By Kathy Blumenstock
We want to believe that our cats love us as much as we love them, but how can we know for sure that they don’t just tolerate our presence? Cats are often unfairly dubbed as aloof or cold in comparison to dogs because dogs are more visibly loving while cats are usually more discreet about PDA. However, it might just be as simple as reading our cat’s behaviors more closely.
Adi Hovav, senior feline behavior counselor at the ASPCA adoption center, says cats show affection for their human companions in a variety of physical ways. “As many people who live with cats know, cats will often take the lead on deciding when it’s cuddle time, so don’t be offended if your kitty isn’t always by your side.”
Here are seven behaviors cats display to show affection:
Known as the “cat kiss,” the “slow blink” and the “eye kiss,” the languid blinking of feline eyes is one of your cat’s most charming ways of showing love. A calm, trusting cat will gradually close her eyes, then open them, gazing at you. Jackson Galaxy, cat behaviorist and host of Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell, has made the slow blink famous, encouraging cat parents to use it for strengthening their feline-human connection. If your cat displays a trusting glance and offers you a “cat kiss,” slowly blink back and bask in their happy approval.
The rhythmic moving of front paws, known as kneading, is a holdover from a cat’s earliest days as a kitten. Nursing babies press their paws against their mother’s side to stimulate the flow of milk, and throughout their lives, cats retain that association with joy and warmth. If your cat plops into your lap and begins working the fibers of your sweater as if playing a concerto, enjoy this special massage as a sign of happiness and trust.
A cat’s tail—that sturdy rudder mainly used for balance—is also a decoder of moods and messages, from a whipping motion that signals anger to the gentle flick that seeks attention. Whether her tail is lightly brushing against you or winding around you, it indicates approval and possession, telling the world: “Yes, this is my human.” And when your cat’s tail pointing skyward, like a sailboat’s mast? Hovav says, “When your cat holds her tail up, sometimes with a little curl like a question mark at the top, that’s like a kitty thumbs up.”
Soft as a sigh or loud as a lawn mower, the purr is a cat’s coolest trick. The rhythmic hum beneath her fur is famously known as a sign of kitty contentment. Hovav cites the purr as one of the top ways cats show affection for their people, going back to your kitty’s earliest memories. The purr is one of a kitten’s first sensations, a vibration and pleasing sound that says life is good. Some cats will also purr when they are nervous, however, so if you’re unsure about which emotion your cat is displaying, tune in to her other signals to tell you how she’s feeling.
Cats luxuriate in the bliss of sleep, so it’s really no surprise that your feline wishes to share it with you. “Cats show affection by sticking close to their human companions, very often sleeping next to them,” Hovav says. Cats will often find a way to tiptoe into your slumber, curling up among the sheets and blankets, adding her own warmth for cozy comfort. The pleasing weight of a cat nestled at your side may not be a scientifically proven sleep aid, but knowing your cat chooses to share your bed should bring sweet dreams.
Additionally, just as cats choose to sleep with us, they often like to complete the cycle, waking us up first thing in the morning. Though some cats may be nudging their humans to serve breakfast, others simply crave our company to start their day right.
Known as “bunting,” when a cat butts or rubs her head against you, it is a gesture of pure affection. “If she rubs the top of her head and cheeks on you, she’s saying, ‘Hey, I like you and you are part of my crew,’” Hovav says.
Cats who rub their human companions this way are also leaving behind feline pheromones from the scent glands in their faces. Cats commonly do this with feline buddies in a display of affection and a scent exchange. While we can’t smell these, rest assured they are happy smells for your kitty.
Cats who are friends (or family) often groom each other as an affectionate stress reliever and a way of exchanging scents. Those commingled scents reassure cats that a friend is near. Pam Johnson-Bennett, author of feline behavior guides including Think Like a Cat, says that your cat grooming you is very often a sign of affection, as she mingles her own scent with yours as if you were a favorite fellow feline. If your cat begins licking your arm, cherish the compliment and later return the favor with a gentle comb or brush.
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