Cats have a love language that’s very different from a human’s love language, or a dog’s. And for those who haven’t grown up with cats, it may take some getting used to.
Cats say I love you in quiet, subtle ways. Sometimes very subtle. Here are some examples.
They are in the room with you.
Yes, the very presence of your cat in the same room as you is an expression of love. It shows they feel safe around you and enjoy just holding space nearby. If you’ve ever lived with a semi-feral cat who was scared and untrusting when you first brought them home, you’ll know how huge this is. But really, it’s always a big deal.
Greeting you with a tailed held high.
Tails up means happy cats. And if your cat’s tail curls at the tip like a question mark, that’s even better. It’s a sign of friendship and affection.
Joining you on the bed, even after you’re already asleep.
Your cat may not feel the need to go to bed at the same time as you, but if you wake up and they’re there, next to you, it’s a signal that they enjoy being close to you.
Sleeping on your clothes.
We cats are very scent oriented creatures. Sleeping on your clothes means your smell is comforting to us.
The technical term for it is bunting and it’s something cats do to each other as a sign of affection and to intermingle scents. So it’s a high complement when they do it to you. Rubbing against your legs does the same thing.
This is another intimate way for cats to intermingle scents with one another, and with humans who they love.
Almost everyone who loves cats knows about this one by now. Nothing says I love you more than a cat giving you a slow blink from across the room.
As you can see, cats have lots of ways to express their love for you! We may be even more affectionate than you realize. And of course you want to say I love you back to them. But humans have a habit of overdoing it, or doing it in a way that upsets their cats. So here are some ways you shouldn’t say I love you to your cat.
Picking them up.
Most cats don’t like being picked up. As a predator that is also prey, we have a need to feel in control. Holding a cat takes away their control and even if they tolerate it, it’s stressful and they are just hanging on until you put them back down.
Sorry about this, but many cats don’t like cuddling! For the same reasons as being picked up. Some cats will like it, but it’s an uncomfortable lack of control for the rest of them. (Even I’m not fond of cuddling, although I tolerate it from my therapy pet patients.) Cats really need their space respected to feel safe and loved. If you really feel you need to cuddle your cat, do it just briefly and don’t cling.
Yes, some cats do enjoy it, and I am one of them. But cats generally don’t expose their tummies to be touched. They do it as a sign of trust, showing off their most vulnerable side. So touching a cat’s tummy when they don’t want it is actually a betrayal of that trust.
So how can you say I love you back to your cat? Cheek and chin scritches are always a very welcome way to do that. More elaborate petting will vary from cat to cat, so just let them set the boundaries. Food and playtime are always a good idea! But best of all is just holding space with your cats, allowing them to solicit attention and love from you first. That’s possibly the greatest expression of love and respect and one your cat will appreciate most.
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