We joke about our cats ruling our home, life, and schedule, but there is a reason such stereotypes come about. Cats are territorial, finicky creatures of habit, and we love them so much that we are willing to give them what they want. (Within reason, of course, although what could be considered good reason might vary.)
But does your cat love you back? Or do they just enjoy being the queen of the castle? We may never know for sure, but there are a lot of things that point to our cats loving us just as much as we love them, if in different ways.
There is no doubt that there is a bond between most cats and their people. Throughout this article we turn to Janet Cutler, Ph.D., one of our Certified Cat Behaviorists at Cat-World.com, to add insight and reassure cat owners of their precious one’s affections. Here, she explains why she believes our cats love us back:
“There has been research that has looked at the attachment between cats and their people, based on other work that had been done with young children and their parents. The research looked at how cats behave in a new environment when their person is away for a short period of time and then again when they come back. Researchers found that about the same percentage of cats as young children appear to be more secure when their person is in the room.”
If you have someone arguing that your cat can’t love you the same way you love her, these facts and theories will help you stand your ground.
Do cats understand love?
The research makes it clear that there is a bond between most cats and their people, but is it love? Love is one of the most difficult things to define in our world, as it is subjective and means something different to everyone. The animal kingdom forms emotional bonds, but they might not be described in the same way as human love.
“Love,” for cats, could be synonymous with other emotional bonds such as respect, dependence and associated appreciation, or trust. While “love” might seem elusive, signs of these types of affection are just as important.
Appreciation growing from dependence is a form of love.
You may wonder if your cat is affectionate toward you only because you take care of them. Even if this is the case, that affection is just as genuine as any that might come from a feeling of “love” that you could more easily pinpoint. You will notice that the people in the household who meet basic needs like feeding the cat and maintaining a clean litterbox area are held in the highest esteem, even if the entire household claims the cat as their own.
Trust is a form of love.
Cats in the wild don’t trust easily, and domestic cats are only slightly less wary. There are some sure-fire ways to know if your cat trusts you. The easiest sign to interpret is when they expose their belly to you. Trust is an important foundation of any love relationship, so it should be a primary goal to create a bond of trust between you and your cat that anyone else will see as love.
Cat + Owner = The Love Hormone.
There is a hormone that is produced in humans and most of the animal kingdom called oxytocin. It is often referred to as “the love hormone,” as it is released when we are intensely content and happy, such as when we are with those we love or doing things we are passionate about.
Studies have shown that cats produce oxytocin when spending time close to their humans, and to most cat owners that is all the evidence they need that their cats can love them back.
How can I tell if my cat loves me?
Whether love, trust, respect, or appreciation is responsible for the bond you have with your cat, they will show you in numerous ways how they feel that bond as well.
According to Dr. Cutler:
“There are many behaviors that cats do when they are happy and content. This could include rubbing their head against you, purring, kneading their paws, closing their eyes slightly, staying near you, and more. It’s important to remember that some cats like close contact with their people, while others might be showing you they like to be near you by simply being in the same room as you.”
1. Purring, meowing & rubbing
Purring, meowing while rubbing on you, and wanting to be near you are obvious signs that your cat loves you.
2. Your cat blinks slowly
You may notice that your cat seems to blink very slowly and intentionally from time to time while you are in each other’s company. Many cat owners might not think anything of this, but scientific researchers are a curious lot, and so we have studies asking if that slow blinking means anything.
In short, the researchers concluded that blinking slowly could be an important way that cats communicate positive messages and feelings.
“(The) study looked at slow blinking in cats (where cats half blink several times and then partly or fully close their eyes) and how they react if people slowly blink back at them,” Dr. Cutler explained. “Cats were more likely to approach people that slowly blinked at them, and the researchers concluded that it may be an important method for communicating positive emotions for cats.”
3. Your cat exposes their belly
Your cat will expose their belly when they trust you explicitly. It is a false stereotype that cats don’t like belly rubs. The truth of the matter is that many cats love to have their belly rubbed just as much as dogs, but unlike dogs they don’t allow just anyone to do so.
Wild cats are wary by nature, and those same distrustful instincts still exist in modern domesticated cats. The belly is the most vulnerable area on their body, so they automatically protect it, even when with their owners. If your cat exposes their belly to you fully for those coveted belly rubs, it means that they trust you as much as they would their mother or mate.
4. Your cat brings you gifts
If your cat has developed a taste for the hunt, they will likely bring you little gifts and trophies of things like dead crickets and mice. But even if your cat isn’t a hunter, they could still bring you gifts. They might bring you something especially soft found in your child’s room, or maybe they found something interesting while on an outdoor excursion.
5 .Your cat rubs on you
Cats rub on you when they are happy and to show their affection, but for more than just to show “love.” Cats have both physical and emotional reasons that they rub their face and body against you, wrapping their tail around your ankle, leg, or arm.
The emotional reason is that cats use this type of rubbing to communicate and show affection among each other, particularly in a family group. You are their family, so they practice these traits on you.
The physical reason your cat rubs on you is that they have glands in their face that release happy pheromones to mark you as their favorite human. Your cat might also knead you to mark you as territory, as these same pheromones can be released through glands between their claws.
How can I let my cat know I love her?
The best way to let your cat know you love her is to show her affection in moderation. You should be loving, affectionate, and attentive, but also be careful to not overstimulate your cat. If your cat feels treasured during your time together they will be more likely to show you signs of love back, but if you overdo it they may distance themselves.
We asked Dr. Cutler, “What are the best ways to show your cats that you love them?” She gave us this answer:
“Learning what your cat likes is one of the best ways to show your cat that you love them. Some cats are happy with simply being somewhat near you, but other cats like to be close and interact with them. Watching what they like to do throughout the day and paying attention to their behavior and body language can tell you a lot.”
You can also show your cat love by:
- Meeting their needs such as feed your cat, keep a clean litter box for them, and give them comfy places to relax.
- Blink slowly at them when they are spending time with you to communicate with them on their level.
- Spend time near your cat, even if you are not actively interacting with one another.
- Allow your cat to sleep with you if they want, as this will strengthen your bond. However, don’t force it.
Not all cats show love the same way
Not seeing these behaviors in your cat? That doesn’t mean that they don’t love you. Just like people, some cats show love in different ways from those mentioned above. Since they can’t tell you whether or not they are happy and they love you, you’ll need to pay special attention.
- Read your cat’s body language to see what they do and don’t like.
- Let your cat approach you for intimacy, not the other way around.
- Be aware of your tone and volume when speaking with our cat.
A happy cat loves you
In general, as long as you do everything you can to make your cat happy, you will see some type of body language or other message letting you know that they love and appreciate you for all that you do for them.
We asked Dr. Cutler what are the best ways to make your cat happy, and she answered:
“Aside from providing your cat the basics, like food and water, shelter, and veterinary care; you can do many things with your cat. If your cat likes to play, then spending time playing with their favorite toy is great for your relationship with them. Attention in the form of petting is great, but you should occasionally do a consent test where you stop and see if they move their head or body towards you for more to ensure they want that session to continue. Many cats also like training with treats, and you can have a lot of fun with them training new tricks or activities.”
If you pay close attention to them you will be able to see signs that your cat loves you. If you don’t see such signs, you should consider if your cat is unhappy, as this will keep them from forming bonds.
Signs your cat is unhappy
Not sure what to look for in your cat’s behavior and body language? There are some things that are sure to make your cat unhappy, and therefore keep them from forming a bond of love with anyone in the home. Dr. Cutler gives us the worst ways to make your cat unhappy:
“Cats can understand our emotions, especially the difference between the sound of our voice and our posture when we’re happy, or upset and angry. Cats spend less time near people that are showing negative emotions.
Many cats don’t like to be pet in certain areas of their body, so avoiding those can help your cat from being unhappy. Cats like to be pet around their face and head, but many cats do not like to be pet on their belly or the base of their tail.”
Here are some of the signs of an unhappy cat, according to Dr. Cutler:
“Many of the signs that a cat might be unhappy are also ones that could happen when a cat isn’t feeling well, so if you see any sudden changes in your cat’s behavior it’s important to contact your veterinarian. Cats that are hiding away and not coming near people or other animals in your home could be unhappy.”