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How Do Cats Show Affection? 12 Common Ways They Express Love

cat licking the girl's hair
Image Credit: yuris, Shutterstock
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Lorre Luther

If you have a cat at home, you may wonder if your buddy loves you. And if so, how can you tell? Since cats can’t speak, it’s reasonable to wonder how they show affection. Cats show their love in several ways, from sleeping on your head to rubbing against your legs when you come home after being gone for a few hours.

Many cats deeply bond with their human companions, often relying on them for love, friendship, comfort, and fun. They even mourn the loss of humans they’ve spent several years with and have grown to love. Read on for more on the ways cats show affection.

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The 12 Ways Your Cat Shows You Affection

1. Meowing

Adult cats typically only meow to communicate with people, as they often rely more on smell and body language when interacting with other kitties. Cats often meow to get their favorite people’s attention. Many meow to ask for playtime or food. Some accompany requests for cuddle time with sweet little paw pokes to make their wishes crystal clear.

2. Rubbing

Cats often greet loved ones by rubbing against them. This often starts with a few head butts. Cats then move on to rubbing the lengths of their bodies against their favorite people. They have scent glands around their whiskers, ears, and chins. These glands produce pheromones that contain information cats use to communicate with each other.

When your cat rubs against you, it leaves behind its pheromones and picks up a bit of your scent, creating a new smell that reminds cats of being warm, happy, loved, and comfortable.

cat rubbing its head against the owner's legs
Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

3. Rolling

Some cats roll around on the ground excitedly around their favorite people. It often happens when loved human companions first come home after being away. Cats are often protective of their vulnerable bellies, so it’s a major sign of trust and affection when a cat is so happy to see you that they roll around and invites you to pet its tummy.

4. Body Language

Happy cats appear confident and relaxed, often walking with their tails held high and their ears back when feeling comfortable and at home. If your cat greets you at the door with their tail held high and the tip slightly bent, it’s a sign of affection. Kittens often assume this posture with their mothers, so it shows your cat thinks of you as a loving, protective presence they’re happy to have around.

bengal cat being stroked by man's hand and purring
Image Credit: PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek, Shutterstock

5. Purring

Cats often purr when happy, indicating they’re totally relaxed and blissed out, particularly when combined with kneading or snuggling. While cats often purr when content, it can sometimes indicate that a cat isn’t feeling terribly well, as some purr to control pain. Purring may help speed the healing of broken bones, and pregnant queens often purr to increase relaxation during the first stages of birth.

6. Giving Gifts

Some pets with access to the outdoors provide gifts to their human companions in the form of small, dead, or nearly dead critters. Some cats regularly catch and provide gifts, and others only leave occasional treats for their humans. It shows that your cat loves you and gives you a concrete example of how much they care about you and your welfare. It’s absolute proof that your cat thinks of you as family.

cat carrying a dead mouse
Image Credit: Markos-Loizou, Shutterstock

7. Playing

Cats often have favorites, and many are happy to let everyone in the household know who is on and off the list. Some specifically seek out their best buddies when they want a bit of attention or playtime. Being playful in your presence is often a sign that your cat feels safe and loved when you’re around.

8. Scratching

Cats have scent glands in their paws, which is one of the reasons they love to dig in and scratch things—it feels good, provides a nice stretch, and leaves a scent trail behind. Cats sometimes scratch places their favorite people often sit as it allows them to mark the area. Not only do these feline pheromones tell other critters to stay away, but they also create a comforting smell that reminds your cat of how much you love them.

grey cat using hepper hi-lo cat scratcher from side

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9. Sleeping

Cats can be particular about where they sleep. While they’re natural predators, they’re vulnerable to being pounced on by foxes, coyotes, and skunks. As a result, most love to hang out high above it all, where they can keep an eye on things and see danger approaching while it’s nice and far away, allowing more time to escape. Cats prefer to sleep where they feel safe, leading many to nap on their humans. An owner’s head, legs, and feet are popular resting places.

10. Blinking

The slow blink is a sure sign that your cat loves you; it shows your buddy feels relaxed, content, and safe. It’s an invitation to respond with similar openness and love. Think of it as a sort of gentle feline kiss. Cats often slowly blink to let humans know that further contact will be tolerated.

grey nebulung cat laying in window
Image Credit: mama_mia, Shutterstock

11. Grooming

Cat moms regularly groom their kittens. It not only keeps tiny cats clean, but it also stimulates them to eat and go to the bathroom. Mother cats also use grooming to show love and bond with their babies. Cats sometimes show humans affection in the same way by gently licking their favorites while cuddling.

12. Kneading

Kittens knead to stimulate their mom’s milk production. Many adult cats keep the habit and enjoy a good knead involving their favorite person’s arm or lap. Some cats knead just before settling in for a snooze. It may also relax stressed-out pets. While some used to think the behavior was linked to cats being weaned too early, most experts now believe it to be normal instinctual behavior, even in adult cats.

bengal cat licking man's face
Image Credit: AJR_photo, Shutterstock

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Most cats are sweet, friendly creatures that love spending time with their beloved humans. Many develop deep bonds of affection with their favorite people and can even become depressed when deprived of their favorite humans’ companionship. Cats show affection in different ways, including rubbing against their loved ones and snuggling up next to their owners in bed. They also show love by following people around and sitting on their laps. Some demonstrate their love by providing gifts of small dead animals, and others enjoy kneading their owner’s stomach or legs.

Featured Image Credit: yuris, Shutterstock

About the Author

Lorre Luther
Lorre Luther
Lorre Luther is a writer who is firmly convinced that cats are smarter than humans. She left her law career in the United States and moved to the Netherlands to follow her dream of becoming a writer. Lorre currently lives in Rotterdam, she enjoys traveling and greatly appreciates the beauty of nature. Lorre has a spot for animals and admires the intelligence of cats.

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