Why Do Cats Have Mood Swings? FAQs about Feline Emotions

Why Do Cats Have Mood Swings

As cat owners, we’ve all experienced the enigma of a purring, content cat transforming into a playful ball of energy, or seemingly without warning, into a momentary feline fury. But why do cats have mood swings, and how do we decipher the emotional cues they provide?

Together let’s delve into the science behind cat feelings, examining the nuances that distinguish their emotional expressions from our own. From the quirky behaviours that signal joy to the sudden shifts that may leave us perplexed, we’ll answer all your FAQs about why cats seem to love us one minute and display indifference or irritation the next.

9 Frequently Asked Questions About Cat Emotions


1. What’s the Difference Between Human and Feline Emotions?

Understanding the emotions of our feline companions begins with acknowledging the unique nature of their emotional landscape. While humans and cats share some emotional similarities, the ways in which emotions manifest and are expressed can be vastly different. This means we can’t judge our cats’ emotions based on the way we might judge a human’s.

At a fundamental level, emotions in both humans and cats are governed by the release of neurotransmitters and hormones. However, the complexity of emotional experiences varies. Humans possess a highly developed prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with complex emotions, decision-making, and self-awareness. Cats, on the other hand, lack this sophisticated brain structure, suggesting that their emotional experiences might be more instinctual and immediate.

This means that a cat’s emotional state is likely to be shown through their body language as they experience different feelings. They don’t have the self-awareness to consider or hide their emotions (as a person might), instead showing them as they come. They are more likely to regulate their emotions by experiencing them and moving through the feeling, unlike a human who might repress or intellectualise feelings. 


2. Can Cats Have Mental Illnesses?

The concept of mental health in cats parallels some human experiences but is not identical.

Cats can indeed experience conditions that mirror human depression and anxiety. Changes in routine, the introduction of new pets, or environmental stressors can contribute to these issues. Symptoms may include changes in appetite, altered sleeping patterns, or withdrawal from social interactions.

While terms like “bipolar” or “schizophrenia” may not directly translate to feline mental health, cats can exhibit more complex behavioural issues. For instance, sudden aggression might be attributed to fear or anxiety, while excessive grooming could be a sign of compulsive behaviour due to fear. It’s essential to approach these conditions from a behavioural perspective, recognising that feline mental health concerns may not neatly align with human diagnostic categories.


3. Why Do Cats Love You One Minute and Hate You the Next?

Understanding the seemingly erratic shifts in a cat’s behaviour – from affectionate to aggressive – often boils down to feline-specific traits and human misinterpretations. Cats, unlike dogs, have a lower threshold for stimulation. Of course, many cats love cuddles and scratches, but what may begin as a pleasant interaction can quickly turn overwhelming for a cat.

Learning to recognise cues that suggest overstimulation to help prevent abrupt shifts in behaviour:

  • Twitching tail
  • Dilated pupils
  • Flattened ears
  • Moving away

Read our past blog posts 7 Reasons Cats Bite and Are Cats Ticklish? to learn more about petting and overstimulation.


4. How Do Cats Speak to Us When They’re Emotional?

Feline communication is a nuanced language that combines body signals, vocalisations, and behaviours.

A cat’s posture, tail position, and ear orientation are potent indicators of their mood. Purring often signifies contentment, while hissing or growling may indicate fear or discomfort. Understanding these cues enhances the human-cat bond and facilitates a more harmonious coexistence.

Although all cats are different and will communicate with their owners in unique ways based on your bond and lifestyle, here are some basic indicators of mood:


  • Low and Swishing: Playful
  • Tall and Hooked: Happy
  • Twitching: Aggressive or fearful
  • Between the Legs: Fearful


  • Purrs: Enjoying attention
  • Hisses and Growling: Aggressive
  • Long, Howling Meows: Distress – they may need help
  • Shorter Meows: Asking you to fulfil a need, i.e. asking for food


  • Relaxed: Enjoying your company or enjoying a rest
  • Perked Up: Listening or playful
  • Back: Aggressive or fearful


5. Is Your Cat Simply Mirroring Your Emotions?

The intricate dance of emotions between cats and their human companions goes beyond simple mimicry. Cats are highly perceptive and can pick up on their owner’s emotional cues. They may mirror the energy of the household, reflecting the stress or calmness of their human counterparts.

If your cat is experiencing mood swings, creating a more stable environment can make you both feel better. For example, if there is aggression in the household, such as loud arguing or even just loud music they might feel frightened by, the cat might feel afraid or even protective of you, and then display ‘bad’ behaviour. Creating a stable environment involves recognising how your environment and your emotions may influence your cat and making adjustments to promote a sense of security.


6. Are Some Cat Breeds Moodier than Others?

The temperament of a cat often intertwines with its breed characteristics, although individual personality plays a significant role. Understanding genetic tendencies can help manage expectations and tailor interactions to suit your cat’s temperament.

Certain breeds, like Siamese or Bengal, are known for their vocal and energetic nature, which might be perceived as moodiness. On the other hand, breeds like Ragdoll or British Shorthair are often praised for their laid-back and gentle disposition. ‘Orange cats’, meanwhile, are famous on social media for their silly, erratic tendencies.


7. Are Adopted Cats Moodier than Bought Cats?

The emotional history of a cat, whether adopted or bought, can influence its behaviour and disposition.

Cats with a history of trauma or instability may exhibit mood swings as a coping mechanism. Patience, love, and a secure environment can gradually help them build trust and create a more stable emotional foundation.

While adopted cats may initially display mood swings due to past experiences, the transformative journey of earning their trust can be incredibly rewarding. Older cats, in particular, can undergo positive behavioural changes as they acclimate to a secure and loving home environment.


8. Which Environmental Changes Trigger Mood Swings in Cats?

Cats are finely attuned to their environment, and various changes can evoke emotional responses. In these cases, it’s important to show them compassion and make sure they feel comfortable. Eventually, they’ll get used to the change and go back to their normal behaviour. Punishing cats isn’t an effective way to deal with behaviour you don’t like, so the best thing you can do is help them feel better.

These are some changes that can affect your cat:

  • Introducing a new pet
  • Moving to a new home
  • Altering their diet
  • Changes in the household routine


9. When Mood Swings Become a Bigger Issue and a Vet Is Needed

Monitoring your cat’s behaviour is essential, and certain signs may warrant professional veterinary attention.

Persistent or severe mood swings, especially when accompanied by other concerning signs like changes in appetite or lethargy, may indicate underlying health issues. Seeking prompt veterinary advice ensures a comprehensive evaluation and appropriate intervention.

Conditions such as cognitive decline, thyroid imbalances, or serious mental illness can contribute to mood swings in cats. A veterinarian can conduct thorough assessments, including diagnostic tests, to pinpoint the root cause and formulate an effective treatment plan.


Understanding and navigating a cat’s mood swings involves a combination of observation, empathy, and responsiveness. By decoding their unique communication signals, considering individual histories, and being attuned to environmental influences, owners can foster a more harmonious relationship with their feline companions.

In cases where mood swings persist or escalate, seeking professional guidance ensures the well-being and emotional health of the cat. Embracing the complexity of feline emotions enriches the human-cat bond, creating a mutually fulfilling connection.


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Are you looking to adopt a pet or donate to a pet rescue organisation? Georgie and Cindy from Large Hope SEO foster cats and kittens on the Sunshine Coast in Australia. If you’re local, get in touch to discuss adopting from the rescues. See cats and kittens available for adoption or donate so we can save more kittens.