Cat lying in man's lap

Q. My life circumstances make it difficult to have a dog, so I adopted a cat. I’m fond of her but not crazy about her, and I’m pretty sure she just thinks of me as a food dispenser. I’m more familiar with dogs than cats, and I’m wondering how I know if my cat loves — or even likes — me.

A. Many of us who grew up with dogs and little or no exposure to cats aren’t prepared for the subtlety of feline behavior. I include myself in that category because I grew up on an Idaho dairy farm, and the only cats we had were barn cats. They did their chores and I did mine, but I had a better relationship with our farm dogs.

While I still have barn cats now up here at Almost Heaven Ranch, as a veterinarian of more than 30 years — and an advocate for feline-friendly veterinary practices — I’ve long come to adore cats as much dogs. (Which means, among other things, that it makes me very sad that unlike dogs, cats frequently don’t get the veterinary care they need and deserve.)

Five Signs Your Cat Loves You

So does your cat love you? I’m willing to bet she does and that you’re just missing her signals.

Rubbing on you. Cats have glands that allow them to secrete oils to make anything they rub against smell familiar. These are concentrated in the head area, which is why cats rub their heads on the corners of furniture, for example. But when your cat rubs on or head butts you, it’s more than just putting her smell on you; it’s her way of claiming you as her own. Just be thankful she does it with rubbing, not spraying!

Choosing to sit on you (or beside you). Cats love warm sleeping places, like your lap, but comfort isn’t the only motive that drives your cat to choose a spot to sit or lie in. The back of the couch next to your head or your computer keyboard while you cruise the Internet or your newspaper when you’re trying to read may not be the most comfortable spot in the house … and yet your cat is right there, all the time. See my point? When your cat chooses being next to you over being someplace more comfy, well, there you go: It’s love.

Holding eye contact and sharing a blink. Cats find eye contact uncomfortable, but they’ll make it and hold it with people they know, like and trust, like you! When you have eye contact with your cat, if you can slowly blink and see her blink too, then you’ve just been kissed, kitty-style. That doesn’t happen to everyone, and if your cat will do it for you, it’s a sign that you’re special to her.

Bringing you presents. If your cat hunts you may have seen pieces of her prey — a mouse head here, or a grasshopper body there — left in places where you could find them, such as on your pillow. It’s not some Godfather-style threat to find a mouse head in your bed, though. It’s your cat, looking out for you. She doesn’t know that you don’t eat mice, and she can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to — they’re delicious!

Purring. I’ll bet you knew this one already. Purring is a sign of friendliness, and that’s why most people are familiar with this particular sign of cat affection. But cats will also purr when they’re injured or even dying, leading feline experts to say that it’s more like a smile, sometimes loving, sometimes pleading, and always self-settling. Yes, that’s all true, but it’s also true that there’s a special kind of purr saved for loved ones, a deep, full-bodied rumble that couldn’t say “I love you” more.

See? It’s all pretty subtle, but I bet now that you know the signs, you can see that your cat has been sending them all along!

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