You may adore your captivating cat, but how does your enigmatic feline companion feel about you?
“I love my cats, and I guess they think I’m okay. But I do sometimes get a very strong sense that they are purring at me, not with me,” observes Tom Cox – avid cat watcher and bestselling author of Under the Paw, Talk to the Tail and Close Encounters of the Furred Kind. It’s a sentiment that resonates with many a cat guardian.
Emily Blackwell, Senior Lecturer in Animal Behaviour and Welfare, University of Bristol, admits: “Even the most devoted cat owners wonder at some point, perhaps waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night whether their cat really loves them. Dog people like to smugly point out dogs’ long history as humankind’s best friend. But research shows cats’ reputation as a cold and aloof pet is undeserved.”
Independent by nature
She goes on to explain that, because of their evolutionary ancestry, domestic cats are, by their nature, more independent than dogs, but still form significant relationships: “The wild ancestors of our cats didn’t live in social groups as canines do. However, during the process of domestication, cats developed the ability to form social relationships not just with other cats, but also with people. Many cats show affection towards their guardians and seem to highly value the company of their human companions.”
While that’s reassuring, the question remains – how do us mere mortals tell that our feline familiar sees us as more than just a willing associate who provides their dinner?
The secret lies in understanding cat behaviour
Emily Blackwell advises: “Cats behave towards humans in the same way that they respond to their feline friends, so the secret of whether your cat feels bonded to you lies in their behaviour.”
Cats Protection adds: “Learning to read your cat’s body language is a great way to improve your relationship with them, as it will help you understand when they’re happy, and also when they’re stressed and want to be left alone.”
So, if you can try to think like a cat and learn to read your favourite feline’s signals, you’re in with a shout of discovering what your cat companion really thinks of you.
How to read your cat
Cats use scent to identify members of their social group or family, by sharing a group scent profile. Cats have scent glands on their flanks, head and around their ears, and often rub their heads against people and objects that are familiar and comforting. Emily Blackwell says: “Does your cat rub its head or side against your legs? The soft sensation you feel against your calves is actually your cat identifying you as a friend and is a huge compliment.”
Cats Protection adds: “Head butts, bumps or boops, whatever you want to call them, they’re essentially the cat equivalent of a hug. When a cat rubs their head or cheek on you, they’re actually transferring some of their own scent. By making you smell just like them, they’re marking you as someone who is familiar and can be trusted. You might see them doing this to other objects around your home to mark their territory as safe and familiar, so unfortunately you may be competing for their love with the coffee table.”
PLEASED TO GREET YOU
When cats greet members of their social group, they show signals to indicate friendship and a desire to move closer. Cats also show these signals to humans.
Emily Blackwell reveals: “A tail held in the upright flagpole position shows a friendly intention (the feline equivalent of a wave), indicating familiarity, trust, and affection. Some cats also use an upright question mark shaped tail to greet someone they like, or to motion that they want to play. Cats sometimes intertwine their tails as a sign of friendship and the human equivalent of this is to wrap their tail around your calf.”
Cats Protection adds: “Cats can communicate a lot with just their tail. For example, if your cat comes towards you with their tail pointing upwards, then it means they are happy to see you. This might also be accompanied by a little hop up onto their back legs, and the best response is to let them sniff your hand and give them a bit of a fuss to show you’re happy to see them too. That familiar feeling when your cat hits the back of your knee can also be a sign that they feel an extremely close bond to you. The feline version of a high-five, the head bump is usually saved for a cat’s closest feline friends and most trusted humans.”
IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE
Notoriously poker-faced cats may give little away via their facial expressions, but their beautiful eyes can be very revealing.
Emily Blackwell reveals: “When cats encounter strange humans or other cats they don’t know, they usually greet them with an unblinking stare. But they are more likely to slowly blink at cats they have a good relationship with. Research suggests slow blinks are associated with a positive emotional state and can be a sign of trust, contentment and affection, similar to a human smile.”
“If your cat is looking at you and then slowly closes their eyes and opens them again, perhaps also turning their head away, this is a good sign that they like you a lot,” adds Cats Protection. “It means they trust you enough that they don’t need to keep a watchful eye on you at all times in case you do something to startle or annoy them. The best response to this gesture is to slow blink back, letting them know the feeling is mutual.”
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
Felines are extremely protective of their personal space, so, if a cat allows you to get close to them, this suggests you’ve built up a special bond with them. Emily Blackwell says: “Curling up on your lap for a nap is a sign of deep trust. Grooming only happens between cats with a warm relationship, so licking your hand or face can be a show of endearment.”
Cats Protection adds: “If your cat starts kneading you, it likely means they’re feeling happy and comfortable sat in your lap. And if you can withstand the pain of their claws, that’s an extra sign that you love them too.”
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