Spoiler: cats are loving, social creatures who form strong bonds with their human companions—and science has proof . They rely on their pet parents for social, environmental, and nutritional needs. But life can get in the way and, sometimes, our cats might not get the best care they deserve.
If this happens, would you recognize the signs your cat isn’t getting enough love? Not feeling loved can look a lot like unwanted or bad behaviors to us, explains Samantha Bell, cat enrichment and behavioral expert at Best Friends Animal Society.
“Cats don’t bite and scratch and climb and chew things because they’re ‘bad.’ They need to do all these things,” Bell explains. “So, we need to provide appropriate outlets for these behaviors so they can live the best life possible. Simply understanding this will improve your bond with your cat.” And that’s love, she adds.
Here are 8 signs your cat isn’t getting enough love.
She Attacks Your Feet
Your cat isn’t ambushing as you pass because she’s mad at you. “Cats’ instincts tell them to attack things, so it’s just in their nature,” Bell says. But attacking inappropriate things—like your feet or another pet—is an indication that your cat is seeking more love in the form of species-appropriate play.
What to Do
“Cats were born to run and chase and bite and scratch,” Bell explains. “If you give them the opportunity to perform these behaviors in an appropriate way, you’ll see your cat’s confidence increase, their stress levels go down, and your bond with them will grow even stronger.” According to Bell, just 15 to 30 minutes of play a day will meet you cat’s needs.
There are a lot of great cat toys on the market. But, Bell says, wands are a must-have for every cat toy bin. Wand toys mimic natural prey and because you’re at the other end causing erratic movements, it’s a fanatic bonding activity for you and your cat. “They’ll feel so satisfied and love you so much for providing them with that experience,” she adds.
She’s Meowing More Than Usual
“Cats purr when they’re around us to show that they’re happy, content, or even needy,” Bell says. “Cats meow to get our attention.” Whether you had a late night at the office or you haven’t had the time for your daily play and cuddle session, your cat might be feeling a little neglected if you notice them meowing more than normal.
What to Do
“Cats are known to entertain themselves well, but that doesn’t mean they won’t benefit from play and attention,” says Dr. Lindsay Butzer, consulting small animal veterinarian for PetMeds, “Cats, like dogs, need daily love and affection to feel happy.”
If your cat is bored and asking for attention, engage in play with her favorite toy, brush and pet her, or provide her with a tasty mental exercise that includes a puzzle toy.
Of course, there could be other reasons for an increase in vocalization, like hunger, thirst, or discomfort. If you’re unsure of what your cat is trying to say, watch for other changes in behavior or appearance. If the meowing persists, consult with a veterinarian to rule out any potential health problems.
A cat’s stomach is the size of a ping pong ball, Bell says. Extra treats, another scoop of food, or biologically inappropriate food could easily lead to excess weight gain. Even if you think you’re showing love by giving your cat extra treats, it’s never a good idea to let your cat over indulge. Extra weight restricts your cat from doing her favorite things, like jumping to her favorite window perch. It also increases her risk for life-shortening conditions like diabetes.
“Besides playing with your cat, ensuring they have an appropriate diet is the best way to enrich a cat’s life,” Dr. Butzer says.
What to Do
Nothing says ‘I love you’ more than feeding your cat a species-appropriate diet. Your cat’s love language includes being fed by their favorite human, and they’re hoping for a high-protein, complete and balanced meal in their bowl. If you’re not sure how much or how often to feed your cat, there’s no one better to ask than your trusted veterinarian.
As a rule of thumb, treats shouldn’t make up more than 10 percent of your cat’s daily calorie needs. “And by finding creative, species-specific ways to serve their food, like using food puzzles and licky mats, you’re enriching their life,” Bell adds. “These are all ways of showing love.”
She Pees or Poops Outside of the Litter Box
If your cat is relieving herself everywhere but her litter box, first visit your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical conditions. With a clean bill of health, it’s time to do some detective work to figure out what’s causing the problem and how to solve it—without unnecessary punishment.
“The best approach is to be patient with your cat and put in the time and effort to figure out how to help them. We need to show them love by solving the problem,” Bell says.
What to Do
Start by evaluating your cat’s bathroom setup. She might not like the type of litter that’s provided, or that the box itself is dirty. It’s also possible that your cat doesn’t like the location of her litter box—if it’s in a noisy or busy area, she may feel like she can’t do her business in peace. Place a litter box on each floor if you live in a multi-story home and provide your cat with at least one litter box per cat, plus one.
If your cat’s litter box setup checks all the boxes, it’s time to take a closer look at her behavior. If she’s acting stressed or anxious, these feelings could impact her bathroom behaviors.
“Make sure your cat has lots of interactive play and environmental enrichment, which will help reduce their stress by helping them to feel confident,” Bell offers. Provide them with spaces they can call their own, like a cozy bed, and reduce exposure to anything that could cause extra stress.
She Pees on Your Belongings
Peeing outside the litter box can feel frustrating. But if your cat pees on your belonging, like a favorite sweater or your bed, it can feel like a personal attack. Your cat isn’t mad at you, Bell says, they’re just seeking extra love while you’re away from home.
“To cats, peeing on your belongings is all about mingling their scent with yours while you’re away so they feel secure,” she explains.
What to Do
The first step in helping your cat feel loved when you can’t physically be there is to place something that smells of you in your cat’s favorite lounging spot. Bell suggests using your favorite blanket that is as cozy for you as it is for your cat. “I’d also try pheromone diffusers,” Bell recommends.
Pheromones work like this: cats have scent glands all over their bodies that release scent communicators called pheromones. Many species release pheromones (including humans) but they can only be detected by members of the same species. Cat pheromones are important in cat-to-cat communication—they mark territory and signal to sexual partners, but most importantly, they help cats bond, create familiarity, self-soothe, and signal happiness .
“Feliway and Comfort Zone make synthetic pheromones that mimic the comforting facial pheromone secreted by cats,” Bell explains. “A mother cat secretes this pheromone to calm her young, so these pheromones have a soothing effect on cats. When cats sense the facial pheromone in areas around their home, they are less likely to urinate outside the box in those areas.”
She Scratches the Furniture
Scratching is a natural and important behavior for cats. Your cat feels her best when she can dig her claws into an appropriate surface. Scratching stretches her muscles, maintains her nails, and leaves behind pheromones. When cats aren’t provided with appropriate surfaces to scratch, they may resort to scratching the furniture.
What to Do
Provide your cat with plenty of appropriate scratching surfaces like cat trees, scratching posts, and corrugated cardboard surfaces. Help her feel extra loved by sprinkling them with catnip, silver vine, or spraying them with calming pheromones. Both will delight her senses and encourage her to use the new scratching surfaces rather than your couch.
Her Fur is Unkempt
According to Dr. Butzer, if your cat is feeling unwell mentally or physically, she may stop grooming herself. If your cat’s coat becomes greasy, unkempt, or matted, first, talk to your veterinarian to rule out underlying conditions. Then help her feel and look her best with extra love.
What to Do
Spending quality time with your cat doesn’t just mean exercise and play. Cats express love by grooming each other—and their favorite humans. Return the favor with regular grooming sessions that will keep your cat’s coat healthy and mat-free. Brushing a cat a few times a week also minimizes loose fur and reduces hairballs.
She Hides Under Furniture
Some cats prefer cozy cubbies and boxes rather than perches and high-up shelves. “Hiding is actually a form of enrichment for cats. Cats in the wild hide,” Bell explains.
If your cat is hiding under furniture, she may be asking for more love in the form of enriching cat-appropriate cubbies. If your cat is hiding out of stress or anxiety, there are ways your love can help her through that, too.
What to Do
Providing your cat with various cubbies, boxes, and cat tents will enrich her life and make her feel loved. Plus, hiding places give your cat a quiet, secluded place of her own to decompress when she feels stressed.
If your cat seems anxious when hiding (dilated eyes, tight or couched body posture, flat ears), don’t try to force her out of hiding. Instead, try talking to her in a calm, higher-pitched tone. Cats do know their names, and they can recognize tones of voice. So, say their name sweetly or use a certain phrase that expresses love.
If you notice these signs in your cat – don’t stress. You didn’t do anything wrong. Simply carve out some special time for your feline family member every day and make sure you’re providing your cat with attention, enrichment items, an appropriate litter set up, and healthy food and treats. Making the effort to spend time with your cat and engage with her in activities she loves won’t go unnoticed!