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If you talk to people who don’t like cats or who aren’t familiar with them, they’ll probably be quick to tell you that cats don’t show affection. They may praise the way dogs show affection but refer to cats as snobby or aloof. I think a big part of the problem is that people are trying to com-pare dog behavior with cat behavior. It may seem ridiculously obvious to you, but there are so many people out there who still need to be told: Cats aren’t dogs. One species isn’t better than the other; they’re just different. It makes sense that they would show affection differently as well.

Every cat is an individual, so there are many ways your particular cat may display affection, but here are just some of the common ways’ cats show their love:


This is the name for the behavior displayed when a cat literally head-butts you presses or even rams the top of his head into some part of your head or into your extended fist simulating a cat’s head. He may come up onto your lap and bunt his head against your chin, nose, or fore-head. Cats have scent glands on their faces, and it’s a very common social behavior for one cat to bunt the head of another familiar feline buddy. This isn’t just a scent exchange behavior, but also an affectionate greeting.


Cats also have scent glands along the sides of their lips, and they may rub these against people, a cat friend, or an object. The pheromones produced along the lips and on the cat’s head are associated with friendliness, affection, and familiarity. Cats facially rub on people or objects when they feel comfortable.


This behavior originated when the cat was a kitten and used to milk-tread to stimulate the release of milk from the mother’s teat during nursing. Many adult cats maintain that kneading behavior when they’re on a soft surface or feeling very content.


Purring is complex, because it’s something cats do when they’re happy, content, and relaxed, but also when they’re scared, sick, or injured. It has been theorized that cats purr to deepen an existing state of contentment or to soothe themselves and potential attackers in a tense environment.


Cats who have a good relationship may engage in mutual grooming. It’s an affiliative behavior and also helps create a group scent. This is important outdoors, for scent plays a huge role in recognition. Grooming is also a stress reliever and displacement behavior, so all grooming may help cats keep each other calm. When your cat starts grooming you, it’s generally his way of showing affection and mixing his scent with yours.

Slow Eyeblinks

This common display is one way a cat can convey that he’s relaxed and comfortable with you. We call it a cat kiss!

Vulnerable Postures

When a cat takes a stretched-out position for resting, he shows he feels comfortable with you. When a cat is uncertain, he tends to tuck his limbs under his body and tightly wrap his tail around himself when resting. Leaving his limbs and tail totally exposed means he feels secure near you.

If the cat isn’t in a confrontation, he may stretch out so much that he’s on his back with his belly exposed. This is the ultimate in trust and relaxation, because he’s exposing a very vulnerable body part. Don’t confuse this posture with a cat exposing his tummy during a battle. In that situation, it’s a defensive gesture displayed to warn an opponent that, should the battle continue, all weapons (teeth and claws) will be used. When interpreting body postures, you always have to take the immediate environment into account.

Upright Tail Flicks

A cat’s tail can tell you what the cat is feeling. A tail held high with a little hook at the end usually means your cat is happy and confident. Many cats will also give the tail tip a little flick as a greeting when they see you.

Being in Physical Contact with You

Your cat may sit on your lap, sit next to you, and lie on top of you when you’re in bed, or he may just lean his back against your arm as you work at the computer. Just the fact that he wants to be in close physical contact with you is quite the compliment.


Cats can carry on all kinds of conversations, and there’s no such thing as a simple meow, but many cats issue a special mew or a little chirp as a greeting when their cat parents enter the room.

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