You’ve probably seen those images of teary-eyed cats online. Sad-eyed kitties are used to illustrate emotional reactions to various common situations. It should be fairly evident that these images have been heavily edited but some people are still curious about the emotions they show. Do cats actually cry? Do the pictures show real tears, just emphasised a little do make them more pronounced? Cats do exhibit a range of different emotions. They can be happy, sad, angry, calm — indeed, cats can show virtually any emotion you care to think of. They’re also very communicative and expressive creatures.
Can cats cry tears? Cats do produce tears, which keep their eyes moist and clean. Cats with eye irritation can have teary eyes. However, cats do not cry to express emotion in the same way that humans do. Weepy eyes on a cat probably mean an infection or an allergic reaction rather than sadness.
You’ve arrived on this page because you have some questions about your cat and her emotional state.
- Can cats cry tears? Is my cat crying?
- Why does my cat have tears in her eyes?
- Do cats experience sadness or grief?
- Do cats have similar emotions to humans?
- How come my cat doesn’t cry if she’s sad?
- Is there something wrong with my cat’s eyes if it looks as though she’s crying?
- How can I stop my cat from crying?
Fortunately, we have the answers you’re looking for right here. Keep reading to find out how your cat expresses emotion and much, much more.
Can cats cry tears?
Cats’ eyes can water and produce tears much as ours can. They don’t exactly cry per se, however, at least not in the same way as a human being. When a human is overwhelmed by emotion they may express this by shedding tears and perhaps by vocalising sobs. Cats, when they are in distress, have a number of different responses depending on what’s upsetting them.
Some people assume that cats are very simple creatures without complex emotions. In fact, they have very well-developed emotions which are expressed in a variety of different ways.
A cat with moist or teary eyes probably isn’t weeping, in the sense of producing tears as an emotional display. If your cat’s eyes appear moist, it may be that they are sore and irritated. Tears falling from a cat’s eyes are associated with ocular discharge rather than with weeping. In later sections, we’ll look at the ways in which a cat’s eyes can become teary and what you should do to help.
When a cat is suffering from emotional distress, she will demonstrate this differently from the ways in which a human shows similar emotions. A cat who is in pain may meow and scream loudly. A cat who feels scared or challenged in some way may hiss and snarl. A cat who feels sad, neglected or simply hungry may meow plaintively. A cat in one of these moods, especially loneliness, can sound quite heartbreaking.
Cats can have very strong emotions and can even become depressed, but instead of weeping like humans, cats display their feelings through body language and vocalisation. They may not cry, exactly, but when things are not right they have their own ways for letting you know. While a cat’s emotional state can seem enigmatic, they’re actually quite easy to understand once you crack the kitty code.
A cat’s vocalisations can sound eerily similar to a human’s crying, particularly an infant’s. Current theories about domestic feline vocalisations are that they are an attempt to communicate with humans. While feral cats vocalise too, the sounds they make are usually pitched for other cats’ hearing rather than for ours. They don’t develop the trademark “meow!” sound unless they’re exposed, as kittens, to humans or to other cats who make it. Feral cats adopted in adulthood may never learn to meow. A friend of mine has a great hulking tom-cat who was rescued from a barn; he looks as if he should meow in a basso-profundo but instead he still squeaks like a kitten.
Later in this article, we’ll look more closely at the things which can cause teary eyes in cats, and also at the ways in which you can detect and address emotional distress in your pet.
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If my cat isn’t crying, what’s wrong with her eyes?
If your cat is looking teary-eyed and the condition doesn’t resolve itself in a day or so, you need to check and find out what might be going wrong. Cats can get watery eyes for a number of reasons. Some of these are relatively minor while others are cause for more concern.
First of all, try wiping away any mucus or discharge from your cat’s eyes. Use a clean moist cloth or tissue and be as gentle as possible (your cat is going to absolutely hate this so be very kind). Check-in on your cat periodically to see if it comes back. Sometimes the “tears” are the result of some minor irritation that will resolve itself without further intervention.
Watch out for telltale behaviours such as rubbing her eyes with her paw or trying to scratch itchy eyes on the corners of hard objects. This is a sign that something is really bothering your cat’s eyes and you need to take a close look. Examine your cat’s eyes for signs of infection, such as redness or swelling. Gentle bathing with cotton swabs that have been dipped in boiling water and then cooled can help take care of this. If the infection persists or gets worse, you should take your cat to the vet.
It’s possible for a cat to develop a blockage in one or both of her tear ducts. Certain breeds are especially prone to this and will need regular care to prevent eye infections. Exotics (“pug-faced”) cats are among the most likely breeds to develop blockages and infections due to their relatively short tear ducts.
More serious issues that could cause watering eyes include an injury to the eye or conditions such as glaucoma. In very rare instances, a cat can develop a tumour in or behind her eye. A swollen or bulging eye needs to be checked out.
The vet didn’t find an infection but my cat’s eyes are still watering.
If your cat’s eyes are watering and look sore but there are no other signs of infection, she may be dealing with an allergy. You should check your home to see if there are any obvious causes.
Cats can respond quite badly to the pollen from some houseplants, and outdoor plants if the pollen is allowed to blow in through the window. This is very similar to hayfever in humans. You can help by removing flowering plants from the rooms where your cat usually spends her time and closing the windows until the pollen season passes.
Do you use an air freshener or oil diffuser? These can put a lot of allergens out into the air. The essential oils used in some products can be intensely irritating to cats; my own cats seem to have the worst response to anything with a citrus fragrance. These usually contain limonene, which is rather notorious as an irritant.
Cleaning products can cause strong allergic reactions in cats. Again, the ones with a citrus fragrance seem to bother my cats the most. Floor polishes, soaps and sprays can cause a lot of problems for cats because they’re at floor level.
I once had to take my girl to the vet after I changed my carpet cleaner. I thought that because I was vacuuming it up after each application, the powder wouldn’t bother my cats. Wrong! My poor little queen cat, who loves to roll on the carpet, had the worst reaction I’ve ever seen. She was sneezing constantly and her eyes were watering all the time. The vet gave her some kitty antihistamines, which helped a lot, but I never used that carpet cleaner again.
If cats don’t cry, how can I tell if my cat is sad?
A happy cat has certain ways of letting you know she’s in a good mood. Happy cats prance cheerfully into the room, holding their tails up straight. Their ears will be pointed straight up and they will look alert but not anxious. Vocalisations will include inquisitive chirps and purring.
A sad cat will tend not to move around much unless she’s missing someone or something specific. Then she may wander around trying to find the absent person. She may fall completely silent or mew plaintively. If she’s scared, her ears may be flat. Her tail may droop if she’s unhappy, or swish if she’s nervous.
A frightened cat may lower her body to the floor and try to make herself as small as possible. She may cringe and flatten her ears. Alternatively, she may try to make her body look as big and threatening as possible. She will do this by arching her back and puffing up her fur. Her tail may bristle and swish in the air.
If your cat is exhibiting signs of sadness, fear or anger, you should try to resolve the situation if you can. If she’s looking for something, help her find it. If she’s missing a person who she is attached to, show her affection and perhaps give her an item of their clothing to snuggle with (this can go a long way to reassuring an insecure kitty).
If your cat is feeling threatened, try to find out why. If she’s scared of you, you can help by breaking eye contact, backing off and giving her space (without appearing intimidated). Find out if something in the home is upsetting or bothering her. For the most part, a cat’s emotional needs are fairly easy to meet. It’s often just a matter of patience and sympathy.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.