Friday, August 17, 2012

How Do Cats Show Affection?

By Langley Cornwell

I’ve always been a “dog person.” Growing up, we had hamsters, turtles and dogs as family pets (and a horse, but he was imaginary so that probably doesn’t count). As an adult, I became active in rescuing and rehoming shelter dogs. For some reason, cats never really hit my radar.

Then along came my future husband, an ardent “cat person.” When we decided to make a life together, cats were a non-negotiable for him and dogs were a non-negotiable for me. So we agreed to make room in our hearts and our home for both.

At first, I didn’t know how to relate to cats. I believed everything I’d been told about them: that they’re independent and aloof, that they aren’t affectionate, etc.  Still, my clumsy attempts at interaction didn’t faze the little kitten we adopted whatsoever. Jet chose me to be his best buddy and that’s what we are. He’s my special little guy. He has introduced me to the wonders and joys of living with felines, a pleasure I’d missed for many years—but never will again.

Our cat is clearly affectionate; he shows me affection in ways that are impossible to miss. We’ve fostered other cats, however, that are harder to read, but it helps that we’ve studied and observed the different ways that cats show affection.

Bringing home gifts

Our cat is an irrepressible hunter. I won’t go into details but we’ve had a variety of gifts deposited on our porch. (As an aside, there is nothing cute about a mole). My husband keeps telling me I need to acknowledge my gifts because our cat is expressing his love for us, but I had a hard time buying it until I looked deeper. Catster confirms that when a cat brings home the spoils of his hunting activities, he’s presenting you with a prized gift and he expects you to be pleased with it. In fact, they liken the action to a child seeking approval from his parents.

Blinking slowly 

If you’ve ever seen an Animal Planet show or Disney movie that highlights felines, you’ve seen how they approach strangers with an unflinching, laser-like stare. Same with domestic cats, when they encounter strangers or unknown cats they hit them with that direct stare. But when a cat feels affectionately towards you, he looks at you with his eyelids soft and half-closed, or he blinks slowly when he’s gazing at you. These slow eye blinks are also known as “kitty kisses.” Because I want our cat to know I return his affection, I blink slowly back.

Showing his belly or positioning his tail

When a cat rolls over and shows you his belly, he’s allowing himself to be completely vulnerable. If a cat is comfortable enough to be completely unprotected in your company, it shows that he trusts and loves you enough to let his guard down.

Some cats position their tails in a question mark shape or a full, upright position to show affection.

Head bumping and rubbing

It’s especially endearing to see our cat head bump our dog, which he does all the time. When he bumps or rubs his face on her, he’s marking her and signaling that he’s comfortable with her and feels affection for her.


Another heartwarming activity to watch is our cat grooming our dog. It looks like he’s giving her a facial. When the dog is lying down, the cat will lie beside her, face to face, and lick all over her face. Cats groom each other as a way of bonding, so when he grooms the dog he’s bonding with her and showing affection.


A true sign of love and affection is kneading. This paw action is instinctual and starts at birth. I wrote about kneading in this article: Why Do Cats Make Biscuits? To sum it up, kneading indicates contentment and adoration and is sometimes accompanied by drooling.

Following you around or showing excitement when you return

If your cat follows you around like a dog or is always in the same room you are, he’s interested in what’s going on with you. He wants to either be involved or at least keep tabs on where you are and what you’re doing.

Some cats act excited when you come home. Not with the jumping around, tail-wagging enthusiasm that dogs display but excited nonetheless. If your cat runs to the door when you arrive, he’s showing that he missed you and he’s glad you’re home safely.

This only scratches the surface. When you have a special bond with your pet, there’s a language that only the two of you share. I’d love to hear about it. How does your pet show affection towards you?

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell


  1. My Nicki is a HUGE head-butter. He's quite insistent that I get down and rub heads with him, though he actually can be quite rough with his head-butts. LOL.

    Derry is the cuddler, liking to be picked up or on my lap or lying with his paw over my hand in bed at night.

    Nicki, being the "alpha" cat, also is the one who comes to greet me when I get home. Derry hangs back until he's sure it's me and not a monster, then will scoot by, while Nicki gets his scritches. :-)

  2. Just this morning Austin and I were making little squeaky humming noises to each other like we were having a conversation! He does all those things you mentioned, so I am a happy bunny :) And so must he be!

  3. I shows my affection when I gets a bowl heaping high with my favorito FELIDAE Pure Elements food!

  4. Ariel absolutely adores my husband and I and she does everything from grooming us, to flying up into our arms, to nose breaking head butts. Aurora is very aloof and would rather she pet you with her head than vice versa. She does quiver her tail at me though. Bond loves his belly rubbed and actually rears up on his hind legs, supports himself against a person's leg with one paw, and do a stretching pat with the other paw. Most people are actually apprehensive about this behavior because it's so unusual. It's a very dog like practice!

  5. Those are all so true. Cats do show a lot of affection. Our cats clean the dogs face all the time and the dog loves it. I love it when the cats kind of hold tails and they will wind their tails around me too. Kind of like holding hands. Great post.

  6. We do all of these, even tho our prey is little plastic mice and feather toys :)

  7. My gang of seven do all of the above to one varying degree to another. Dan tells me that minutes before I pull into the driveway from work, they are waiting at the door for me, which is so heartwarming, to say the least! I also love the affection the cats show for one another. In particular, Zoey and her kittens. There is absolutely no question that they know she is Mama and they melt in a parent/child bond when she grooms them.

  8. So true! Our cats, and many of the kittehs at the shelter, do these things to show their affection. We love seeing those upright tails, and those kitty kisses are the best. :)

  9. My Timmy does almost all of those things. He used to bring us roaches and lizards when we lived in Florida.

    Now he runs to greet my sister and I at the door with a chirrup, watches me cook and clean, watches me practice cello, sleeps at my feet at night, slow blink kisses me, grooms my arms to varying states of rawness. His tail is almost always in that lazy question mark shape. And he's almost NEVER alone in a room. He's always with us.

    He NEVER made biscuits before he turned two and then all of a sudden, he makes them on our thighs! And just before he sits against your leg or side. We like biscuits! Now if only he'd make breakfast...

  10. My cat "cotton" wasnt a rescue, but he was "found" at only a week old under a lawnmower and abandoned by his mother. He has 3 other siblings and I eventually kept only him, finding new homes for the siblings. I raised him myself and bottle-fed him. He is now 5 yrs old and is a very loving cat. BTW he is solid white with green eyes. Everything else is pink. He is large and in charge and a TOTAL LOVEY.
    I had initially got on your blog to find out why he makes biscuits and found this section on affection. He is extraordinary in showing affection to anyone that will show him attention. I know how many people regard their children as being "angels" but he is truly angelic when it comes to anyone. He never met a stranger. I believe it is nurture and not nature how he reacts towards people. He shows affection to everyone, but it is special towards me.
    When I get home, he sits at the door of my room and meows a sad cry like he is saying "Maw". Funny how Paw is called Maw. But, he will do that until I go in to show him love. He has always been an indoor cat and sometimes goes out on my screened porch to enjoy the outside air. He has all the creature comforts inside and I make sure he has plenty treats, play, and comfort zones for all activities for him.
    As I ramble on, I should get to the point of his affection toward me and others. He will lay on his back and show his belly. He then has a session of "play aggression" with whomever until he feels at ease. Then he will rub all over them. With me, I call it a radium therapy. I go in and lay on the middle of my bed and he proceeds to give me a "CAT Scan". Then after checking my smells of the day out, he plops over on his side and turns his head up, queing me to commence the rubbing and petting. He will then purr so loudly that the floors rumble. Exposing his belly, he will want some more play aggression and then its off to eat. This is a daily ritual and is never halted for anything for I am never too busy to take a few with my baby boy.
    He is by far loved back and sleeps beside me every night, even sometimes curling on my pillow above my head. And yes, you wouldnt believe it, but he snores very loudly. Doesnt bother me. I feel its a priviledge that he wants to sleep even near me, and besides the purring and snoring is as soothing as if I were to start making biscuits myself. It actually makes me fall asleep faster.
    I am sorry for the book on "Cotton" but he is the love of my life as you can tell. Thank you for this valuable site and information that it includes.
    I may attach pics at some point if I can find my way back here.
    Newberry, FloriDUH


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