Skip to main content

Can cats cry? Everything you’ve ever wanted to know

What does it mean when your cat cries?

Woman holds cat in her arms
Uschi_Du / Pixabay

As a pet parent, you probably spend an inordinate amount of time staring deeply into your cat’s eyes. You might even, on occasion, see a few tears and wonder why they’re crying (your own tears over their beauty are par for the course).

It’s true that cats do shed tears from time to time, though the reasons aren’t in line with human ones. So, can cats cry? There are two parts to this question and we’ll tackle each separately.

Cat squeezes her eyes shut
Engin_Akyurt / Pixabay

Can cats cry actual tears?

Yes, a cat’s eyes can water and even look like crying. Note that it doesn’t mean your animal cries tears of emotional pain. Instead, think of this as their eyes watering the same way yours might in the cold or while you’re sick. Similarly to us, cats are prone to allergies, dry eye, and eye infections.

Anytime your pet has a sudden onset of teary crying, you should reach out to the vet. In some cases, the underlying cause can be contagious, and you’ll have to separate them from other beasties you have if necessary. After you have seen the cat doc, you might not need to jump in surprise at the first sign of moisture, provided the diagnosis is something like allergies.

The best news is that many cats can take over-the-counter allergy meds, just talk to your vet about it first. Since kitty tears don’t mean your cat feels sadness, you’ll have to rely on deciphering their “speech” to suss out their inner workings.

Sad cat peeks over a basket
Vadim B / Pexels

Why do cats make crying noises?

As pet parents, we know full well that our pets have strong emotions. They feel happiness, excitement, and even grief. Cats, in particular, have literally hundreds of ways to express themselves vocally, from purrs to hisses to the famous meow.

Sadly, sometimes you might hear your kitty cry in distress. When we say cry here, we don’t mean the watery eyes this time. Instead, we’re talking about your cat whining or yowling at you or other animals. Here is what each sound means.


You almost won’t be able to miss this since it’s so pronounced and often quite loud. Sometimes referred to as a caterwaul, this piercing noise showcases your feline’s big feelings. Some species yowl frequently and other individuals break this out for attention. However, novel and more importantly, persistent yowling could mean something’s really wrong. You should take your mouser to the vet when you can’t determine the source of the yowl.

Pitiful meow

When we say pitiful meow, you might instantly hear the sound we’re describing. Sometimes, it seems as though your cat feels depression, and maybe they do. A sad noise on its own doesn’t require action, though you certainly should check in with your animal and make sure everything seems OK. Perhaps give them an extra scratch and then wait for their mood to improve. Remember that hiding from you or skipping meals can indicate stress, which, along with some extra sorrowful meows, could tell you something’s wrong.


This time, think of the classic cat cry. It’s often more for human attention than anything else and frequently doesn’t designate any signs of distress. There’s one thing that the cry means more than any other: Food. When your kitty gets loud, they are telling you that they are hungry. While these loud noises are not to be ignored, they aren’t generally concerning. Try to placate your kitty’s immediate needs and then tell them to grab a nap.

Two vets hold a white cat in the exam room
Gustavo Fring / Pexels

When should you call the vet about cat crying?

As with so many parts of taking care of an animal, you will probably have to reach out to a professional if you see or hear your cat cry. In the case of the eyes, it will likely just take a few drops or possibly some meds. A vocal cry, on the other hand, could be a sign of a bigger issue, and the feline doctor will know what to check on.

Once you have a good sense of your pet’s individual needs, you won’t have to return to get them checked out every time you hear a new noise. Hopefully, you quickly pick up on the cues and understand when your pet wants food and when they might be in pain or scared. Keep in mind that behaviors can come and go with age and might pop up in the later years for seemingly no reason. While a vet trip is still in order, your cat doctor might diagnose simple old age in an elderly pet.

Next time you see your cat tear up, you’ll know it’s more likely to do with the dust in the house than the tragic romance you have playing. Still, mind your furry friend carefully for other warning signs of pain and angst, like persistent yowling. When in doubt, reach out to your vet.

Editors' Recommendations

Rebekkah Adams
Rebekkah’s been a writer and editor for more than 10 years, both in print and digital. In addition to writing about pets…
Why do cats lick themselves? It goes beyond just cat grooming
This totally normal behavior could mean a few different things
A cat licking his paw while lying in front of a blue background

Cats spend the majority of their time doing one of a few things: eating, resting, grooming, using the litter box, or causing havoc. Their routines can become predictable at times, so it's not even worth a second glance when you catch your cat licking themselves as obviously -- and loudly -- as possible. Cats groom themselves all the time, after all, but when does licking become a bit too much?
Even though cat grooming is completely normal, if it becomes noticeably excessive, your kitty may be licking themselves -- or even licking you -- for another reason. Luckily, we can help you understand why cats lick themselves and how you can tell what may be going on. Here's what you'll want to know and what to look out for.

Is my cat grooming? When licking is normal

Read more
Why do cats open their mouths when they smell? It’s for a really cool reason
The Flehmen response is a little-known reaction in felines that allows them to take in more of their surroundings
A white and tabby cat with their mouth open

Think of the last time you smelled something foul. How did you react? If you're truly made of steel, you may not have reacted at all, but for most people, it's impossible not to flare your nostrils at least. You may have even made a face! All of these reactions are perfectly natural, though humans aren't the only species that reacts to smells, both good and bad. Even your cuddly cat sniffs out the world around them sometimes,
If you've ever noticed your cat reacting to a smell, you're not alone. Some folks have even noticed their cat opening their mouth -- and even sticking out their tongue -- while smelling, but it's not so clear what this means. Is this a reaction to a scent, or is it just a way to get an extra thorough sniff? Whatever it may be, we're here to find out.
Needless to say, you're not alone if you're wondering, "Why do cats open their mouths when they smell?" We've scoured trusted sources to find out, and this is what we know.

Why do cats open their mouths when they smell?
Watching your curious cat open their mouth in a kind of sneer while they get a good sniff of something can raise a lot of questions -- it's understandable. When people do this, it's usually a response to an unpleasant smell, but when cats do this, they're actually trying to get a better understanding of the scent in the air.

Read more
What does it mean when cats purr? It’s more scientific than them just being happy
Cat purring is thought to indicate happiness, but it can have a few different meanings
Black and white cat lying on a cat bed on a sofa

Chances are, you've heard that purring is a sign that a cat is happy. And in many cases, that's true. Cats often purr during activities they enjoy, like being petted in that hard-to-reach spot or settling down for a nap in the sun. However, purring can have different meanings and causes than just indicating happiness.

Scientists are still working to understand this feline behavior fully, and new theories about the reasons behind purring continue to evolve. So, why do cats purr, and what does your cat's purr really mean? New information may be coming out every day, but the information that we already have can help you better understand your cat.

Read more