Updated - Feb 28th, 2022
Cats often get stereotyped as cold and distant, especially compared to dogs. While it is true that dogs are more obvious (and slobbery) in their affection towards their humans, cats love their humans, too – they just have different ways of showing it. A lot of the ways that cats show love involve marking their humans with their scent, essentially telling the rest of the world, “This human is mine!” There are also some ways cats show affection that may be somewhat unpleasant, but your cat really does mean well.
Here are 8 ways that your cat is showing you love (for better or worse).
One of the most obvious signs that your cat is loving on you is when they purr contentedly, especially when you’re petting them. Purring is one of many sounds that cats use to communicate with us, and when it is combined with a relaxed body posture, your cat is telling you that they feel happy and safe with you. Purring is one of the first ways that kittens learn to communicate with their mothers. Kittens can express to their mothers that they are calm through purring, and a mother will use purring to soothe her kittens. Because it is such a low-frequency and low-volume sound, cats use purring as a method of communication with those closest to them.
Not all purring is “I love you” purring, though. Sometimes your cat will purr when they want food (often accompanied by insistent “feed me” meowing). Cats will even purr when they are not feeling well as a way of soothing themselves. There is even scientific evidence that the vibration of cat purring has healing properties, including bone regeneration. Mostly, though, your cat purring at you means you are one of their favorite people.
2. Slow Blinking (AKA “Cat Kisses”)
If you’ve ever wondered why your cat gets up in your face and blinks at you, it’s not some form of kitty Morse code. It is, however, a form of non-verbal communication that cats use to express their love. When a cat closes their eyes, it is a sign of complete trust. These slow blinks (or “cat kisses”) demonstrate that they don’t feel frightened or threatened (as opposed to an unblinking stare which can be a sign of aggression or fear). When your cat gives you some love with their eyes, give it right back. By blinking slowly back at them, you are telling them that you are not a threat. It tells your cat that you love them, too, and is a great way to solidify your bond.
3. Exposing Their Belly
If your cat rolls over and exposes their belly to you, it is a huge sign of trust. The tummy area is where many of a cat’s vital organs are located, and their natural instinct is to keep this area from being exposed to predators. When your cat shows you their belly, they are literally trusting you with their life, and there is no greater show of love and trust than that. Now, this exposed belly may be a statement of love, but it is not an invitation. As tempting as it might be to reach out and give some belly rubs to your kitty, most cats do not like to be touched in that area. Your dog may love tummy time, but your cat is liable to give you a swipe or a nip if you try it. As hard as it is to resist, it’s better for the both of you if you admire your cat’s belly from afar.
Cats like to keep themselves nice and clean, and they spend a lot of time grooming themselves. Their sandpaper tongues, front paws, and sharp teeth are the perfect tools to keep themselves clean and healthy, since grooming behavior is not just about cleanliness but also maintaining body temperature, improving circulation, and hiding their scent from predators. While it is normal for cats to spend a lot of their waking hours grooming themselves, cat owners should watch out for excessive grooming (including fur loss) because that can be a sign your kitty has a skin problem, an injury, or is suffering from anxiety.
In addition to its health benefits, grooming is a social activity. Cats will groom each other as a sign of friendship, so if your cat starts to groom you, you know the love is fur-real. While kisses from that scratchy little tongue might not always feel the greatest – especially for people with sensitive skin – just know that your cat is telling you that you are family to them. Grooming is a calming activity for cats, and they want to share that feeling with you. Grooming you is also a way for a cat to mark you as their human. They have scent glands around their mouth, and these glands produce pheromones. This is your cat’s signature scent, and they will use it to mark their territory, including you!
Just like your cat is showing you love by grooming you, you can grab a brush and show love right back to them. Grooming your cat is a great bonding experience, and it comes with the added bonus of getting rid of a bunch of hair that would otherwise end up all over your furniture and clothes.
5. Rubbing Up On You
Just like grooming you can be a way for a cat to mark you as theirs, so is the way they rub against you. In addition to the scent glands located around the mouth, cats also have scent glands in the chin, forehead, cheeks, lower back, tail, and paw pads. Your cat may be rubbing their cheeks against you, head butting you, doing figure-eights around your legs, or wrapping their tail around you. All of these are ways for your cat to show affection by marking you with a scent that distinguishes you as someone close to them. Your cat will rub up on you in the same way that they will rub up on their favorite spots around the house or on a cat sibling. By marking you as their territory, what your cat is really saying is that you are safe, comforting, and familiar. Sounds like love to me!
While this may not be the most comfortable one of the bunch, your cat kneading you is a sign of love and affection. Kneading (also known as “making biscuits” for the way it resembles a human making dough) is when a cat pushes their front paws up and down on a surface, alternating between left and right. Some cats retract their claws while kneading – others don’t. Cats will knead on many types of soft surfaces, including their humans (especially when you are petting them). Besides being another way to mark you using the scent glands on their paw pads, your cat kneading you is a sign they feel comfortable around you. Kneading is an instinctive cat behavior. Newborn kittens will knead at their mother to help stimulate milk production while they are nursing, and so the act of kneading is associated with comfort.
What is comforting to your cat is not always comfortable for you though, considering the happier your cat is, the harder they will knead you. Even though they are loving on you, those sharp claws can be unpleasant to say the least. If your cat is a serious kneader, you may want to keep a blanket on hand to put some cushioning in between your kitty’s claws and your skin.
7. Bringing You “Gifts”
Another not so pleasant way that your cat might show you love is to bring you presents. This sounds nice in theory – and it can be when it’s something indoor-friendly like a toy – but if you’ve got an indoor-outdoor cat, you might be greeted with the grisly sight of a dead or dying animal. Cats are natural hunters and carnivores, and it is instinctual (especially for female cats) to hunt prey and bring it back to their kittens. Bringing back these types of “gifts” is most common in spayed female cats, which makes sense because they don’t have any kittens to bring food home to. So who do they turn to? You, their closest family member. While us humans may not find a dead rodent to be a great gift, to your cat, there is no greater token of love and affection.
By far the most destructive of the bunch, scratching is another way that cats show their love for you. It may seem counterintuitive for your cat to destroy your things as a way of saying “I love you,” but they are just leaving visual and scent markers in places of importance in their territory. An unfortunate effect of your cat’s affection is that some of the places they consider important are directly related to you, which puts your spot on the couch or your favorite armchair in danger. While scratching is a completely natural and healthy behavior for cats – it helps them maintain their nails as well as stretch and tone the muscles in their feet, legs, back, and shoulders – it can obviously cause problems for humans. Since declawing is never an option, humans who want to save some wear and tear on their stuff should keep their cat’s claws trimmed and train their cat to use a scratching post. The earlier you train your cat, the better off you (and your furniture) will be.
Many people (especially dog people) often think cats are standoffish, but cat lovers know that they just have their own special ways of showing their affection. For cat parents, a gentle nuzzle and a soft purr takes the place of enthusiastic jumping and loud barking. While both animals will love you equally, cats tend to be a lot subtler about it, and cat people wouldn’t have it any other way.