I certainly know I love my cat. Like most cat parents, it’s easy for me to say that I love my cat more than most people.
But what about my cat? Does my cat know that I love her so much?
It can be difficult to apply human concepts like love to our cats and instead we should focus on the idea of trust. But whatever we call it, it’s clear that cats do bond with us and there’s no doubt that cats feel connected to us just as we feel connected to them.
Still, that’s just scratching the surface and to really understand whether or not our cats are feeling the love we’re going to have to dive deeper into the concepts of feline love and how cats view humans. I promise you, this is not filler and it will all make sense as you continue to read but if you want to skip ahead you can use the table of contents here:
Do Cats Experience Love?
Understanding what our cats really feel is just about impossible.
Heck, it’s hard for humans to fully agree on what love is and we’ve got an entire arsenal of words to help us explain how we feel. When it comes to cats, we’re mostly left to figure out how they feel just based on what we see.
But using science and some clever research we can actually get pretty darn close to understanding what our cats are feeling and how it relates to our own bonding experience.
Cats Release Oxytocin When Interacting With Humans
It all hinges on an important hormone called oxytocin which is often referred to as the love hormone. Oxytocin is released when humans interact with people they love, when mothers breastfeed and dozens of other positive interactions including when humans pet dogs or cats.
In other words, oxytocin levels in humans give us a way to quantify a positive experience and add some scientific backing to the idea of love.
Things get really interesting when you learn that cats and dogs also release oxytocin when they interact with humans which gives us a chance to measure the love that our pets feel!
That shows us that, at least from a scientific perspective, cats are feeling the love!
Felines Form Attachments To Humans
Another study from Oregon State University examined the attachment style of both kittens and adult cats. Kristyn Vitale, the study lead, explains that “It’s the first time that researchers have empirically demonstrated that cats display the same main attachment styles as babies and dogs.”
While that might not be the exact same thing as love, the study does go to show that cats are attached to humans despite the fact that they’re often labeled as aloof.
The study used the same approach that researchers use to test attachment styles in children. It starts with an important person or loved one entering a new room with the cat or child. That person leaves and the behavior of the cat or child is observed.
When the cat’s favorite human is gone, securely attached cats (or kids) will be less interested in exploring the room and overall a little more concerned about where the person went. How long this lasts varies by attachment style.
After some time passes, the person returns and sits down in the room. An immediate difference in the cat is usually noticed and they’re suddenly more confident and willing to explore the entire room or interact with toys in the case of kids.
This shows that felines are attached to their humans and while it might not be love in the exact way that humans think of it, it does show the same sort of bond and attachment style that’s seen in children.
You can see the experiment in this video and make sure to pay close attention to how the cat interacts with the room while their owner is gone and when they come back (you also might want to watch it at 2x speed):
What Does This All Mean?
The attachment style research and oxytocin findings strongly suggest that cats are attached to humans and feel the same hormonal response that humans and other animals feel during positive interactions!
Can we call this love?
Well, that’s where things get tricky.
As I’ve already mentioned, it’s hard for two humans to agree on what love is! But it’s fair to say that cats experience pleasant feelings and a close bond with their human companions and that’s good enough for me!
Do Cats Show Humans Love Different From Cats?
This is where cats take a distinct turn away from the canine world- and I love it!
While research has shown that dogs see humans as clearly different from themselves, it’s been shown that cats simply treat us like other cats.
Feline behavior expert John Bradshaw explains that when it comes to dogs, “As soon as they see a human, they change their behavior. The way a dog plays with a human is completely different from [the way it plays] with a dog.”
But cats handle things differently and explains that “We’ve yet to discover anything about cat behavior that suggests they have a separate box they put us in when they’re socializing with us. They obviously know we’re bigger than them, but they don’t seem to have adapted their social behavior much. Putting their tails up in the air, rubbing around our legs, and sitting beside us and grooming us are exactly what cats do to each other.”
What does this have to do with feline love?
It tells us that the behaviors cats use to show love and affection towards cats are the same ones they’d use to show us love! It’s one of the few areas where cats keep things simple and if your cat treats you similar to their favorite feline friend then you’re well-loved.
Overall, this makes understanding feline body language a whole lot easier since there’s no double standard with our feline friends.
How Can I Show My Cat Love?
Because cats don’t change their behavior much when they interact with cats compared with humans we can show love to our cats the same way they show love to us or other felines.
That means petting, slow blinks, playtime and even some attempts at trilling are all on the table. Pretty much everything that cats do to show love we humans can use to show it back and there’s a good chance cats will pick up the message.
But there’s one thing that you can provide better than any other cat and that’s food!
As a kitten, mother cats provide food to their kittens first in the form of milk and then with live prey to help kittens learn to hunt. We’ve already mentioned that our cats will share resources with us when they’re feeling loved but the fact that we feed our cats on a daily basis goes a long way to making sure our cats know they’re loved.
Yes, petting, playtime, and slow blinks are good but making sure your cat always has food is probably the easiest action that has the biggest impact on making sure your cat knows they’re loved!
So How Do We Know Cats Feel Loved?
We know that cats have a bond with us and experience the same love hormones that we do…but how can we be sure that cats really feel the love?
First, love is a bit of a two-way street. While stories of unrequited love are popular with humans, it’s unlikely that our cats are going to make a lot of effort to pursue a one-sided relationship.
In other words, if your cat is showing you love then they probably feel the love too!
We can also look for some other clues that will help us know our cats understand how much we love them!
We’re often left to guess at what our cats are saying based on context clues but the slow blink is one of the few ways that we can truly communicate with our cats using the same language. Or as famous feline expert Jackson Galaxy puts it “One of the only ways that we can just zoom in and get an instant relationship with a cat is by blinking.”
The way it works is simple: You make subtle, non-aggressive eye contact with your cat and slowly blink while holding your eyes closed for about a second at a time. If your cat is feeling the love, you’ll get a slow blink in return.
It’s one of my favorite feline activities and if you want a visual explanation check out this video from Jackson Galaxy:
If you’re worried about misinterpreting a regular blink for a kitty version of “I love you” don’t be! Cats don’t blink very often, largely because they don’t have to blink by closing their eyelids as we do so if you’re seeing your cat slowly blink their eyes at you it’s safe to say they’re feeling the love!
Even if you don’t get a slow blink back (sorry) slow blinking at your cat is a great way to tell them that you love them!
Spend Time Around You
Would you rather spend time around people that love you or around people that dislike you?
I think the choice is pretty clear so if your cat is always hanging around you it’s pretty likely that they feel love.
Some cats are a bit more subtle about this than others. There are of course cats that feel the need to sit on your computer while you work or climb in your lap any chance they can get.
Then there are cats, like mine, that you’ll subtly notice have migrated into the same room as you. They may not make themselves known but they make sure they stay close.
In both cases, these are cats that are likely feeling the love as they choose to spend more time around people that love them.
Show You Trust
Trust and love are closely related, especially in healthy relationships so if your cat is showing you trust there’s a good chance they know they’re loved.
Your cat’s wild instincts would also make it pretty difficult to love you if they don’t trust you.
Most cats are constantly showing signs of trust but we may take these for granted. For example, a cat that sleeps on their back is showing you the most vulnerable part of their body. That’s not something they would do with someone they don’t trust and likely love.
Another big sign of trust is the willingness to play!
Just think about it, playtime with a potential threat just doesn’t make sense. Not only does that not sound very fun but it could also be quite dangerous. Playtime leaves cats vulnerable and they likely wouldn’t engage or initiate in playtime unless they were feeling the love.
Other signs of trust can vary between cats but look for signs that your cat is especially comfortable in your home and around you.
Bring You Gifts
This is a classic sign of feline love that can often be received with some mixed messages from humans. Cats that are feeling the love may bring you everything from socks and toys to even dead animals if they’re allowed outside.
These can all be considered signs of love and feeling loved since sharing resources is a big deal for any animal…including humans!
Rubbing On You
Sure, your cat uses those headbutts to mark you as their personal human but that’s not all they’re good for!
Cats also use touch to communicate and show affection and according to veterinarian Wailani Sung cats “show affection by rubbing their heads against each other and along the sides of their bodies. Sometimes cats may even hook their tails and rub them together.”
You don’t have a tail to attach to your cat but you’ve probably experienced your feline friend affectionately wrapping their tail around your hand!
Cats use meows to occasionally communicate with other cats but it’s primarily reserved for humans. Felines will also use other vocalizations like trilling (sometimes called chirping) to show love and affection to both humans and other cats.
Understanding feline love and whether our cats understand just how much we love them is a big topic!
But it’s fair to say that your cat does feel loved. While they may not understand just how much, they’ve probably got a pretty good idea!
What do you think? What way does your cat use to show you love?