From purring to meowing to hissing…our feline friends have a ton of ways to communicate with us. But it’s still pretty heartbreaking when you see your cat crying tears! So you might’ve wondered: why is my cat crying? And why is it happening in the first place?

Read on for some reasons behind why your cat is “crying”, the real reasons your cat is crying tears, and why they tend to cry at night.

Why is my cat crying tears?

Your cat might be crying for a number of reasons – but we assure you, these aren’t “tears” the same as ours when we’re sad. Instead, here are the most likely culprits1:

  • Environmental allergens, like pollen, which cats are extremely sensitive to.
  • An underlying health issue, usually as a result of an allergic response and which might make their eyes water – especially respiratory or eye problems.
  • Attention-seeking, especially if it’s accompanied by excessive yowling or meowing. This could be a sign of stress due to their environment, hunger, or even separation anxiety.

Before we dive into each of these reasons, let’s admit that we get it – it must be heart-wrenching to see your cat crying tears or wailing so piteously! But the good news is, cats really don’t cry tears for the same reasons humans do. They simply lack the emotional response that triggers tears in humans – i.e. sadness, frustration, anger, or stress.2

But at times, you might’ve noticed how your feline friend might have watery eyes, with what looks like a “tearful” discharge. So here’s a deep dive into the reasons why your cat is crying tears:

Environmental allergens

Allergies are a common cause of your cat’s sudden bouts of tearfulness – they’re firstly quite sensitive to pollen allergies. These symptoms might turn up as watery eyes, runny noses, sneezing, and coughing. Besides these, your cat might also be sensitive to other environmental allergens, like dust, mites, certain types of food, or even some household cleaning products.

A cat in a garden, sneezing from a pollen allergy.

In cases like these, it’s best to check whether it’s your environment that’s triggering your cat’s “crying” eyes and minimize exposure to these allergens as best as you can. They might cause respiratory infections resulting in watery eyes and discharge. If your cat shows these symptoms along with sneezing or coughing, drop a visit to your local vet to get a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Eye infections

In some cases, your cat’s “crying” eyes might indicate that they’re experiencing an underlying ocular problem. These might include conjunctivitis, corneal ulcers, or something as simple as a foreign object stuck in their eye – all of which can cause excessive watering.

If your cat’s eyes are red, swollen, or they’re indicating any discomfort in their eyes, head over to your local vet for a full check-up.

Attention seeking

Much like dogs, cats learn pretty quickly that certain behaviors (like, say, meowing) might be likely to get them your attention. So if you’re wondering why your cat is “crying” in a way that sounds like a sob or wail, don’t be fooled. They’ve learned that it gets your attention and affection – even when they show no signs of distress otherwise. 

A cat snuggles in their parent's arms.

Why do crying cats sound like human babies?

You might’ve heard a far-off yowl in your neighborhood and wondered if that’s your cat or a neighbor’s newborn child – and you wouldn’t be wrong for confusing them! “Crying” cats can sound quite similar to crying infants.3 And that’s at least partly because cats are smart and have learned that this sound (indicating helplessnes) is most likely to get a human running over immediately. (Often with treats and toys at hand.)

Another reason your “crying” cat might sound like a baby is because they’re master mimics – if you have a newborn at home who’s been pretty insistent about mealtimes, your cat learns that yowling like a baby can get them fed too. It’s just a matter of simple learning and picking up on social dynamics, since your cat sees you as their primary caregiver – responsible for food, warmth, and affection. So by mimicking the cry of a baby, your cat knows that it might trigger a protective, nurturing response in you.

So keep an eye out for whether your cat is in any sort of pain or discomfort when they “cry.” It’s more likely the case that they’re bored, hungry, or just want some cuddles.

Why is my cat crying at night?

If you’ve been woken up more than once with a case of feline midnight melancholy, you’re definitely not alone. Here are some reasons why your cat is “crying” at night:

Your cat is naturally most active at nighttime

Cats are crepuscular animals, which means they’re the most energized at dusk and dawn. (You might’ve experienced this firsthand from their pawing at your bedroom door at 5 am for breakfast.) So you might experience this if your cat has learned that crying gets them meals around then.

A group of cats take a walk through their neighborhood at nighttime.

You could help your cat switch up their night shift routine by spending some time playing with them before bedtime. This will ensure that they’re tired out and have less energy for their nighttime shenanigans. Or your cat might have gotten used to getting their meals earlier than your alarm clock. So you could adjust their feeding schedule to include a late-night meal. With this, you’ll keep them physically and emotionally fulfilled enough that your cat won’t feel like crying to get your attention.

Your cat might cry out of stress

A change to your cat’s routine can be stressful (like it can be for us humans as well.) This could mean a move to a new home, a visitor sleeping over, new guests, or even another new pet – all of which can cause your cat to feel anxious.

As a result, they might “cry” more often at night when you’re not around, so they can get your attention and affection. Which might also be a sign of separation anxiety – you might encounter your cat crying more often when you’ve adopted a new cat or if you introduce new pets to your cat.

Situations like these can be frustrating, but they’re temporary – so give your cat a little time to adjust to their new environment. (And do your best to spend enough quality time with them otherwise.)

Your cat might cry due to pain or discomfort

Cats tend to be quite independent, temperament-wise – and they also have a high tolerance for pain. So if you’ve noticed your cat’s night-time crying accompanied by any other health symptoms like vomiting, lethargy, or diarrhea, get in touch with your local vet immediately. Your cat is unlikely to draw attention to their health problems – but since crying is how they get your attention, it’s likely their condition might’ve worsened. So keep an eye out for your cat’s behaviors and whether there’s been a change.

Older cats, for example, might be more likely to experience conditions like arthritis or cognitive decline – so they might be more restless and cry during nighttime. Other conditions, like urinary tract infections (UTIs) can make it difficult for them to urinate properly, so they might meow and cry insistently to wake you up and help them with the litter box.

Why it makes sense to track your crying cat’s sleep & activity levels

Even a sick cat might seem normal and healthy – so it can be easy to miss any signs of sickness. If they’re already crying for your attention (or out of pain) – it could be that their health condition might’ve worsened. One of the smartest ways to prevent a health emergency? Keeping an eye out for changes in their behaviors. Aka, their sleep and activity patterns.

It’s how Tractive pet parents around the world are monitoring their cats’ health and wellbeing – and taking action early on. With active sleep and activity tracking data at hand, you’re likely to have a more productive conversation with your vet. And intervene more quickly if your crying cat is experiencing a debilitating health condition.

One of our Netherlands-based pet parents shared how her cat’s Wellness profile helped her catch an illness early on because of a change in her regular activity.

With the Tractive GPS, I found out one night that she’d only made one little trip to the park, slept all night – and didn’t really do much during the day. On the second night, she didn’t leave the garden at all. Which struck me as odd, since she’s an outdoor cat and on the move quite often.

So I decided to check her up to see if she was sick – or had something else going on. When I picked her up, the pus oozed over my hand from the abscess bursting!

Without Tractive, I wouldn’t have noticed it at all. I would still see her walk around to drink and feed and think everything is okay. I might only have noticed when I didn’t see her stroll over for a whole day. At which point, she’d probably have been dangerously sick.

We went to the vet a few hours later – she had a serious fever, a big abscess, and was pretty sick already. So we got it in time. A whole week of antibiotics – and now she’s herself again.

Tractive is also very handy for when you need to give your pets their medication. All I have to do is check where she is and call her over to give her the antibiotics.

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Can cats experience depression? 

In short: yes, your cat might display signs of depressive behaviors4 when experiencing loss (like with a family member). They might also temporarily display them if they’re in a new environment or are experiencing a health issue. But even in cases like this, it’s unlikely that your cat might cry or shed tears out of sadness.

We do recommend getting in touch with your vet in case you’ve noticed your cat has these signs:

  • Decreased appetite.
  • Loss of interest in regular activities. This include playing with their toys, going outdoors, or interacting with others.
  • Increased time sleeping.
  • Decreased grooming (their coats might seem matted or unkempt.) 

Some of these symptoms might also show up when your cat is experiencing a health problem. Make sure you keep an eye out for these behavioral changes and inform your vet accordingly. So you can get your cat the support they need when they need it most.

A cat cuddles with their parent.

How do cats show that they’re actually sad?

Besides the points we mentioned earlier, your cat is more likely to indicate that they’re unhappy through their body language. So it’s unlikely your cat “cries” to show that they’re sad. Instead, you might notice your cat seeming more withdrawn, less socially active. They may hunch their head and shoulders, or hold their tails low or tucked between their legs. They may also cower when you approach them. Your cat might also avoid eye contact or interactions with you, or seem more skittish than usual.

In times like these, it’s important to provide your cat a safe, warm, loving environment. Call their name softly and give them plenty of time and space to approach you when they’re ready. And give them some extra cuddles to show them you’re there for them.

So…why is my cat crying?

Remember: your cat is most likely “crying” out for attention – and not every case might be an emergency. Also, if you see it accompanied by watery eyes, it’s not usually a sign of emotional distress. Rather, just give them an extra cuddle or two. Adapt to your cat’s body clock, in case they cry mostly at night. Or, if you’re observing a change in their sleep and activity levels by monitoring their health data – get in touch with your vet.

Tractive CAT Mini GPS tracker with collar

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Each cat is unique – so what works for one might not work for another. So take your time to understand your cat’s individual needs, temperament, and likes and dislikes. This will help you stay on top of their crying behavior. 

Got a loved one or a neighbor with a feline friend who’s keeping you up with their caterwauling? Share this post with them and make their day!