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Do Pets Sense Pain?

Do dogs sense pain when you're in pain? Can cats? Learn more about how our companions know when we need comforting.

Therapy dog with older man

Have you noticed that pets seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to how you're feeling? Perhaps you've noticed your cat curling up close to you when you've been feeling down. Or maybe your dog has tried to comfort you by licking the tears away from your face after a breakup. Is it just a coincidence, or can pets relate to your feelings and sense when you are sick or injured?

Do dogs sense pain?

Dogs spend a lot of time around their humans, silently observing them as they go about their day. So it makes sense that canines would pick up on physical cues — such as changes in your body posture or facial expressions — when you're sad or hurt.

Dogs, being dogs, tend to react strongly when their loved ones are not doing well. Some will whimper and cry, while others will push their heads into your hands or lick you incessantly.

Physical signs aren't the only clues that dogs use to conclude that you are in pain. They can also use their incredible sense of smell to determine if you're not happy. Researchers have discovered that dogs can distinguish between the scent of a stressed person and one that is calm.

A dog's sense of smell is so keen that they can also detect chemicals created by some illnesses. For instance, some dogs can smell the odors produced by lung cancer in the breath of a patient. Some pups can also tell when a diabetic is experiencing dangerously low blood sugar by detecting an increase in the chemical isoprene in a diabetic's breath.

Do cats sense pain?

Cats are often unfairly portrayed as being aloof creatures who only care about their own well-being. But researchers have discovered that — just like dogs — cats are highly attuned to your emotions and moods and can also sense when you're not feeling well or have an injury.

A cat's reaction to your physical or emotional pain is typically more subtle than the way dogs tend to comfort their humans. Cats may, for instance, try to "comfort" you by rubbing up against your leg or purring loudly.

A recent survey found that this more subtle response is preferred by highly emotional people who score higher on the Big 5 trait scale that measures emotionality, i.e., extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism.

It is also believed that cats can sense when people are not feeling well. One famous example is a cat named Oscar who lived in a Rhode Island nursing home. Staff members noticed that in the hours before a resident passed away, Oscar would curl up next to them.

It's believed that Oscar might have been smelling biochemicals that were being released from dying cells and that he was trying to comfort the person as they were passing away. It is estimated that Oscar accurately predicted the deaths of 100 patients.


Whether pets are actually picking up on our emotional cues or if they're just responding to certain stimuli that make them act differently than normal, we can't deny the strong emotional bond between parent and pet. At Figo, we believe our soulful sidekicks are more than just cute creatures that provide fun and entertainment. They're there when times get hard, sometimes offering comfort beyond that which our human companions can deliver.

That's why they deserve only the best from you — a healthy diet, plenty of exercise, and, of course, affection.

Lizz Caputo is a Content Strategist at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.

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