Cats have a reputation for being standoffish. But if you’ve ever lived with one, you know that’s not true. Cats may not show affection as obviously and enthusiastically as dogs, but they express love in their own way. And sometimes, their way is downright weird.
Once you know what cat affection looks like, you’ll see it in every interaction with your feline friend. From head butts to butt-butts, these are some of the surprising ways cats show affection.
They “make biscuits” in your lap
What’s kneading all about, anyhow? When kittens feed, they knead their mother’s teats to stimulate milk flow. As adults, cats knead when they feel safe and content. In other words, you are your cat’s human security blanket.
Kneading may also be a way cats “mark” territory, as they have sweat glands in their paws that release chemicals as they knead. So if you’re the territory they’ve chosen to mark, take it as a compliment. Cats tend to knead places where they feel safe. But be sure to keep your cat’s claws trimmed; otherwise, being loved so hard can hurt!
They rub their face all over yours
If you’re a cat lover with a slight cat allergy, you may not appreciate a face full of cat fur. But when your cat rubs their cheek on yours, they’re paying you a high compliment.
Cats have scent glands on the sides of their mouths that deposit pheromones when they rub their cheeks against things—and people. Those pheromones “mark” you as trustworthy and safe. Head butts are the same: when your cat bumps you with their forehead, they’re saying “I love you” with scent.
They follow you into the bathroom
Does your cat stare at you while you’re on the toilet? Don’t worry, your cat isn’t a freak. In fact, this is one sign of affection cats and dogs share. Dogs follow people into the bathroom out of curiosity, anxiety, and attachment. For cats, it’s pretty much the same thing—they like you so much, they just want to be near you at all times!
If your cat follows you around the house, it’s a sign they’re attached to you. For some cats, it’s a matter of protection: after all, they’re small and vulnerable, and you’re big and safe. On the other hand, they might just be curious what the heck you’re doing in that weird room with a big, noisy water fountain. Either way, your cat is showing an interest in the things you do, and that’s a major sign of affection.
They lick your feet (or fingers, or face)
Have you ever woken up to a cat tongue on your toes? Ick. Cat tongues are covered with tiny little barbs used for grooming and scraping up bits of food so they can feel kind of gross on your skin. But if your cat licks you, you can take it as a sign of affection.
Cats groom the ones they love; in fact, within a group of cats living together, there’s typically one cat “assigned” to lick and groom all the other cats in the group (source). When your cat licks you, they’re showing that you’re part of their family.
Grooming is also another way of sharing scent, which explains why kitty licks may target your feet, hands, or face. Those are places where your scent is strongest.
They bring you dead stuff
Whether it’s a soggy cat toy on your pillow or a real-life dead mouse on your doorstep, chances are, you’ve been on the receiving end of a kitty “gift.” But how is dead stuff a sign of affection?
According to a veterinarian writing for Vetstreet, cats bring home prey to feed their kittens, and they may think you need feeding, too. In other words, it’s an act of nurturing and care. Your cat is sharing the bounty of the hunt with you, their closest companion.
On the other hand, some cats simply want to bring their catch “home” to enjoy it in safety. But if your bed is your cat’s safe place, take it as a compliment. It means you’ve provided a home where they feel comfortable, so you can think of dead stuff as a sign of thanks.
If “kitty presents” are grossing you out, give your cat a puzzle toy to stimulate their prey drive. They get to hunt, and you get to live a life free from surprise mouse guts underfoot: it’s a win-win!
They wake you up by smacking you in the face
This one’s personal: my cat Iggy loves to startle me awake by pawing my face. I confess, when an 18-pound cat is jumping on my chest and smacking me in the face with a paw that was very recently digging in the litter, I don’t always feel the love. But Iggy’s behavior is caused by his attachment to me.
They show you their butt
Nothing says “I care” like a face full of cat butt. Friendly cats greet each with a lateral walk-by, rubbing alongside one another from front to rear. This sideways greeting is another form of scent transferrence, used to build community among cats. Butt-up body language can mean, “let’s get to know each other.”
A butt in the air can also signify, “pet me, please!” Either way, if your cat sticks their butt in your face, take it as a sign that they really, really like you!