We all love our cats—and we want them to love us back. But as anyone with a cat will tell you, felines can be fickle with their affection. One moment they may be eagerly soaking up your attention. The next, they’re stalking away or even swatting at you.
Compared to dogs, “cats are more subtle in the way they express emotions,” says Dr. Marci L. Koski, a certified feline behavior and training consultant who runs Feline Behavior Solutions. “But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have the capability of loving humans and having close connections with them.”
So how do you know your cat loves you? As pet parents, it’s our job to learn the subtle—and sometimes surprising—ways that cats show us their affection. Understand these signs of cat love, and you’ll no longer be left wondering does my cat love me, or just see me as his can opener?
Do Cats Love Their Owners?
According to Krieger, cats can become so attached to their pet parents that they often spiral into grief if a favorite human dies or even just goes away to college. “The grieving can be so extreme that the cat stops eating,” she says. It’s a heartbreaking situation, but clear proof of just how deeply a cat can love a human.
Studies have also found that most cats would rather interact with a person than food or toys , and that they display similar attachment styles to their human caregivers as dogs and other humans do .
But just like us, every cat has her own personality, and that includes how—and how often—she chooses to show her affection. “There are people who are huggers and kissers and show their love readily. Cats are no different,” says Sue Bulanda, a certified member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. And just like people who are more reserved but still love deeply, some cats “can seem to be standoffish but actually love their owners very much,” Bulanda says.
11 Signs Your Cat Loves You
Figuring out if your cat loves you is easier than you think. Just watch out for these signs.
Your Cat is Omnipresent
Cats who are less physically affectionate can be tougher to read, but here’s an easy clue: how often do you spot them nearby? “A good way to tell if your cat loves you is how much she stays near you,” Bulanda says. She notes that sticking close by—or even trailing you from room to room—is a sign that your cat trusts you, which further translates to feelings of love and bonding.
And if your cat often sits nearby with his back towards you, “don’t think that she’s giving you the cold shoulder,” Koski says. “She simply trusts you to ‘have her back’ and doesn’t need to keep an eye on you as she relaxes.”
They Give You Eye Kisses
If your cat looks at you with half-closed eyes, then squeezes them closed in a slow blink, congratulations: you just got a cat kiss.
Krieger suggests sending your own eye kiss back in response. Your cat may respond again “if they’re feeling warm and fuzzy toward you.” She notes that all cats innately know this form of communication, and they may even do it with each other. Koski says the slow blink means your cat is relaxed around you and trusts you—there’s no need to be on wide-eyed alert with you.
They Groom You
When cats are feeling particularly loving toward their humans or to each other, they will often lick or groom the object of their affection, Krieger says. Through this licking, “they’re putting their scent on you so that you have a familial scent—you’re part of the family,” she adds. “That’s one way they identify their family members and kittens: by licking them and mixing their scent.”
Your Cat Rolls Over
If your cat rolls onto her back in front of you, belly fully exposed, it’s not an invitation to touch her tummy, Koski says. Instead, “be flattered, because she’s telling you that she trusts you enough to expose her vulnerable belly,” she adds.
Bulanda agrees that this gesture is a sign of complete trust for cats—but she says some do actually like having their bellies rubbed while they’re at it.
They Knead and Purr
According to Bulanda, the most common sign that a cat accepts, loves, and is bonded to her owner is when she kneads and purrs. “This is a very deep feeling for a cat,” Bulanda says. “It is a nursing behavior from when they were kittens and they never forgot the reward and comfort.” Kneading is also one way your cat claims people or objects as his own, since a cat has scent glands on the bottom of his feet.
“A cat will only knead something that they feel very safe with and that they love,” Bulanda adds. “Doing it to their owners is almost like telling their people that they feel as close to them as they did their mother.”
She Brings You “Gifts”
Many pet parents assume that when their cat delivers a “gift”—either an actual prey animal they hunted or just a toy—it’s a sign of affection and bonding. “That may be,” Koski says, “but it could also be that your kitty thinks that you’re not a very good hunter and she’s trying to teach you how to hunt for yourself.” Either way, “these gifts are likely a sign that your cat has warm feelings towards you,” Koski adds.
Your Cat’s Tail Tells You
Your cat may use her tail to transmit a surprising number of messages—including that she loves you. Koski says that when your cat approaches with her tail straight up in the air, it’s likely a signal that she’s happy to see you. “A little curl at the end of the tail is a friendly gesture,” she adds, “and a vibrating tail indicates excitement.”
Some cats have also been known to wrap their tails around a pet parent’s arm or leg. “I feel that this is a cat hug,” Bulanda says. “It is a way to show bonding and love.”
They Head Bunt You
Cats use head bunting (which many of us incorrectly call head butting) as a way to mark something with their scent. The subtext of that claim is clear: “They are saying ‘you are mine,’” says Bulanda.
Koski notes that with head bunting, your kitty is “essentially claiming you as part of her family.”
Your Cat Talks to You
Your cat’s “talking” can take any number of forms. For Krieger, quiet back-and-forth meows with her cat are a way of sharing affection. Other cats may chirp or trill when they greet you—which, according to Koski, is yet another way they announce their love.
She Nibbles Your Nose
One of the more surprising signs of a cat’s affection is when she nibbles or gently bites the tip of your nose. According to Bulanda, this is your cat saying she loves you—and if you gently touch her nose, “she will know that it is a sign of affection from you,” she says.
They Try to Hang On
Some cats will wrap their front paws around your arm or leg, or even grab your ankles when you’re walking away. Bulanda says all of these can be signs that your cat wants you to stay close or doesn’t want you to leave.
How to Make Your Cat Love You More
Once you’ve learned the signs of cat love, how can you foster an even deeper bond with your cat?
First, prioritize playtime—whether it’s a game of drag-and-catch using a pole toy, an interactive cat kicker fish toy for your cat to hunt, or a food puzzle for her to figure out. Grooming, soft talking, and clicker training to learn tricks can all be further bonding opportunities, according to Bulanda.
Krieger suggests taking a towel, rubbing your scent onto it, and putting that near your cat’s food so that she associates you with food (one of her favorite things). She also encourages letting your cat sleep with you—and if you don’t want her in your bed, try putting a big cat tree in your bedroom for her instead.
Don’t yell at or punish your cat, since “this will break the bond and create a very stressed and fearful cat that’s afraid of its owner,” Krieger adds.
And in general, always let your cat come to you first. “With cats, especially ones that are new to your family, it’s generally best to let them set the speed of building a relationship,” Koski says. “Let them approach you and learn about you on their own terms. When your cat is given the ability to call the shots, that cat will learn to trust you and other members of your family.”