How Cats Show Affection

cats affection

Cats have a reputation of being aloof, but nothing could be further from the truth. Cats express affection for humans and for each other in a multitude of ways. Each cat is an individual, so not all cats will show affection in quite the same way, but there are some common ways how cats show they love you.


When a cat rubs her face against you or head butts you, she leaves her scent on you. Cats have scent glands on the side of their cheeks. The pheromones located in those glands are associated with being friendly. In essence, your cat is performing a scent exchange with you. Ruby is a master at this: she’ll come up on my lap and rub her head against my chin or my forehead. She gets pretty carried away with this sometimes, chirping and purring at the same time.


Purring is a complex expression. Even though cats do purr when they’re content, purring can also be a sign of stress. Cats also purr when frightened or injured. In these situations, purring appears to function as a self-soothing mechanism. If your cat is purring while curled up in your lap or near you, chances are she’s purring because she’s content.


Also affectionately known as “making biscuits,” kneading behavior goes back to your cat’s kittenhood. Kittens knead their mothers to stimulate the release of milk during nursing. Many cats display this behavior into adulthood, and it’s a sign that your cat is content and relaxed. Some cats are so relaxed while they’re kneading, they even drool – something I like to call a “happy drooler.”

Slow Blink

Jackson Galaxy calls the slow blink the “cat I love you.” This behavior was first identified by Anitra Frazier, the author of The Natural Cat. When your cat blinks at you like this, it’s  a sign that she’s relaxed and comfortable. Try blinking back at her to return the favor.

Bringing you gifts

Even if your mighty hunter is an indoor cat, he may still share his “prey” with you by bringing you toys, bugs, or anything else he may have caught.

Tail language

The tail is an important part of a cat’s body language. If your cat’s tail is straight up in the air with a little curve at the top, it means she’s happy and confident. Some cats will give a little flick of the curled part of the tail as a greeting. Allegra and Ruby both do this, and I adore being welcomed home like this.


Allogrooming (two cats grooming each other) tends to happen most frequently among cats who are related, or cats who get along very well. This is thought to be a way cats show affection to each other. It also creates a communal scent. If your cat grooms you, it’s his way of showing you that you’re part of the family.


Cats spend an average of 16 hours a day sleeping. Since cats are at their most vulnerable during sleep, the places they seek out for sleeping, and the position they sleep in, are an indicator of how much your cat trusts you. Choosing your lap as a favorite sleeping spot is a loving compliment.

How do your cats show affection?

33 Comments on How Cats Show Affection

  1. Tom
    November 4, 2018 at 11:43 pm (3 years ago)

    I have 2 ferel kittens a brother and sister who are about 4 months old. The brother C B (short for chatterbox) recently has begun to show me affection. In return he loves me to rub around his ears and neck. Sister Mute still isn’t ready to be touched by me. I can see different things she recently started doing that tells me she is getting closer to give and receive some kitten affection.

    • Ingrid
      November 5, 2018 at 6:14 am (3 years ago)

      It’s so rewarding when cats start to trust you. Love the name Chatterbox!

  2. Louise
    April 23, 2018 at 8:54 pm (3 years ago)

    My tortie Natasha talks to me…little chirpy sounds. She also ends up in whatever room I happen to be in.

    • Ingrid
      April 24, 2018 at 5:46 am (3 years ago)

      I love that chirpy sound. Allegra makes it, too.

  3. Lilli Hawks
    April 10, 2017 at 9:38 pm (4 years ago)

    My cat Rosethorn (or Rosy for short) always loves on me whenever I’m alone and our other cat isn’t around. Sometimes she will wake me up at night because I wasn’t home to see her that day. And she doesn’t act that way around any of my family members. She does most the things mentioned up there but I want to know how I can return her affection because I feel like she thinks I like our other cat Jinxclaw (Jinx) more than her.

  4. teresa
    November 25, 2016 at 11:52 pm (5 years ago)

    What is with this ” soft bite and hold”? never puncturing the skin but just enough to get your attention.Liu now 7months old and is the offspring of Farrell parents was heard screaming from beneath some boxed stacked in the driveway. He had been abandoned had to be hand fed as he was only 2-3 days . He definitely consider s me his mother. What is it about his need to point his mouth/ nose to my mouth ?

  5. Mary
    July 27, 2015 at 1:55 am (6 years ago)

    I have a question I got a kitten for my birthday a couple weeks ago it shows all the displays that loves me but I’m curious about this one display. I lay down and put my face in a pillow. My face is kind of tilted so my I am corner of my mouth is showing she will walk up to me and put her nose up to my eye and just stay there for a few seconds and then sniffs my forehead and then sniffs my eye again . Is this normal and what does it mean

    • Ingrid
      July 27, 2015 at 6:09 am (6 years ago)

      That’s adorable, Mary. I’m not entirely sure what it means – I suspect that maybe because part of your face is covered by the pillow, your kitten may be unsure of who you are. Sniffing the exposed parts of your face may reassure her that it’s really you.

  6. Martina
    May 14, 2015 at 5:12 pm (6 years ago)

    We have 10 cats. Most have been rescued. I can usually count 7 i the same room as me. I had a spell of being seriously ill while the number was just 8. within a few weeks I realised I could set the time of day by the cats. They divided the day up between, and made sure I was never alone. Each cat had their own set time of day to be with me and wouldn’t leave til next on duty arrived. <3

    • Linda
      May 23, 2015 at 9:09 pm (6 years ago)

      I suffered a 2cd concussion MTBI. My cats did the same thing. It was as if they planned out a schedule. I was never alone. One or both was always, sitting on my lap or sleeping on me for several months. My roommate reported the same thing once. She had a bad flu. The cats never left her alone until she got better.

      • Ingrid
        May 24, 2015 at 6:20 am (6 years ago)

        I always love hearing stories of “healer kitties.”

  7. Mary Ellen
    May 14, 2015 at 1:56 pm (6 years ago)

    My cat Misty May (a boy) is the most affectionate cat. He always sleeps right next to me and puts his paw on my hand or arm. Misty also frequently touches my face or puts his face right up to mine and kitty-kisses me on the lips. I tell him he is my kitty-soulmate. BTW: Misty was a semi-feral stray with a tipped ear that I adopted about 4 years ago. It took me 6 months to gain his trust.

    • Ingrid
      May 14, 2015 at 4:08 pm (6 years ago)

      What a sweetheart!

  8. Susan
    April 16, 2015 at 5:48 pm (6 years ago)

    Zesty liked to knead my skin sometimes, she would be perhaps asleep on the desk in front of me and would begin to knead into my skin on my arm, OUCH! I would tolerate it as long as I could before apologizing and telling her it hurt too much and that I was sorry it could not continue.

  9. JLRC
    February 9, 2015 at 6:58 pm (6 years ago)

    My parents’ cat isn’t played with often enough and I’ve seen her taking toys around the house in what I perceive to be requests for playtime.

  10. Penni
    January 1, 2015 at 6:42 pm (6 years ago)

    iI have had my cat, Kibbie for 6 years. I know she loves me because she does push her head into me, purrs a lot, and is happy to see me when I come home. However, she doesn’t like to be picked up and she never will sit on my lap and let me pet her. She sleeps at the end of my bed sometimes, and if I am lying on the couch, she jumps on the blanket that is over me and does that kneading motion. She will eventually stop, and lie down on my blanket and stay there. But, I am wondering why she will not sit on my lap and let me pet her. I have come to accept that it is just not part of her personality.

    • Ingrid
      January 2, 2015 at 6:50 am (6 years ago)

      Some cats just don’t want to be lap cats, Penni. I think it is a personality thing.

  11. Sue Brandes
    December 10, 2014 at 7:49 pm (7 years ago)

    I have one that headbonks you and rubs on you. She is not a hold me kitty but; loves to be petted. I have one that does that little tail flick too-cute. He also likes to lick your forehead and wants you to kiss him back. Another that likes to knead and purr on my lap. They sure are characters.

    • Ingrid
      December 11, 2014 at 7:38 am (7 years ago)

      I love the tail flick, Sue. Amber used to do that a lot, it was adorable.

  12. Dawn
    December 10, 2014 at 3:00 pm (7 years ago)

    My girls definitely love me in different ways! They have totally different personalities.

  13. Kellyann
    December 9, 2014 at 4:41 am (7 years ago)

    Why do cats purr and swish (not aggressively) while being petted but they’re not stressed or angry?

    • Ingrid
      December 9, 2014 at 7:26 am (7 years ago)

      The swishing tail is usually an indicator that they may have reached their limit for being petted.

  14. Harold
    December 8, 2014 at 8:25 pm (7 years ago)

    Sanibel and Lone Wolf like to “groom” me a lot when I’m petting them, Although they both have a bad habit of deciding to express the appreciation of me by grooming me in the middle of the night.
    While My other Cat Sierra likes to bring me gifts (toys) throughout the night as well. However she does it with a vocal meow and will continue to meow until I wake up and tell her that’s she a good cat and reach down and pet her. I consider myself very lucky to be “owned” by them.

    • Ingrid
      December 9, 2014 at 7:28 am (7 years ago)

      Middle of the night grooming sessions and gifts – I would say you are very lucky, indeed, Harold! 🙂

  15. EvaB
    December 8, 2014 at 9:34 am (7 years ago)

    I have 2 black rescues. Bixby, who has Maine Coon Cat in there somewhere, and is weighs 18 lbs of solid cat. He also has special needs. He has a very developed personality. He does, what we call, Bixby Kisses, which is licking your nose. He definitely shows preference in who he will play with and is very jealous. He does a lot of kneading, and facial marking, but he only head butts me.

    Brianna, our 7lb female is exceptionally affectionate. She will sleep on me, next to me, follows me around and is very vocal. She also kneads an area , including me, before she lies down for sleep. She is the most incredible cat I’ve everr had. She is a ballerina at all times. She also rules the house. Even Bixby, as big as he is concedes every tussle to her and she always has the highest ground. She is the most affectionate cat I have ever been owned by.

  16. Fur Everywhere
    December 8, 2014 at 9:21 am (7 years ago)

    Lita is a master at making biscuits! She also enjoys sleeping on the couch near her people. Carmine comes to visit me while I’m working on the computer and curls up in my lap to purr. He wakes me up everyday by jumping on the bed and meowing at me so he’s the first thing I see and hear everyday 🙂 Jewel used to flick the very end of her tail when she was happy.

  17. MittensMom
    December 8, 2014 at 8:04 am (7 years ago)

    My two will do all of the above except the slow blink. Every so often, I will get a return blink from the little one, Luci, but my nine year old, Mittens, generally gives me funny looks when I do that.

    The funniest thing is that Luci will try to groom Mittens and, the whole time, Mitts will be letting out a low growl. Little one is completely oblivious and it’s too funny. 😀

  18. Krystal
    December 8, 2014 at 6:42 am (7 years ago)

    My cats head butt, knead, groom each other, groom ME (sometimes to the point of pain) and sleep on me. I’d say they’re a pretty content bunch!

  19. Summer
    December 8, 2014 at 2:58 am (7 years ago)

    Anybody who has ever met met would not call me unaffectionate! I often jump up on my human’s office chair and sleep behind her while she is at the computer. (I am less likely to get disturbed there than if I hang out in her lap.)

  20. Markella Vavaka
    December 8, 2014 at 2:53 am (7 years ago)

    Hi Ingrid! My 16 year old Gini is a blinker. He is not a lap cat but will definitely sleep curled up by my side. On the other hand, my 3 year old Josephina will groom me, especially on the face, giving me a nice peeling job. She would also flick her tail, but meanwhile her tail is like vibrating like certain male cats do when they spray. Of course she doesn’t spray, and she also purrs while doing that. I would like to say that most people think that dogs show the most affection, but I think cats have a bigger variety of ways to show affection than dogs which makes them more complex as personalities.

  21. Lauren
    December 8, 2014 at 1:17 am (7 years ago)

    Hey Ingrid! Rajah definitely is a head butter. He also purrs and grooms me every chance he gets. Since I can’t see his body language, I’m not sure about the tail. Although sometimes when he comes to greet me in the morning, he’ll rub up against my side and his tail is usually high in the air when he does this. He also sleeps with me most of the time. He’s taken to sleping on my bed even when I’m not there and purring. He doesn’t chirp, but he does meow a lot. He also blinks at me or so I’m told by friends who can see him do it.

  22. Mel
    December 8, 2014 at 1:07 am (7 years ago)

    Leelu likes to sprawl in my lap with her entire body length over my legs (makes the one she’s using as a pillow fall asleep!). Stitch will curl under my legs if she’s feeling affectionate or on top of my feet and chirping like a bird.

    It’s cute and sweet at the same time and they’re always purring when they do it too.

  23. Marg
    December 8, 2014 at 1:07 am (7 years ago)

    Miss Gracie shows her love by delivering her toys to us while we are in bed … normally accompanied by suitable “I’m on my way” wailing … !


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