It’s often easy to spot when cats are being finicky or feisty. But what about when they are showing pure feline affection? What does that look like?
We spoke with Dr. Allen Schoen, a veterinarian, behaviorist and author of the best-selling book Kindred Spirits and Vetstreet’s own Dr. Marty Becker, author of Your Cat: The Owner’s Manual, to share 10 ways cats deliver love and affection to the people who matter most to them.
“I’ve been studying animal behavior since 1974 and can say without a doubt that cats can and do bond with their favorite people,” declares Dr. Allen Schoen, a veterinarian, behaviorist and author of the best-selling book Kindred Spirits. “I’ve been fortunate to share my life with some of the sweetest, most loving cats. When they come in contact with us, they are consciously making an inter-species connection.”
But the trick is to recognize — and appreciate — what they are trying to tell you. Here are ten ways cats show their affection.
1. Lightly touching her forehead against you
Called head bunting, this feline act of affection is delivered only to the A-listers in a cat’s life. Your cat will face you, lower her head and lean forward so that the top of her head touches your forehead, face or other body part. This loving touch can often release feel-good hormones called endorphins in your cat and you.
2. Cheek rubbing you
Think of your cat as a feline graffiti artist. To make her turf really feel like home, she will rub her cheeks against the corners of furniture and, possibly, your legs or hands when you pet her. This act secretes oils from her facial glands. It’s her way of claiming you as her own. Just be grateful that she does so by cheek rubbing, not spraying.
3. Twitching the tip of her tail
The feline tail acts like a mood barometer. The tail puffs out when your cat is frightened or agitated. Conversely, your cat expresses love to you when she approaches you with her tail hoisted lazily up in the air and the very tip twitches. In cat speak, she is saying, “You rock my world!”
4. Holding eye contact and sharing a soft blink
Don’t expect a cat to maintain a steady eye-to-eye stare with a new houseguest. Cats save eye contact for people they know and trust, like you. The bond is accented when she blinks softly at you. This is the equivalent of a kitty kiss. Respond by softly blinking back.
5. Turning on the purr power
This steady, rhythmic sound emitted when your cat inhales and exhales is often associated with contentment. But cats also purr when they need to self-calm or while nursing a litter; however, your cat saves the special full-bodied rumble as a smile directed to you. It is her way of saying, “I love you.”
6. Sitting on you or beside you
Cats crave warm places to nap and sleep, but when they bypass a comfy cat bed or your bedroom pillow to perch on your lap, you should feel honored. Your cat has sized up her options and is conveying that she prefers being with you rather than being by herself in her cat bed.
7. Kneading her paws on your lap
If you need a sign it is time to trim your cat’s nails, nothing is clearer than when she perches on your lap, purrs and starts kneading your thighs with her front paws. But this is also a sign of affection. Experts say that this action beckons your adult cat back to a safe, welcoming memory when she was nuzzling her mother for milk as a newborn kitten. She is being affectionate and a bit nostalgic.
8. Licking your hair and earlobes
OK, neither of these actions may rate on your top 10 list of affection preferences, but your cat is regarding you as another cat — albeit a big one — in her inner circle. Only special “cats” are deemed worthy of these special grooming sessions. In a multicat household, mutual grooming is a sign of trust and friendship. Pay attention to which cats, if any, in your home team up for mutual grooming. You may be the only one meriting such a gift!
9. Bringing you dead mice, birds and other so-called gifts
Evolution and domestication have not stripped your cat of her inner hunter. After a successful hunt, she may deposit a mouse head or lizard tail in a place she knows you will visit — like your pillow. Yuck? Yes, but your cat is sharing her prey prize with you, a true sign of trusted friendship.
10. Emitting a high-pitched trill
Cats are capable of more than a dozen vocalizations, ranging from the hiss to the meow. Listen carefully for the high-pitched trill or chirp. These sounds convey affection and attention — not a feline demand for second helpings in her food bowl. Trill back, watch her reaction and enjoy a true cat chat.
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