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Can Animals Really Sense Earthquakes?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The idea that animals can sense earthquakes is a popular one, and anecdotal stories about animals behaving strangely before major earthquakes have been told for centuries. However, debate over whether or not animals can truly sense earthquakes has not resolved the question, despite research in several earthquake-prone regions of the world. Some researchers believe that animals can, in fact, sense earthquakes, because they are more susceptible to subtle environmental changes than humans are. Others, however, argue that there are numerous causes for strange animal behavior, and that there many be a human psychological aspect involved in claims that animals can sense earthquakes.

Support for the idea that animals can sense earthquakes includes studies which suggest that animals may be able to sense vibrations before humans do. Animals have been proved to be more sensitive to ultrasonic waves such as the weaker p-waves which precede a major quake. It is possible that animals can sense an earthquake a few seconds before people do. In rare cases, an earthquake may be preceded by foreshocks, which may not be detectable by humans without specialized devices, but could be felt by animals. Other researchers have suggested that animals may sense chemical or electrical changes in the field of the Earth which could be indicators of an earthquake.

Other seismologists feel that there is no strong scientific evidence to support the idea that animals can sense earthquakes. They suggest that human psychology may be involved, as pet owners may want to attribute powers of premonition to their animals. The best way to conduct a study linking animal behavior with earthquake activity would be to have a hot line which pet owners can call to report odd behavior at any time, which seismologists could then link with actual earthquake data. Animal behaviorists have also pointed out that there are numerous causes for strange animal behavior, and that some pets may behave erratically before an earthquake, but for unrelated reasons.

Whether or not animals can detect earthquakes before humans do remains to be seen. In several earthquake regions outside of the United States, seismologists are attempting to establish strong scientific studies which could help to determine the level of animal sensitivity as part of a larger effort to learn how to predict earthquakes. For now, humans in earthquake regions should make sure that they have disaster kits on hand, and should look into more mundane causes for erratic animal behavior such as underlying medical conditions.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon944784 — On Apr 09, 2014

There are several forewarning systems found, but nothing is foolproof. The animals' hearing ranges of frequencies are different from that of humans. If we know why animals' behaviors change, we can also by using that technology, give warning before an earthquakes takes place.

Unfortunately, we have not yet found the real cause for the change of behavior. However, we need to investigate those changes fully. If somebody gives the real reason, it is only false. Animals have acted in different ways, but it doesn't mean something dangerous is going to happen. We can only measure it if we use technology.

By anon159459 — On Mar 12, 2011

@ nords223 - So many people and professionals say it's not true but its a fact that animals, especially dogs, know but only a minute before hand. In the UK, our earthquakes are rare and small scale tremors but in 2009 there was one which actually shook me on chair and my dog knew as he was chilling as dogs do then he whimpered and darted under my feet and continued to whimper (he'd never done that before), about 30 - 60 seconds later the tremor hit! Never experienced anything like it and was scary.

So yes dogs can sense them but only around a minute before hand.

By nords223 — On Nov 04, 2010

we had a 7.1 hit here in christchurch in september this year. our cat salem has reacted very strange right before each aftershock, which are still happening. now he will come running in normally 4-5 seconds before you feel it, giving me the idea that they must sense something. he hides under our legs or runs outside super fast so we use him as our seisomograph as he hasn't been much wrong yet.

By anon70888 — On Mar 16, 2010

My Congo African Grey parrots woke me up this morning at 3:59 am bashing against their cages. The earthquake hit at 4:04.

This isn't the first time that this has occurred, so it's not coincidence. They sense something, a sound, a tremble -- something.

Whatever this phenomenon is, it deserves further study. My birds gave me a five minute warning. Consider, if you will, how many lives could potentially be saved with a five minute warning in the event of a catastrophic seismic event!

By sevenseas — On Mar 23, 2008

One theory holds that when underground plates are rubbing against one another the friction releases a flow of ions. Because animals have dryer skin than humans do, they might be able to feel the electrical charge. This is a theory only, and there is no real proof for now.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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