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Can cats sense if a person is sick? Do they avoid them?

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 
My mother has had this 17 year old male cat since he was less than a year old. This summer she was diagnosed with cancer, had the recommended operation and is currently taking chemo. She was away from home about 2 months and finally got home a few weeks ago. The cat used to sleep on her bed at night, came to her to get petted and groomed, etc. Now he is quite distant to her. When I put him on the bed with her, he just walks off. Can cats tell when somebody is quite sick? Why is he avoiding her so much?
post #2 of 21
She probably just smells different to him. Sometimes it takes a little while for a cat to realize who someone is if they don't smell like they always did. He should be ok with her soon. Cats will often take care of their sick human. I hope your mom recovers well from her illness, and kitty comes around to her soon. Please keep us posted on both so we can keep up on vibes and prayers for both of them.
post #3 of 21
It's probably a subtle change in smell caused by the meds, time in the hospital, etc...he may just need some time to realize that it's the same person.
post #4 of 21
I haven't experienced this myself, but I've heard over and over again about cats that exhibited comforting behavior to their humans when their humans were sick. I can only explain that as they knew they were sick and were trying to ease their pain.
post #5 of 21
Her cat may be upset that she was gone for 2 months, too. I have a cat that gets upset when I leave to go shopping or run errands. I have to give him extra love to make up for leaving him.
post #6 of 21
Every time flu sends me to be, I always have at least one cat companion. I've also had them come to me when I am feeling down, to offer a paw of compassion.

Right now the cat is puzzled about why his person left for so long. He just needs some explanation, and reassurance. They can't help but interpret things as being about them. They are a little like small children that way.

If she feels up to it, have your mother fuss over him and tell him how much she missed him. They might not do a word for word translation from our speech, but they do pick up our tone and body language.
post #7 of 21
I used to hear old wives' tales that cats would avoid a person who was badly ill and in danger of passing, and back then, people took it as a bad omen when the cat stopped coming around them. At least that's what my old kinfolk used to say. Probably nothing to it but just thought I'd weigh in since it was mentioned.
post #8 of 21
There was a cat that they featured on the news once that lived in a nursing home--the cat would go about from room to room and visit the residents but he was not particularly friendly. But he would go and snuggle up to a resident that was about to die, and could usually detect it within an hour.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/liv...n_page_id=1770

Of course, I've had cats snuggle up next to me before and haven't passed away, like right now, but the nursing home cat in particular has curled up with 25 people who passed on in his presence as of when that article was written. Pretty impressive odds.

I imagine cats, like any other predatory animal, can tell when another is sick, even if it's not the same species as itself. He probably got used to not having her and her affections; now that your mother is back again, it will probably take some time for him to get used to someone coddling him and showing some lovin'.
post #9 of 21
My cat always "scolds" me after I have been away for any length of time. She won't let me pet her and acts as if I am not even there as her way of telling me that she is mad at me. After a day or two she is over it and starts loving on me again. I always talk to her a lot and offer her treats and her favorite toys-to show her how sorry I am for my "bad" manors of leaving her. The extra affection and just some time will probably fix things. I'll pray that your mother gets better!
post #10 of 21
I was thinking about posting that story, CuddleFish. Unfortunately the poor kitty was killed by one of the residents when he tried to cuddle up to him. I think I can understand the human's feelings, but not his reactions. Poor cat!

I know that my cats know when I'm not well. Whisper in particular tends to curl up with me when I'm feeling physically sick, and Reagan always knows when I'm emotionally drained and upset about something -- she's right here by my side, cuddling and purring and nuzzling and snuggling.

Each of our pets has their own unique reaction to their humans not being quite "right." Molly is beginning to integrate and only likes to be around us when we're feeling *well*, but that's her way of things.
post #11 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by ghosthunterbeck View Post
I was thinking about posting that story, CuddleFish. Unfortunately the poor kitty was killed by one of the residents when he tried to cuddle up to him.
Oh that's terrible, I didn't know that! Poor sweet thing must have wondered why he was attacked. I hope the old coot died the next day, serves him right. Poor kitty. The home probably should have taken him out or watched him more closely after the worldwide attention, figuring something like that might happen sooner or later.
post #12 of 21
Well he was known for being unfriendly, and if that was the case, that's one contributing factor. Of course, add to that the fact that when he visited you, you knew you were going to die... Not that getting the cat out of the way was going to change the inevitable, but some people just think that way.

I cried when I read that he'd been killed.
post #13 of 21
Nasty hospital smell. No wonder kitty stays away...
post #14 of 21
It is my opinion that the kitty is punishing your mom for being gone. Once he is sure that she has been sufficiently punished, he will probably go back to normal.

Most of my cats won't lie on the bed with me UNLESS I'm sick.
post #15 of 21
I think Oliver can tell when I'm sick or sad... he usually gives me extra lovin at those times (ie: my bf and I recently broke up and as soon as the tears started he ran over and was pawing my leg, like "I'm here for you mama")... but I agree with the others - your mother probably smells different from being in the hospital and on the chemo and the kitty probably senses that something is wrong and is kind of scared about it... so give it some time and as much as your mother is able, have her do the things she used to do for the cat (ie: give food/treats) so he remembers who she is... do you happen to have anything around like blankets or clothes that did not go to the hospital with your mother that you could put on the bed with her and then put the cat with her? Those things would have your mother's "regular scent" (for lack of better terms) on them.... good luck and I wish your mother the best - cancer is hard to handle, my mom is a breast cancer survivor... my thoughts are with your family!
post #16 of 21
I can't stand the hospital smell myself, so I agree that's probably a big part of it. And the sort of medicines she's taking. The routine needs to get back to normal, as much as anyone can.

I highly doubt the cat is punishing her. Does anyone here actually think cats go around thinking about how they can get back at us? Planing diabolical schemes (my FIL is convinced cats do...). They're cats, not humans.
This is also why some cats never seem to learn that a shelf or something sitting on a table cannot hold their weight. The ability to reason that far into the future and plan is just not there.
(For example, Tomas should know attempting to climb on my head after the fly that is buzzing around above my desk will not help him catch that fly..)


Back on topic - My own cats do not seem to notice when I'm feeling bad, all they know is that I'm slow about getting their food out.
post #17 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by ghosthunterbeck View Post
Well he was known for being unfriendly, and if that was the case, that's one contributing factor. Of course, add to that the fact that when he visited you, you knew you were going to die... Not that getting the cat out of the way was going to change the inevitable, but some people just think that way.

I cried when I read that he'd been killed.

I do hope even if the old creep didn't die that he was charged with animal cruelty.
post #18 of 21
When I return from more than a few days away, JC is "unaware" of me - he simply can't see me, nor feel me, nor hear me It's quite comical - I can even pick up a paw (which he normally hates) but he shows no response. After about a half-hour, I'll beg, "JC! Forgive" and he'll usually respond with a meow, begin waving his tail and greet me enthusicastically, suddenly so happy to see me!
IMO, your mom's cat is confused by her extended absence combined with the change in scent from the therapy - a friend of mine went thru chem for breast cancer and her elderly, deaf dog would woof at her because the scent was changed.
Sending prayers and vibes out to your mom, her cat & you! Bless you all
post #19 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by TabbyTail View Post
I do hope even if the old creep didn't die that he was charged with animal cruelty.
The article claimed that they weren't sure who did it, even though he was found in a resident's room. It's really sick either way, and I agree with you. But what are you going to do with an old, dying person?

I feel like the home should have been more protective of the poor cat
post #20 of 21
Yes, I used to have a cat, that when she was mad at me, she would sit very plainly in the middle of the room with her back to me. And would check over her shoulder that I was noticing how thoroughly she was ignoring me!
post #21 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by kluchetta View Post
Yes, I used to have a cat, that when she was mad at me, she would sit very plainly in the middle of the room with her back to me. And would check over her shoulder that I was noticing how thoroughly she was ignoring me!
Whisper does that! I can't help but laugh when he does it though. Reagan doesn't get mad at people so much, but Molly also seems to want everybody to know when she's displeased about something.
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