Cats don't shed tears when they cry, but that doesn't stop them from vocally expressing sadness or pain. Learn why your cat is crying and how to help them feel better.
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profile of a cat with a tear coming from his eye and the Feline Fine logo on the image
Credit: Christian Lechtenfeld / EyeEm / Getty

Wondering if your cat will shed a tear if you're gone too long? Or worse—when his breakfast is late? Cat behavior consultant Linda Hall knows all about sadness in cats and how to cheer up your feline friend. She's the co-founder of Cat Behavioral Alliance and she helps cats and their parents work through feline emotional distress. Hall knows first-hand that cats don't shed tears like we do, but that cats do cry.

"Inky would roam the house crying," Hall shares of her grand kitty after losing his human dad, Sebastian. Luckily, Hall was equipped with the right tools to help Inky mourn and, in time, get back to his happy, frisky self. "Just as you would if you were in pain or sad about something, sometimes cats just need time and for someone to love them," she tells Daily Paws.

Your cat won't shed a tear over one less treat, but he might cry when he's lonely or mourning a family member.

Do Cats Cry Tears When They're Sad or in Pain?

Cats don't cry tears when they're sad or in pain. But Halls says whether your cat is experiencing emotional or physical pain, they'll exhibit behavioral changes that could include vocal crying. The sound of a cat crying is typically longer in duration and lower in frequency than day-to-day cat chatter. If your cat is sad, Hall says you might spot these signs:

  • Increased vocalization
  • Shaking
  • Hiding
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Decrease in activity and an increase in sleep
  • Change in litter box use
  • Change in grooming habitats
  • Aggression

A change in behavior could point to either emotional or physical distress. So, Hall suggests a proactive once-a-month check-in. "Every month go down the cat from head to toe, checking for abnormalities or sore spots. If your cat hisses, he's not cussing you out. He's telling you that he's scared, anxious, or something you just touched hurts."

Excessively watery eyes aren't a sign that your cat is crying from sadness or pain. Usually, a cat crying tears points to a medical concern like conjunctivitis, a blocked tear duct, or another common eye infection. So, it's best to call your vet for a check-up.

What It Means When Your Cat Is Crying

Meowing isn't your cat's first choice when it comes to cat-to-cat communication. Instead, cats communicate with each other through scent, body language, and touch. If your cat is crying, he's telling you something is amiss.

Anxiety

If you've installed a pet cam only to find your cat crying when you're away, he could have separation anxiety. Other forms of anxiety could be brought on by a change in schedule, a new pet, or moving.

Mourning

Hall confirms what many cat parents already know—cats bond deeply with their two- and four-legged companions. If there has been a recent loss of a family member, your cat could cry when they're sad and missing their friend.

Feline Cognitive Disease

Feline cognitive disease is like dementia in humans—except that it affects cats 10 years or older. Especially at night, cats become confused and cry for their humans to help. Installing nightlights could help your senior cat find their way around and reduce nighttime yowls.

Arthritis

"It's estimated that over 95 percent of cats over 10 years old have arthritis. So, if you have a senior cat, crying could mean pain," Hall says. Telltale signs of arthritis in cats include avoiding the stairs, difficulty jumping, and other mobility changes.

Other Medical Conditions

Any sudden change in behavior calls for a trip to the vet to rule out underlying health concerns—crying included.

How to Help Your Cat Feel Better If They're Sad and Crying

Inky mourned the loss of his cat dad for a few months. At first, he cried every day, taking three months in total to grieve. If the thought of Inky (or any cat) feeling blue melts your heart, Hall says there's a silver lining. Just like humans find ways to comfort themselves and others, we can do the same for our favorite floof.

"The first step is always the vet to rule out any underlying health concerns," Hall says. Then, focus on providing your cat with the things he loves the most: quality time, enriching toys, and a special treat.

"Spend time with your cat. If you have to be gone a lot, ask a friend, relative, or a professional sitter to make a visit with them," Hall suggests. Let them know your cat is feeling blue and suggest they simply talk to your cat if he's not up for socialization. Try to maintain normal routines as much as possible.

When Inky was mourning, Hall played special music for him 24/7. "It's by David Teie and it's called Music for Cats. We recommend playing it if you're going to be gone a long time or if your cat has anxiety," she explains.

Sound isn't the only sensory cue that can soothe cats. "A lot of cats' identification comes through scent. So, keep your cat's favorite blanket on your bed so that they can wake up and smell you or another loved one." Most of all, Hall says, be loving and understanding.