doing things to make you mad: they just want your undivided attention for a while! Don’t worry, though. This is a simple fix with a little effort from you.

While everyone is busy these days, it’s easy enough to remind our feline family members that they’re loved and appreciated. It doesn’t have to be time consuming, either: try a scratch on the head as you walk by, a special treat after dinner, or a little down time together at the end of the day.

These small gestures will work wonders to let kitty know you still care. They all contribute to them feeling loved and wanted, giving them less reason to get on your nerves!

Personal Space

Although they appreciate your attention and acknowledgement, each cat has their own threshold for the amount of affection they can stand. For example; my boy cat is the most aggressively loving cat I’ve ever met, but if you pet him for one second too long, he can’t take it!

He gets over excited and turns to bite your hand, which is his way of saying “ok, that’s enough for now.” Depending on your cat’s personality, they may very well be trying to communicate that they need a little more personal space.

This can result in behaviors that make your blood boil, as of course you don’t speak cat — you’re human! Thankfully, paying a little closer attention to the times your kitty is extra annoying might yield some interesting discoveries.

If their maddening antics tend to happen when their space is being encroached on, a simple step back may bring relief for you both. Giving them a little room to breathe could be just the answer you’ve been looking for and could make all the difference in how you both feel.