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Cats have a famous reputation for being aloof and independent. We are convinced that they take joy in turning their noses up at us while secretly plotting how to take over the world.
Contrary to our suspicions that cats are antisocial and busy planning world domination, recent studies have reported that cats love being around people and desire human attention. For example, a 2017 study on cats concluded that, among 4 categories of stimuli (human social interaction, food, toys, and scents), cats most preferred interacting with humans. Even more recently, a 2019 study on cat behavior from Oregon State University reported that cats gravitated more toward people who showed them positive attention than people who ignored them.
Can Cats Express Gratitude?
So, armed with scientific data, we can confidently say that our cats truly love us and want to be around us. However, we know that our beloved feline companions cannot say “I love you” or “Thank you for warming up my food just right.” Rather, they show us their thanks in their own ways, through specific behaviors and body language, listed below.
Some of these behaviors are quite cute, while others may seem a little strange or even off-putting. Keep reading to learn more!
Cats often express gratitude by giving gifts. For example, after doing something nice for your cat, she may return the favor by bringing you one of her toys. If she spends a lot of time outdoors, she might greet you with a gift of a dead (or almost dead) animal. Granted, a dead mouse probably doesn’t seem like much of a gift to you, but your cat certainly thinks so; give her some praise for expressing gratitude.
When kittens are nursing, they will knead their mother’s mammary glands to stimulate milk production. If your cat does this to you, she is showing that she appreciates you and is relaxed and happy. Feeling your cat’s claws against you isn’t exactly comfortable, so consider draping yourself with a blanket so she can continue kneading without you pushing her away.
Cats groom each other as a sign of affection and appreciation. If your cat starts licking you, she is showing you that same love and gratitude. Rather than showing displeasure at this uncomfortable sensation, you can redirect her attention with another positive activity, such as petting her or playing with her.
In the wild, making eye contact, particularly with an unfamiliar animal, is a direct threat. When your cat looks into your eyes and blinks slowly, she is indicating that she trusts and appreciates you. Return the slow blink to show her that the feelings are mutual.
Rear-end in the face
There’s really no polite way to describe this expression of gratitude. If your cat puts her rear-end in your face, she is showing you that she trusts you by willingly putting herself in a very vulnerable position. Although the scent of your cat’s backside may not be pleasant, accept this behavior as your cat’s way of demonstrating trust and appreciation, then gently turn her around.
Showing the belly
Lying on the back is another vulnerable position for cats. When your cat shows her belly to you, she is indicating that she trusts you and appreciates you for protecting her.
When your cat butts her head against you, she is marking you as her own. She is leaving her scent on you to tell other cats that you’re all hers. What better way for your cat to say ‘thank you’ than to claim you as her own special human!
As you can see, cats have many ways of thanking us. Be open to these expressions of gratitude, even if it means receiving strange gifts or occasionally having your cat’s rear-end in your face.
Content provided by JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM.