Listen to the audio version of this article
If you talk to people who don’t like cats or who aren’t familiar with them, they’ll probably be quick to tell you cats don’t show affection. They may praise the way dogs show affection but refer to cats as snobby or aloof. I think a big part of the problem is people are trying to compare dog behavior to cat behavior. It may seem ridiculously obvious to you, but there are so many people out there who still need to be told that cats aren’t dogs. One species isn’t better than the other – they’re just different. So it makes sense they would show affection differently as well.
Every cat is an individual so there are many ways your particular cat may display affection, but here are just some of the common ways they show their love:
Bunting Behavior in Cats
This is the name for the behavior displayed when a cat seems to literally butt his head against you. He may come up onto your lap and bunt his head against your chin, nose or forehead. Cats have scent glands on their face and it’s a very common social behavior for one cat to bunt the head of another familiar feline buddy. This isn’t just a scent exchange behavior but also an affectionate display.
Cats also have scent glands along their cheeks and they may rub against people, another cat friend or even an object. The pheromones (scent chemicals) located along the cheek and on the cat’s head are associated with friendliness, affection and familiarity. Cats facially rub on people or objects when they feel comfortable or familiar.
Also known as the milk tread, this behavior consists of the cat flexing and relaxing his front paws against a soft object. It originated when the cat was a kitten and used the milk treading behavior to stimulate the release of milk from the mother’s teat during nursing. Many adult cats maintain that kneading behavior when they’re on a soft surface or feeling very content.
Purring is complex because it is something cats do when they’re happy, content and relaxed but they also do it when they’re scared, sick or injured. It has been theorized that purring is something cats do when they are very content or as a self-soothing mechanism in a tense environment, as well as an attempt to soothe potential attackers. Purring is also believed to have healing qualities as the frequency of the purr may help the acceleration of bone mending.
If your cat is curled up in your lap and you’re stroking him as he purrs, there’s an excellent chance he’s content and is letting you know by the sound of that beautiful, velvety motor.