How Do Cats Show Affection

Black, brown and white cat rubbing against its owner's legs

Cats have a reputation for being cool and distant, detached and uninterested, or even standoffish. This is especially true when compared with dogs, who have clear-cut, easily understandable and obvious ways of demonstrating how they feel about their owners and others. Still, cats are masters at giving off subtle cues to indicate their affection and love for the people in their lives, from meowing to head-butting.

It is a common misconception that dogs are more loving than cats — and it’s easy to see why. Whereas a dog may practically trip over his tail to get to the door and deliver a big, sloppy kiss to you or lick your face the minute you return home, a cat may only be able to muster enough excitement and energy to give a cursory glance your way before meowing at her bowl, looking for a refill.

But even though a cat does not wag her tail when her owner arrives (if it does, watch out, as this typically indicates anger), the truth is that cats feel love for their humans too. The subtler way that cats show love is harder to tune into, but it’s there.

Your Cat Is Relaxed in Your Presence

Do you ever get the feeling that your cat doesn’t even notice you’re alive at times? Perhaps she relaxes in one part of the house or meanders her way between rooms, rarely stopping to give you so much as a smirk. Some cat owners take this to mean that she is disinterested in them altogether and doesn’t want them around or need them. They may even think that the cat doesn’t mind being left alone.

This is not true, however. Cats feel more comfortable exploring their surroundings when they are comfortable and relaxed in your presence. So, if your cat tends to be in constant motion when you’re home, take this as a sign — however subtle — that your cat likes you being around so much that she feels relaxed enough to get to know her world better.

Loving Body Language—Her Telltale Tail

Your feline’s body language can also let you know how she feels. The tail of your cat is a barometer for those feelings and perhaps the most important part of her body to pay attention to when it comes to her feelings, especially love.

The way your cat holds her tail is a big giveaway of her feelings. When your cat shows affection, she uses both her tail and her body to communicate how she feels. If your cat’s tail is in an upright position, she’s very happy, and if her tail is curved at the top, she’s very glad to see you. She may wind her way through your legs, or she may just sit by you, close enough so that her tail can touch you if she decides to swing it. The ultimate sign of your cat’s affection and trust and a surefire way to know that your cat loves you? The offer of her belly for rubbing. If your cat feels comfort on a level that she’s willing to let you rub her belly, you are her “person,” and she loves you a lot.

Vocalization of Your Cat’s Feelings

Cats can’t speak, obviously, in your native tongue, but they still vocalize. And they use vocalizations to let their humans know that they love them. So, while you won’t hear a cat say “I love you,” you can take these vocalizations as the cat’s way of demonstrating their affection. For example, purring is a sound that cats use to show that they are content or that they’re feeling pleasure. As you may already know, cats often purr during close contact with their humans, including while being stroked or groomed. Purring doesn’t just indicate that the cat is having an enjoyable time, however. Cats use the act of purring to let you know that they like what you’re doing, whether it’s rubbing them or giving them a favourite treat. Yes, while vocalizations may have some element of “please continue, mere human” in them, they are also definitely adding “because you are acceptable to me” to that communication as well — also known as “I love you.”

Greetings From Your Feline

While not all cats get excited when the front door swings open or you rattle your key in the lock, some do. In fact, some cats use greetings as a way to show they care and may rush excitedly to the door each time you open it just to say, in an enthusiastic meowing way, “Welcome back, human, I missed you, and I’m glad you’re here!”

Eye Contact as a Reward

Eyes are the windows to the soul, it’s said. And cats stare deeply into yours to show their affection. A long, lingering stare minus any blinking might feel like an aggressive stance if it is coming from a gorilla — when your cat does it, she’s trying to show you that you’re the bee’s knees. Cats only make eye contact with people they love. They can also give you so-called “eye kisses.” You may have been on the receiving end of this nontraditional “kiss” if your cat half-closes her eyelids and then blinks slowly many times. Reciprocate the gesture to give your cat a “kiss” in return.

Biting and Pawing 

Your cat is not trying to hurt you when she bites or paws you — although, it happens sometimes. This is another way your cat says, “I love you.” Pawing in the form of “paddling” or “kneading” is a gesture of love too — a learned behaviour from kittenhood that kittens use to knead their moms when it’s time for some dinner.

Cheek Rubbing and Headbutting

And finally, social behaviours such as cheek rubbing and headbutting help cats build bonds and show affection both with humans and other animals. Exhibiting these behaviours also gives the cat the chance to “mark” their scent, essentially a way to claim you as their loved one.

When it comes to how cats show affection, despite the fact that some cats may appear stiff, impersonal or unfriendly, and many even border on aloof, there are many hidden signals that indicate a cat’s true feelings — once you know what to look for and more fully understand your cat's behaviour.

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