There’s a persistent rumor that cats can cats sense earthquakes before they happen and have some ability to detect seismic activity before an earthquake strikes. I wondered if there was any truth to these claims, so investigated the available scientific research. Here’s what I discovered.
Can cats sense earthquakes? Research suggests that some cats can detect earthquakes before they happen. Various studies and anecdotal reports show that some cats will sense changes in seismic activity including atmospheric pressure, sounds, and vibrations.
Experts believe cats get this special ability from their exceptional sense of hearing and smell. But cats don’t need to feel the ground shaking slightly to know an earthquake is about to happen, unlike us, they could detect it way before it strikes.
Below I’ve put details of the research that explains the findings of the weird behaviors that cats display when they suspect a quake is on its way. I’ve also included tips on what you can do as an owner if your cat is scared of earthquakes.
The research to show that cats can sense earthquakes
In 1995 a 7.2 magnitude earthquake, the “Kobe quake”, struck various areas in western Japan, killing nearly 6,000 people.
A Japanese researcher, who worked as a public health doctor at the time, discovered surprising findings. Two months before this powerful quake hit, the number of cat-related complaints reported around the affected areas was abnormally high.
Several cat owners mentioned their cats displayed strange behaviors, including excessive hissing during those two months.
Then the earthquake occurred.
Some experts in Japan (led by the same researcher) believed this was no coincidence that cats appeared to sense the earthquake before it happened.
However, their views were not able to 100% reliably state that cats can sense an earthquake before it happens.
There has been more research though, most interestingly by Stanley Coren, PhD. He was researching Seasonal Affective Disorder in felines when, by happy coincidence he gathered data the day before a level 6.8 earthquake hit the Pacific Northwest. The CFA said:
“His data included activity and anxiety levels in 200 cats living in Vancouver, Canada, a city that was affected by the quake. On the day before the earthquake, 49 percent of the cats showed a significant increase in anxiety, and 47 percent were considerably more active. This was a sharp increase from the steady day-to-day averages collected to that point.”
Can cats sense seismic activity?
Coren concluded that cats can sense seismic activity, meaning they can almost predict an earthquake is coming… if only they could talk and tell us.
The Japanese research from 2011 points towards cats being able to feel an earthquake coming. Cats will often meow and exhibit weird behavior, and the suspicion is that they can detect changes in the atmosphere, gravity, subtle ground movements, vibrations, and odors from the ground.
“Large earthquakes cause severe damage to property and people. Unusual animal behaviors (UABs) are important phenomena. These UABs could be useful for predicting earthquakes, although their reliability has remained uncertain yet. We report on changes in particular animal species preceding a large earthquake to improve the research on predicting earthquakes.”
Another possibility for why cats can detect earthquakes before they happen is being able to sense P-waves, which humans cannot do.
P-wave are compressional seismic waves that shake the ground back and forth in the same direction and the opposite direction as the direction the wave is moving. But subtly.
Cats also have an extraordinary hearing ability. Research shows their sense of hearing is four times greater than ours. They can easily detect high-frequency sounds, that is, sounds that are way beyond our hearing limits.
It’s also said that cats with more upright ears hear these sounds faster than cats with floppy ears.
But that’s not all.
This impressive hearing ability also makes it possible for cats to pinpoint where exactly the high-frequency sounds are coming from.
Before an earthquake strikes, The P-waves I mentioned earlier will travel through the layers of the earth underground. These waves occur in sequence:
- The first round of seismic waves, called P-waves, are completely inaudible to the human ear but detectable by cats.
- The second round of seismic waves knows as S-waves. These are the ground vibrations we often get to hear and scream our lungs out.
Now, cats can hear the first type of wave. The P-waves. That’s why our feline friends freak out way before the ground shakes.
They’ll know where these sound waves are coming from and what they signal (that a quake is on its way).
Plus, thanks to their exceptional sense of hearing, cats can hear rocks rupturing below the surface and the sudden movement of groundwater (both incidents happen prior to an earthquake).
So, even before we feel the tremors, our feline companions can already sense what’s going on underground.
Cats can also sense earthquakes through smell. The grinding of rocks underneath (before a quake strikes) causes the release of large amounts of radioactive gases nearer to the ground surface.
Humans can’t smell these gases. But cats can, thanks to their extraordinary sense of smell.
In a nutshell, a cat’s ability to sense an approaching earthquake involves detecting the different situations underground occurring almost at the same time.
It’s this same strength of senses that help cats to know when a storm is coming, albeit on a more sensitive scale.
Do cats meow before an earthquake?
Cats that can sense earthquakes and tsunamis will often meow before one strikes. In the 1989 San Francisco earthquake they were reports that cats started to meow before it happened.
How do cats react before an earthquake?
When a cat senses an earthquake is on its way, they will react weirdly, with not just meows.
- Excessive yowling and meowing (cats never get tired of meowing)
- Acting extra needy (clingy).
- Shaking and panting.
- Increase in anxiety.
- Sudden biting behaviors (triggered by too much stress).
- Increased restlessness (which might make them try to run away from the house).
How to keep your cat safe during an earthquake
If you’re a cat owner living in an earthquake-prone place, it’s important for you to know how to protect yourself and your cat when the rumbling ground movements start.
Earthquakes are terrifying. Not just to us, but to our cats, which is a lot of the reason cats will freak out when they sense an earthquake before it happens.
Here are some useful ideas to help you and your cat remain safe when this dreaded disaster strikes:
Before the quake….
- Ensure that your cat always has an identification tag or collar (and your contact info on the tag or collar is easy to read). Even better, consider getting them microchipped. Microchips are a better option because they are a permanent form of identification.
Here’s the thing about identification.
When earthquakes hit, many cats go missing. If this happens to you (God forbid), your chances of reuniting with the feline love of your love will be higher if they have an ID.
- Keep updated pictures of your cat and share them with the animal shelters in your area in advance. Again, in case they get lost, tracing them will be easier.
- Consider getting a cat emergency kit that has first aid supplies. When the quake starts, your cat can step on broken glass or get hit by debris. Consult your vet to know what to include in the kit.
During the quake….
If you’re inside the house, drop low and take cover in a sheltered place — like under a wide table. Take hold of your cat if they are within your reach and hide with them. If they insist on wanting to hide in another area inside the house, let them.
Forcing them to hide with you is asking for scratches and bite marks. Cats have much better instincts than ours. So, if your feline companion wants to leave, it’s because they know of a spot where they will feel safest.
If the earthquake finds you and your feline friend outside, drop to the ground in an open area and hold on to their leash as tightly as you can.
After the quake…
Your cat will probably experience an aftershock after the quake stops. Be patient if they still don’t want to come out of their hiding place. Don’t force them. When they feel ready, they’ll run back to your loving arms.
Whether they are in hiding or come to you as soon as the quake ends, comfort them in soothing voices so they feel reassured that all is okay. Giving them a treat while at it also works.
Plus, keep your home environment calm for the next few days. You’ll avoid adding more stress to your cat, who may be trying to get over what just happened.
By calm, I mean putting plans to use your loud vacuum cleaner or blender on hold until your feline friend returns to their normal self.
How soon can cats sense earthquakes?
Unfortunately, there isn’t reliable evidence showing how soon cats can detect earthquakes. However, it is believed that 2 months before a Japanese earthquake struck, cats were already starting to react.
Why do cats act weird before an earthquake?
Cats act weird because they associate earthquakes with horrible experiences. When they sense a quake is on its way, they know the horror that lies ahead.
How do cats act when an earthquake is coming?
As discussed earlier, they hiss, yowl or pant more than usual, become abnormally clingy, exhibit inappropriate habits like biting their owners, and act super restless to the point of trying to escape from home.
Are cats afraid of earthquakes?
Yes, that’s right. Cats are completely terrified of earthquakes.
Is there a list of animals that can predict earthquakes?
Whilst I don’t have a definitive list of animals that can predict earthquakes, I did find some interesting information on the USGS website. Here’s what the say:
“The earliest reference we have to unusual animal behavior prior to a significant earthquake is from Greece in 373 BC. Rats, weasels, snakes, and centipedes reportedly left their homes and headed for safety several days before a destructive earthquake. Anecdotal evidence abounds of animals, fish, birds, reptiles, and insects exhibiting strange behavior anywhere from weeks to seconds before an earthquake.”
In conclusion, there’s enough anecdotal and scientific research to show that some cats can sense earthquakes before they happen. However, it’s not possible to say for certain, how cats detect earthquakes and seismic activity… this is pure conjecture currently.