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Do you say “I love you” out loud to your cat? I talk to my three all the time, but they don’t seem to understand me, especially when I’m telling them to get off the counter or stop smacking the dog. Of course, food and cuddles help show your cat you care. But to truly say “I love you,” it helps to speak their language.
Cats communicate through scent, body language, and physical contact. In other words, they understand your actions better than your words. With that in mind, here are six suggestions for ways to say “I love you” to your cat.
1. Pet them the way they prefer to be pet
Have you ever noticed how sensitive cats can be? My tuxedo cat Richie can be an attention hog, walking all over my lap. But if I pick him up, he wiggles and complains. Different cats have different preferences for how to be handled. To tell your cat you love them, respect their physical boundaries.
Maybe your cat likes a good chin scratch or a vigorous butt rub. Or maybe they don’t like being pet at all but are content to sit by your side on the couch. Pay attention to how your cat reacts when you pet them on different parts of their body. When they react calmly and affectionately, you’ve found the sweet spot!
2. Wear them out with play
Catnip mice are fun for your cat, but they don’t encourage bonding between the two of you. You can say “I love you” through interactive play that engages their inner predator. Try a 10-15 minutes session with an interactive wand toy like Da Bird. As a bonus, interactive play is great exercise for your cat.
For cats who aren’t big cuddlers, play is an alternate way to bond. And for cats who do like to cuddle, a serious play sesh will tire them out and make them extra-snuggly. Win-win!
3. Give them a hiding place
Offering your cat a place to hide may sound counterintuitive to saying “I love you.” But this is all about making them feel safe, and safety is an important part of love. A cat tree with a hiding compartment, a high-up window perch, or a cozy cave bed offers your cat comfort and relaxation. Cats are easily stressed out by disruptions to their environment, so it’s important to ensure they have a hideaway where they feel safe.
Once your cat has a hiding place, be sure to respect their alone time. You can show them tons of affection when they’re ready to hang out, but if they’re snoozing in their hidey-hole, let them be. Sometimes, the best way to say “I love you” in cat language is to give them space.
4. Go for the slow blink
In cat language, a hard, direct stare is seen as a threat. On the other hand, a soft gaze and slow blink signal relaxation and safety. You can say “I love you” to your cat by looking at them with relaxed eyes and slowly lowering your eyelids. Your cat may offer a slow blink in return, letting you know they love you, too!
5. Take a head butt or two
How often are you on the receiving end of a kitty head butt? It’s not just a sign of physical affection—when your cat “boops” you, she’s depositing pheromones from scent glands on her head. And for cats, scent marking is an important way to signify that something, or someone, is safe.
When your cat “marks” you, they’re demonstrating a high degree of trust. And although you don’t have the same scent glands to deposit pheromones on your cat, they do pick up your scent when you bump heads. Scent-sharing is another way to say “I love you” to your cat.
6. Let them sniff & lick you
Cats don’t just leave their own scent behind. They also take in scents from the environment and other creatures, and that includes you! By letting your cat sniff you, you’re saying “let’s get to know each other.”
Licks are similar—cats can get a lot of information through taste. Plus, licking is a sign of affection. You can encourage bonding by giving your cat a blanket or worn t-shirt with your scent on it. For some cats, nothing says “I love you” like dirty laundry.
Scent is also a good way to greet a new cat whose love you hope to win. Before going in for a pet, offer them something with your scent on it and give them plenty of time to check it out. A hat or shoe is a great option. Once they’ve sniffed it up, then offer your hand for them to smell. If they’re ready for pets, they’ll let you know by rubbing their face on your hand.
7. Give them treats
Positive reinforcement training isn’t just for dogs! Cats also respond to being rewarded for good behavior. You can even clicker train a cat, teaching them to engage in good behavior instead of, say, smacking the dog.
When your cat does something good, make a quick “click” sound and give them a treat. PetMD offers additional tips for clicker training a cat. Training encourages bonding between cats and their people. And of course, nothing says “I love you” like a tasty treat!
Just don’t over-treat your cat—keeping them healthy is another way to show love.
8. Spend quality time together
The best way to say “I love you” to your cat is to keep them happy, healthy, and safe. And the best way to do that—beyond the obvious food, shelter, and veterinary care—is to spend time with them every single day. Cuddle them, play with them, or nap by their side to let them know you care.