How do you know your cat loves you? Let me count 25 ways
“Face it, your cat doesn’t care about you,” reads one headline. “Cats do not need their owners, scientists conclude,” reads another. Poor cats, always getting bad PR.
As if it wasn’t enough that Australia has declared war on feral cats, we now have a study that says cats don’t need their owners. The research, from the University of Lincoln, adapted the Ainsworth “strange situation” test, developed in the 1970s to observe just how attached children, and sometimes dogs (idiots), are to their caregivers. They found that when you put a cat in an unfamiliar room it does not look for reassurance from its owner or seem to miss them if they are absent. There’s one potential explanation for this, it strikes me: cats, unlike children and dogs (idiots), are territorial – put them in a strange room and they will be too busy freaking out to look for reassurance. But that doesn’t matter. The myth of the independent cat who sees humans as nothing more than handy food dispensers is firmly entrenched. As a cat owner, I am deluded enough to think that my cat loves me. And I have been racking my brain, and asking everyone I know, to come up with hard evidence of this fact.
1. Greets you at the door. One colleague’s cat recognises the sound of her husband’s car in a busy street, and another’s two cats sit on the garden wall waiting for her to come home from work.
2. Follows you around. Does your cat come and hang out with you, in a sort of casual, hey what are you doing, oh taking a shower, well, I’ll just sit down then, way? That’s love.
3. Stares at you. Unsettling. But cats only make direct eye contact with people they really like.
4. Blinks at you. A long slow blink is a cat equivalent of a kiss. Do it back. But only if no one is watching.
5. Meows. Cats do not meow to other cats, only to humans. This is my best cat fact. Your cat is talking to you. Your cat is telling you it loves you. Also: purring. Loudly.
6. Tolerates affection. My cat lets me kiss her, even though she clearly doesn’t like it. She may duck, but she doesn’t run away, and I consider this a victory.
7. Does not bite you. My cat has bitten all of my boyfriends to date. She has never, ever bitten me.
8. Does bite you. Biting playfully is a sign of affection. My cat doesn’t do this, she never plays. She is a sort of sentient, fluffy cushion, but I love her anyway.
9. Head-butts you. When cats do this they are depositing their pheromones on you, and marking you as “theirs”. They love you, they really love you.
10. Comes to fetch you. When my cat feels I’ve been in bed too long, she comes upstairs and meows until I get up. I now close the bedroom door at night.
11. Breaks into your bedroom. Does your cat repeatedly thump the door, scratch the carpet or mew loudly and constantly outside the door? Love. I now shut my cat in another room at night.
12. Touches you. One of my friend’s cats taps her with his paw. Unbearably cute. A colleague’s cat caresses her face. Someone else has trained their cat to kiss them on the lips. Aw.
13, Licks you. An honour – you are considered part of your cat’s family. (Also their tongues are rough and provide excellent exfoliation.)
14. Kneads you. Like dough. Kittens do this to their mothers when they are feeding to increase milk supply, ergo your cat thinks you are its mother and adores you.
15. Brings you presents. Cats love giving gifts! Popular choices are mice and birds, but don’t discount frogs or worms.
16. Gets jealous. It took me ages to work out that my cat was jealous of my computer – but she definitely is.
17. Trips you up. Annoying perhaps, fatal, in the end (for you, not the cat). But when cats throw themselves to the ground in front of you or weave through your legs as you walk downstairs carrying a heavy tray of crockery, they are obviously telling you they idolise you.
18. Makes a point. As my friend Jennifer said, when her cat pooed on her duvet immediately after she returned home from holiday: “If he didn’t care, would he bother? I like to think not.”
19. Sulks. When I returned from a 10-day trip my cat refused to come out of the study for two days. But she wasn’t aloof enough to stop herself meowing delightedly whenever I went in there.
20. Sits on your lap. Constantly. If I am seated for more than a few seconds the cat materialises. A friend had a cat that tried to sit on her lap when she was on the loo.
21. Sits on other parts of you. Like your head.
22. Shows you their belly – the most vulnerable part of the cat. They trust you.
23. Stays. Or as my friend John says: “They let you live in the same house as they do.”
24. Doesn’t say no when you repeatedly ask “do you love me?” I take my cat’s silence on this issue as acquiescence.
25. And finally … maybe your cat doesn’t love you. At least, not in the way you think. There’s no need to anthropomorphise them. Cat love, I suspect, is deeper, truer and more mysterious than the human variety.