25 Hidden Ways Your Cat Shows Affection
That headbutt? Yeah, it's a sign of love.
In the United States alone, there are over 36 million households with at least one feline family member. However, despite the popularity of our feline friends, cats remain something of an enigma—even to their owners. While dogs can hardly keep their enthusiasm for their owners contained, even the most devoted cat-lover will sometimes feel like they’re getting the cold shoulder from their fuzzy friend.
The good news? Your cat is likely sending you a long list signals that it likes you—you’re just missing them. What your cat thinks of as showing affection, you might think of as annoying cat behavior, or even a sign of aggression. Before you call in a behavioralist, make sure you know these 25 hidden ways your cat shows affection. And if your cat isn’t giving you any affection at all, check out 20 Signs Your Pet Hates You.
Playful little bites are a show of affection from a cat. These bites are more like little friendly nips than an actual bite and won’t break the skin or even hurt. It’s an instinctual behavior to signal feeling overstimulated or overexcited, but it can also be a sign your cat is feeling a strong bond. You’ll have to put your cat’s little nips into context to determine whether they’re trying to communicate that they’re tired of being petted, want to be put down, or actually want you to start petting them. The one thing these little bites don’t mean is that they hate you. And for more great kitty content, learn the 20 Ways Cats Are Better Than Dogs.
Scratching Your Stuff
If you come home to find your couch or your prized record collection destroyed by your cat, your first thought probably isn’t, “Wow, my cat must really love me.” But that’s one thing a cat scratching up your stuff can mean. Scratching is a way for cats to leave visual and scented marks of ownership on an object, so if they wreck the couch you sit on whenever you’re home, it means they are trying to express ownership of you, because they care about you. And if you wonder why anybody would want such a mystifying creature for a pet, find out Why You’re a Dog Person or Cat Person.
Headbutting’s not just for drunk rugby fans. It’s also a way for cats to show their affection for their owner. Cats have scent glands on their face and so when a cut puts their head on yours, it’s just their way of marking you as their territory, which is actually pretty adorable.
If a person left a dead animal on your front step, it would be time to contact the authorities. But when your cat does it, it’s just showing you that it loves you. In fact, this is one of the biggest signs of affection a cat has to offer. Cats understand the concept of gifting, and since they keep getting declined for an Amex, a dead mouse or piece of trash is the best thing they have to give you.
When your cat licks your hair or ears, it’s not because they think you’re particularly tasty. They’re actually grooming you because they regard you as a fellow cat. This type of social grooming among creatures of the same species is called allogrooming, and if your cat is grooming you, it means they really like you.
If a cat is uncomfortable or nervous, it will sit with its legs tucked underneath it and its tail wrapped around its body, so if your cat has a tendency to splay out like a spatchcocked chicken, that means they like you and feel safe around you.
Here’s some good news: when you catch your cat staring at you, he or she is not secretly scheming about how to trip you on a flight of stairs or fall asleep on your face. It means they love you! Because a cat’s eyes are so important for their survival and so big, when a cat gets near you and gives you unfettered access to its eyes by looking at you, it’s making itself vulnerable and letting you know that it trusts you. And for a glimpse at the wackier side of cat ownership, check out the 30 Funniest Celebrity Pet Moments.
It’s easy to think that when your cat follows you from room to room, getting in your way, and being a pest, it probably wants something from you. In reality, they do want something from you, but it isn’t food. Your cat is following you around because it wants to be close to you, which is super-sweet, if somewhat annoying.
Fluffing Their Tail
A cat communicates a lot with its tail. If a cat’s entire tail is fluffed up, that means it’s agitated, but if a cat fluffs up just the base of its tail and quivers it ever so slightly, it’s expressing its affection for you.
If you have a cat that sprays your possessions, love is probably the last thing on your mind. And while it’s true that a cat will generally spray something to mark its territory, if you’re gone for a long time and come home to find your cat has sprayed your bed or another area you frequent, that means your cat was missing you while you were gone, unfortunately.
Cats don’t meow to communicate with other cats. And they also don’t meow to communicate with people they don’t like. So if your cat is meowing at you, it doesn’t only mean “wake up and feed me now, thanks,” it also means they like you and want to talk to you.
Putting Their Tail on You
You can tell a cat is very comfortable with you if it rests near you and puts its tail on you. It might seem small, but it’s a big sign of affection.
You might think that a cat playing with you is default cat behavior, but if a cat doesn’t like you, they don’t care what kind of amazing cat toys you bring to the table. If your cat is in the mood to play, that means they’re feeling affectionate towards you.
Having a cat make eye contact with you is a big deal, but if you and your cat are looking at each other, and your cat softly blinks, you’ve hit the mother lode of cat affection. This is basically the equivalent of a cat kiss, and you can reciprocate by slowly blinking back at your cat for some serious pet-owner bonding.
Doing the Happy Tail Dance
If your cat is walking around with its tail in the air, with only the tip bent and twitching from side to side, it’s doing what is called the “happy tail dance,” which means your cat is thrilled to see you.
Rubbing Their Cheek on You
When a cat rubs its cheeks on your face or body, they are marking you with the scent glands on your face. It’s a very intimate way for a cat to express their love for you.
Sitting on or Next to You
The cynic in you might think that your cat is just sitting on you because you have a warm lap or because it loves to inconvenience you, but if your cat bypasses its comfy cat bed or a nice sunny spot to sit on you or beside you, it’s because your cat likes you and prefers to be near you.
When a cat puts its paws on you and starts pushing them up and down as though it’s working a lump of bread dough, it’s signalling that it’s really comfortable and happy. This is the gesture kittens use to get more milk from their mother while they’re nursing, so when an adult cat does it, it means they feel loved and content.
Rolling on the Ground
If your cat starts rolling on the ground when it sees you, this is a greeting to communicate that it wants your affection. And if the cat shows you its belly, that means it’s especially trusting of you, since it’s such a vulnerable part of their body.
Sleeping on You
When your cat falls asleep on you, it’s communicating that it trusts you completely, because it is so vulnerable while it’s snoozing.
Twining Around Your Legs
If a cat walks twines itself around your arms or legs, it’s trying to demonstrate that it feels a connection with you. This behavior is reserved for a cat’s closest friends, so it’s a really big show of affection when it happens.
Putting Their Paw on You
When a cat gently rests its paw on you, it’s because it wants to touch you, almost like holding hands. This is a behavior reserved for people a cat feels genuinely close to.
Purring With Their Whole Body
A cat’s purr can signify a lot of things, including a need to self-soothe or communicate illness, but if a cat cuddles up to you and begins purring with its whole body, this means your cat is totally blissed out and enjoying a moment with a human they love and trust.
High-pitched trills and chirps from a cat are meant to express affection, as well as a desire for attention. Cats can make over a dozen sounds to communicate different messages. This is why it’s important to familiarize yourself with all your cat’s different noises and behaviors.
Putting Their Butt in Your Face
It might feel like a grand insult, but when your cat sticks its rear in your face, it’s actually a huge show of love, for better or worse. It’s a sign of affection for a variety of reasons. First, the cat is putting itself in a vulnerable position to show trust, but because cats also use scent to communicate, your cat’s also just letting you know what it’s been up to all day. It’s the cat version of the “how was your day” conversation you might have with your partner. And if you want to see some real human-animal bonding, check out 20 Celebrities Who Look Like Their Pets.
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