Cats can be affectionate towards their owners, seeking out our company and purring contentedly as they sit or sleep beside us. To many owners this signifies that their cat loves them and this may be true.
Love may be defined as an intense feeling of affection and lots of us have this for our animal companions. We can never know their true feelings towards us but in most cases we can be sure that they enjoy being with us.
In fact, cats are more likely to relax and to confidently explore their surrounding when their owners are present, rather than when alone or in the company of a stranger. This behaviour is used to indicate human infant attachment behaviour so we can conclude that our cats are indeed attached to us.
Differences in the behaviour of our feline friends may depend on their individual personalities, with some cats being more active or more inquisitive than others. Interactions between cats and their owners may also be influenced by the owner’s lifestyle, with factors such as gender, family status and whether the cat is allowed outdoors impacting on the cat’s behaviour.
Cats are different to dogs
Cats and dogs show their attachment to their owners in different ways. Dogs
rush to greet us, wag their tails enthusiastically, perhaps lick us or follow us from room to room. Cats may act similarly or they may not, tending to interact on their own terms and in their own good time. This difference in behaviour has led many non-cat owners to believe that cats are aloof and fail to demonstrate affection. Since we know that both cat and dog owners love their pets equally, this means cat owner probably value the independent behaviour of their cat.
How cats show affection
There is no doubt that cats know how to get our attention. They have even learnt to ‘speak’ to us, giving a ‘solicitation purr’ to get their owner’s attention and to receive food.
Cats may also use other subtle ways of interacting with us and we can use these to build the bond between us. Try some of the following:
- Encourage your cat to sit near or on you. Cats do this when they are comfortable.
- Purr with contentment. Purring may be a self-soothing behaviour but it also serves to relax us and help us enjoy their feline company.
- If your cat exposes its stomach region while relaxing or playing, this means they trust you. Enjoy that behaviour but only interact if invited by your cat. Some cats dislike being touched in this region.
- Allow your cat to rub against you. Cats do this to deposit scent on you which claims ownership.
- Try winking or blinking at your cat when they do this to you. Your cat does this when they are relaxed in your company.
- Keep your cat indoors as indoors cats are more interactive with their owners.
Although these are subtle behaviours, they are your cat’s way of saying ‘I love you’.
Does love matter?
Owners who are not attached to their pet may be more inclined to surrender their pet to shelters or to provide inadequate levels of care. One of the major concerns unattached owners have, is the lack of affection that their cat shows. Working on the relationship between cat and owner may be the key to ensuring that cats receive love and give it.
Tell us how you bond with your cat on Facebook.
About Dr Joanne Righetti
Dr Joanne Righetti is an animal behaviourist, educating the public and professionals in all aspects of the human–animal relationship. Her background is in zoology, with a PhD in animal behaviour and a counselling diploma – qualifications which enable her to work with all sorts of animals – including the human variety! Joanne likes to help pet owners understand their pet's behaviour and solve any pet behaviour problems. She also consults to a variety of organisations including non-profit organisations, commercial companies and councils and is involved in a variety of media including regular spots on radio. Joanne is an honorary associate of the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, University of Sydney. Find out more about Joanne at www.petproblemsolved.com.au