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Can Cats Have Spiritual Experiences?

By Jennifer Viegas

Can Cats Have Spiritual Experiences?

Research suggests spiritual experiences originate deep within primitive areas of the human brain -- areas shared by other animals with brain structures like our own. Many scientists, therefore, believe it’s possible that cats have moments that we may interpret as being spiritual.

One such scientist is Kevin Nelson, a professor of neurology at the University of Kentucky. He thinks it is possible cats may go through near-death experiences, have mystical experiences and feel the bliss that some people have associated with religious happenings. Says Nelson, author of the book The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain: “In general, what serves to distinguish humans from animals is less the type of experience and the brain from which it springs, and more the spiritual interpretation the experience is given by humans.”

Cats and Near-death Experiences
People who come very close to death often report similar sensations, such as feeling detached from their bodies, moving through a tunnel and seeing a bright light. Nelson believes cats and other animals are capable of experiencing these things as well.

  • Out-of-body sensation “In humans, we know that if we disrupt the region where our vision, sense of motion, orientation of the earth’s gravitational field and knowing the position of our body all come together, then out-of-body experiences can be caused literally by the flip of a switch,” says Nelson. Scientists can now even cause individuals to feel this sense of detachment in experiments, without the actual close-to-death moment. “There is absolutely no reason to believe it is any different for a dog, cat or primate’s brain,” says Nelson.
  • Moving through a tunnel “The tunnel sensation is caused by the eye’s susceptibility to the low blood flow that occurs with fainting or cardiac arrest,” explains Nelson. “As blood flow diminishes, vision fails peripherally first. There is no reason to believe that other animals are any different from us. What they make of the tunnel is another matter.”
  • Going towards a bright light “All mammals experience REM (rapid eye movement) consciousness, and certainly in the higher mammal (including dogs and cats), the visual system defines REM consciousness,” says Nelson. “So too, the light would seem to follow.”

Cats and Mystical Experiences
Mystical experiences are moments that inspire a sense of mystery and wonderment. They arise within the limbic system, says Nelson. Prior research conducted by other scientists has found that when specific parts of this system are removed from animal brains, mind-altering drugs have no effect.

Since cats again possess similar brain structures, it is possible they experience mystical moments and may even enjoy what we could interpret as spiritual oneness, according to Nelson. It is possible that certain sensations are even more pronounced in cats, given their heightened sensitivity to sounds, smells and more. Says Sophy Burnham, author of The Art of Intuition: “There’s no question that animals know everything we’re thinking, or rather, and more important, what we are feeling. Like children, they sense our inner states, absorb our emotions.”

Cats and Bliss
Few of us would argue that cats experience moments of true contentment. One look at a cat enjoying catnip or the attentions of a caring human proves that point. Meditation, prayer and other practices can offer humans a similar feeling of bliss.

Marc Bekoff, a professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, also believes non-human animals have spiritual experiences, which he defines as experiences that are nonmaterial, intangible, introspective and comparable to what humans have. Bekoff, Nelson and others hope future research will better illuminate the phenomena. “For now,” says Bekoff, “let’s keep the door open to the idea that animals can be spiritual beings, and let’s consider the evidence for such a claim.”

Jennifer Viegas is the managing editor of The Daily Cat. She is a journalist for Discovery News, the news service for the Discovery Channel, and has written more than 20 books on animals, health and other science-related topics.

Tags: cat behavior

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Posted on March 9, 2012

Gloria Bronner says: I always thought animals went back to God and so therefore were spiritual in that way. My cat stares at me in the morning and I feel she has some type of powers because I usually wake up when she does this. She wants to eat and so every morning she stands over me to wake me up. I speculate also that she loves to stare because she s creature of study. What is she studying? I guess its my moods or my spirit. Am I happy or sensitive. Will I let her sit n my lap or will I push her away. These things I ask all the time!

Posted on February 16, 2012


Posted on February 26, 2012

Ferdinand Gajewski, PhD says: About a block away lived a lady with a dog, Peri by name (yellow lab), with whom I had "bonded." At odd moments Peri would find a "gift" and put it behind the front door and then sit down and wait.  Five minutes later said  Peri's mom, Mrs. Schilling, she would inevitably see me pass by the house.  I always thought Peri had ESP.  Or else I do.  Or else we both did. Peri also understood a huge English vocabulary.  She also considered it her job to protect me from people she thought were unsavory.  At such moments her eyes turned green and she charged the suspect person, causing great embarrassment to Mrs. Schilling. But those are whole other stories.  

Posted on January 14, 2012

Christopher says: My cat has made me enjoy animals that I may see on TV. But are cat's the only animals that enjoy this?? The deeper conection....

Posted on December 5, 2011

Jackie says: My newest kitten walked in the back door a year to the day that hospice took my husband out the front door. She was so young, she still had blue eyes, just as he did. Also, she was a gray tabby, and I'd just told my father that if I was ok (was waiting for cancer diagnosis) I was going to get a new gray tabby, as my 17 yr old gray tabby, Raylette, had just passed a few weeks before. As it turns out, I do have cancer, however, I don't think I could have made it through this past 10 months without having her to keep me company.

Posted on September 7, 2011

Alice says: Ever see a cat gazing intently at something in the air that only he can see. I am of the belief that he is looking at spirits that we can't see but he can.

Posted on September 15, 2011

Sandy says: A much beloved cat was struck by a car.  Some six months later, as I was cleaning up after guests late at night, I saw two of our other cats sitting on a chest in front of the large living room window, gazing calmly out.  I did a double take when I saw what appeared to be our lost cat perched on the outside window sill, as had been her habit.  Our dog, who freaked out over any strange animals on the property, walked by without a second look.  There was definitely a cat there, and I was  so startled that I just went on into the kitchen for a minute.  When I came back out, the cat was gone.  I turned on the porchlights and called, but no cat appeared or ever showed up afterwards.

Posted on August 29, 2011

Don says: Interesting title. Unfortunately, nothing you described is actually "spiritual", only physiological. I love and respect the animals who live with me (two and four-footed) but we will probably never know whether they are even capable of a spiritual experience - we still have trouble defining it for humans. Of course, there's this one cat, with seep, dark eyes, who always seems to know...

Posted on August 23, 2011

Linda says: Of course I believe this! They are very spiritual and sentient beings! My cats also like to do yoga with me....as soon as I get on the mat - they are there - well you know cats - they are the original yogis - great in their asanas!

Posted on August 23, 2011

colin says: my cat let's me know when i should slow down and take it a bit easy.......

Posted on July 22, 2011

Kyle says: I'm not sure I have any spiritual insight. Let alone cats. My formerly 16 YO cat ( lived to 19) , a constant companion with my disabled mother was gentle spayed indoor cat. "Cat" seemed to have noticed that a home healthcare worker was always there on my mother's bad days. She (Cat)was aggressive when that particular nurse was on duty. The contractor asked that I take her out of the house on this lady's duty days. It wasn't a huge problem as my aunt lived next door and the nurse came three days a week. I merely carried Cat next door until I came home and the nurse was gone. As it turned out another patient's family discovered this nurse was stealing pain medicine. When my mother passed Cat went from 9lbs t0 2 pounds. The cat lived for another 4 years and her ashes were spread at my mother's grave

Posted on July 11, 2011

jim says: OMG... this article confirms my belief about cats! My cat is truly very human in expressing himself with feelings that I can observe...he knows me insideout and totally responds to my feelings and mood.

Posted on June 18, 2011

marvydoll says: the day we had to put our cat down he just kept looking at me and petting my face which was not him at all,i know that he knew. he didnt want to go.

Posted on May 26, 2011

Rick says: My daughter was on vacation 4000 miles away for 9 days. The day before she returned he started sitting in the window staring at the entry. He had to know she was headed home.

Posted on May 22, 2011

Mary E says: I know our cat was trying to tell us something the day he died.  Wish I had been more in tune to that....

Posted on May 18, 2011

Jennifer says: I know my cat can see spirits! We have a spirit cat in our home as well. Our cat is always in the room we see the spirit kitty go into. It's crazy bit cool!

Posted on June 6, 2012

Shawna says: I have done extensive research into anpsi, animal psychic phenomena, a term coined by JB Rhine, highly respected parapsychologist and one of the founders of modern psychology. Cats and other animals are psychic.

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