Cats that Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, and More

Investigating the Secrets of the Cat

While walking my Norwegian Forest Cat last September, I wondered why he had not climbed a single tree all summer. The thought had no sooner crossed my mind, than Sammy suddenly sprang up the nearest oak. Coincidence, telepathy, or something else? Many, if not most, feline fanciers have experienced similar occurrences, but few fully appreciate their pets’ broad range of extraordinary abilities.

Scientifically investigated as long ago as the 1930s by Dr. J.B. Rhine, an American botanist and founder of scientific research in parapsychology as a branch of psychology, the subject interests more than the world of cat owners. At Duke University’s parapsychology lab—the first of its kind in the world—Rhine discovered that cats are capable of “psi trailing” (the ability of animals to travel long distances to find their owners); precognition of danger to themselves and/or their owners; knowing when their owners are hurt or dead, no matter how far away said owners might be, and exactly when their owners return from long trips.

Dr. Rhine’s results were replicated and expanded many years later by Cambridge University biologist and biochemist Rupert Sheldrake. A typical story cited by Sheldrake was that of a widow’s son, who was a sailor in the merchant navy, and who did not like to tell his mother when he would be coming home on leave, because he was afraid she would worry if he were delayed on the way. “But his mother always knew anyway, thanks to the family cat. The pet was very attached to the young man and, an hour or two before he arrived, it would sit on the front door mat and begin meowing loudly, as if equipped with some sixth sense, which told [the mother] that he was on the way. The cat was never wrong and this early-warning system gave the mother time to get her son’s room ready and prepare him a meal in the certainty that he would turn up soon afterwards.” (

Another cat owner recalled, “When I went back home to live with my mother for a few years after my divorce, she would always have my dinner ready. My job wasn’t nine to five, so how did she know what time I was going to be back? Because about fifteen to twenty minutes before I got home my cat would sit by the door and start crying. I’m serious. This happened every, single time.” (

These anecdotes are not unique but represent numerous reports in Sheldrake’s database of more than five thousand similar case histories. Some describe cats that seem to know “when they are going to the veterinarian, hiding away in the hope that their owners might get bored looking for them and give up on the idea.” Of the sixty-five veterinary offices Sheldrake contacted, sixty-four responded that at least some owners had difficulty bringing their cats in for an appointment and were no longer making appointments for cats, specifying that they be brought in on a first-come-first-serve basis. “Cat appointments don’t work,” one vet explained.

The telepathic quality of such comparisons is underscored by feline “psi trailing.” An authenticated example was provided by Sugar, regretfully given away to neighbors by a family afraid the cat with an unusual bone deformity would not survive their long move from California to Oklahoma. Well after the family had settled into their new home, Sugar arrived at the front door. It had taken him more than a year to cover fifteen hundred miles. (

The American record for such long-distance travel is likely owned by a New York veterinarian’s cat, which was left in the care of others following the man’s relocation to California. Several months later, a cat, closely resembling the forsaken pet, showed up at his west coast residence. The vet could not believe his eyes until he found a telltale bone growth on the tail’s fourth vertebra, resulting from a bite sustained years before, thus confirming its identity. The creature had found the vet’s residence after traveling more than two thousand five hundred miles through traffic, deserts, mountains, and many other seemingly insuperable challenges. (

Such reports may be understood only within the context of a cat’s ability to telepathically home in on the consciousness of the human it wants to find, like an airplane equipped with a radio receiver following a broadcast beacon to the airport which its pilot is seeking but cannot yet see. Not telepathy perhaps, but some other unknown sensitivity has enabled cats to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of humans who would have otherwise perished in earthquakes. On February 4, 1975, Chinese seismologists, alerted by Haicheng’s unusual cat activity, evacuated residents in time for most to avoid a major earthquake that devastated the city in northeastern China. Although 1,329 persons were killed, “an estimated 150,000 people” escaped. According to Wikipedia, “This was the only successful evacuation before a devastating earthquake in history.” (

Early morning, January 17, 1994, a cat named Kitten, known for its mild disposition, suddenly awoke from sleep into atypically violent behavior, biting a little girl’s hair, yowling, scampering frantically about, awakening the entire household and herding everyone into the kitchen. As the humans groggily wondered what was going on, the highest ever instrumentally recorded earthquake in a North American urban area struck Northridge, California. As their home collapsed around them, the family members huddled underneath a breakfast table. “We might not have survived,” the mother said, “if Kitten had not woken us up and got us all together in the kitchen, the part of our home that experienced least damage. Thanks to Kitten—who we’ve renamed Lourdes—we were not unprepared as sadly many others were.” ( Fifty-seven persons died and more than eight thousand were injured, with property losses in excess of $20 billion, making it one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history.

Behaviorists interviewed on Animal Planet speculate that cats might detect “primary waves”—vibrations that occur before an earthquake—or earthquake-related electromagnetic field variations, but no one really knows. Mitsuaki Ota, a professor of veterinary science at Japan’s Azabu University, where he has made a study of feline seismic prediction, points out that some cats are known to have accurately forewarned of earthquake activity by several days. ( While reactivity to tectonic subtleties may be part of a cat’s physical awareness, innumerable accounts of its one-on-one, life-saving skills are more certainly paranormal.

A Londoner recalls the most memorable morning she ever spent with her cat: “As usual, I fed him and chatted with him, as I got ready [for work], but when I put my coat on and grabbed my briefcase, he started [atypically] to get very vocal. I decided to relax a little and indulge him, and by the time I left, I was a good thirty minutes late. Just as I approached the Tube station, I was nearly knocked down by a huge crowd of people coming up the stairs. Many were shouting and screaming. This panic and confusion was caused by the July 7, 2005, London bombings on the Underground. I still get tearful when I think how close I was to death or injury that day.” (

The unusually excited actions of another cat in Baltimore persuaded a friendly neighbor to return the animal to its home down the block. Ringing a front door bell, the woman inadvertently awoke its owner, fast asleep on a couch beneath a large, plate-glass window. He thanked her, gratefully took his cat, and retired to the bedroom. Less than ten minutes later, gun shots from a car passing by shattered the same window, raining shards of glass on the couch where the man would have been at least seriously injured, had he not been awakened by the woman returning his cat. (

While reports such as these cannot, due to their random nature, be verified by scientific testing, anecdotal evidence combines with the latest medical discoveries to affirm that cats possess remarkable curative powers. A ten-year study of more than four thousand Americans found that cats could seriously reduce human risk of heart attack. Researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Stroke Institute in Minneapolis showed a forty-percent lower risk of death from heart attack for cat owners, compared to persons who did not own cats. The animals induce a lower heart rate, lower stress levels, lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease), and lower blood pressure. (

By early 2015, Dr. Karen Allen concluded a study for the State University of New York, at Buffalo, demonstrating how stockbrokers with hypertension who adopted a cat had lower blood pressure readings in stressful situations than did their non-cat-owning counterparts. At the outset of her study, the brokers were prescribed lisinopril, a drug used primarily in treatment of hypertension, congestive heart failure, and heart attacks. Half of the participants were randomly selected and assigned a cat as a house pet. Six months later, Allen and her colleagues conducted tests in the participants’ homes to measure changes in blood pressure. They found that stress-induced blood pressure continued to rise in the brokers without cats. The brokers who owned cats also had stress-related rises in blood pressure, but these rises were only half as high as those found in the group without cats. ( health_benefits.htm)

Unlike their cat-less colleagues, the ailurophile brokers had average blood pressure readings (systolic pressures) that fell within a normal, healthy range. Stress-related peaks in another form of blood pressure (diastolic) were also reduced. Posted on the University of Buffalo website and presented at an American Heart Association meeting, Dr. Allen’s study stated that cats control blood pressure better than an ACE (angiotensin-converting-enzyme) inhibitor, a pharmaceutical drug used primarily for the treatment of hypertension, elevated blood pressure, and congestive heart failure. In short, cats are literally more effective at regulating blood pressure levels than modern medicine. (

Dr. Allen and her fellow researchers concluded that cat owners over age sixty-five make thirty percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without cats. Heart attack patients who own a cat survive longer than those without one. The animal’s outstanding healing techniques lie partially in its capacity to cause the release of oxytocin in the human brain. ( A hormone produced by the hypothalamus and stored and secreted by the posterior pituitary gland, oxytocin becomes, when increased, a feel-good chemical that reduces fear and anxiety while generating feelings of trust, generosity, love, and empathy. “There is some evidence that oxytocin promotes ethnocentric behavior [racial awareness], incorporating the trust and empathy of in-groups with their suspicion and rejection of outsiders.” ( These socially positive emotions are associated with lowered blood pressure and improved morale. When a cat triggers the posterior pituitary gland to release increased oxytocin in self-conscious or anxious persons, they grow calm and emotionally balanced.

Frontiers of Psychology published a study by animal behaviorists to show how interacting with cats “produced an increased trustworthiness of—and trust toward—other persons, reduced aggression, enhanced empathy and improved learning…[the study authors] propose that the activation of the oxytocin system plays a key role in the majority of these reported psychological and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interaction.””/t“_blank”


Stress is further reduced and our immune system stabilized when cats stimulate certain chemicals in the brain. One of them is serotonin, responsible for maintaining mood balance, a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness; a deficit of serotonin leads to depression. The other compound, dopamine, enhances concentration and helps regulate movement; depletion of dopamine may cause Parkinson’s disease. The mechanism cats use to therapeutically elicit these effects is purring, which fluctuates, according to Scientific American Magazine, between 25 to 150 Hz, the frequency range at which bone density is strengthened and cellular healing promoted. (

When, some years ago, I painfully injured my shins, Sally, our Maine Coon cat, very gently laid across them, purring, when I was in bed, something she never did before my accident nor after my healing. Her nightly ministrations unquestionably helped relieve my discomfort, because, I suspect, cat purring heals cells.

Correlations between a cat’s purr and lower stress and blood pressure are well established. Cats purr partially to ameliorate the worst effects of dyspnea, or shortness of breath, from which both they and humans sometimes suffer. Remarkably, purrs not only cut down on dyspnea but also, according to research, speed up healing time for infections, broken bones, and muscles injuries. (

Kneading is the motion most cats make by rhythmically alternating their paws, pushing in and out against a pliable, soft object—usually, a human lap, chest, or leg—while purring. While several, unverifiable explanations are given for this behavior, cats have been observed kneading other felines or companion animals that are ill or dying, and similarly massaging sick humans, often concentrating on an afflicted part of the body. This, it seems, is because cats focus extra doses of their healing energy through their paws to a specific, anatomical target that needs mending.

Given all of their newly discovered capabilities, could so-called “common house cats” know more about us than we have, so far, learned about them?

By Frank Joseph