When you bring a cat home, he becomes a part of your family. He quickly figures out the best places to nap, finds the ideal perch for watching birds and squirrels, and determines the best way to get you to give him food and treats. But another fun thing happens: You become a cat owner. That means you’re responsible for that stinky litter box, of course. But it also means you become obsessed with figuring out what your cat is thinking.
You’ll probably find yourself constantly guessing at why your cat is meowing or what she wants when she stares you down from across the room. And every once in a while, you’ll likely find yourself wondering whether your cat actually loves you. Despite their infamous aloofness, cats actually are capable of love. Here are the ways his behavior might tell you he really does adore you.
1. He shows you his butt
One of the most surprising ways your cat might show his affection for you? Putting his furry little behind in your face. The Spruce characterizes this behavior as “a back-handed feline compliment.” When cats greet each other for the first time, they sniff each other’s faces and necks to say hello. Then, they sniff each other’s sides and finally their hindquarters, beneath a raised tail. Your cat doesn’t actually expect you to sniff his butt. But the fact that he’s showing you that part of his body is a major vote of confidence in his trust for you.
2. He rubs his face against you
Vox reports many cat owners interpret it as a sign of affection when their cats rub up against their legs and ankles. “Many cats, for instance, will rub up against the leg of their owner (or another human) when the person enters a room,” Vox explains.
You might think your cat is saying he loves you when he rubs against your legs. That might be true. But he’s also signaling that he regards you as a non-hostile cat, according to The New York Times. And as Vox explains, “Many researchers interpret this as an attempt, by the cat, to spread his or her scent — as a way to mark territory.” So he’s saying you belong to him.
3. He slowly blinks at you
Another common way cats show their affection for the people around them? The famous “slow blink.” VetStreet reports when cats interact with people whom they don’t feel threatened by, they communicate that they’re comfortable around you with this characteristic eye movement. Your cat will look at you and slowly blink, leaving his eyes closed or almost closed for a several seconds. A cat who slow blinks at you still might not want you to pet him, but he’s definitely signaling he’s comfortable around you.
4. He responds to your emotions
If you believe the popular notion that cats are passive-aggressive or even narcissistic, you might be surprised to learn cats can pick up on how their humans are feeling. The BBC reports according to a recent study, cats behave differently when their owners are smiling than when they are frowning.
Cats respond to a smiling owner with positive behaviors, such as purring, rubbing, or jumping into their owner’s lap. And they want to spend more time with a smiling owner than a frowning one. If your cat seems to respond to your emotions, you probably aren’t imagining it. He’s likely learned to read your facial expressions over time — even if he doesn’t exactly empathize with you.
5. He kneads your lap or legs
Many cats knead, or push their paws in and out of their owners’ legs or lap. It can get painful because the cat’s claws often get involved. But the behavior might be a sign of your cat’s bond with you. Kittens learn to knead when their mothers nurse them because the movement can help stimulate the flow of milk. But older cats persist in kneading to show their contentment or even to mark their owners with their scents using glands in their paws.
6. He treats you like a cat
Owners of particularly independent cats might assume because their kitties treat them just like any other feline, they don’t really have much affection for the humans in their life. But the opposite might be true.
As National Geographic reports, researchers have found cats don’t really socialize with people any differently than they do with other cats. They put their tails in the air, rub around our legs, and sit beside us as they groom themselves. Cats use behaviors with us that they learned with other cats. And that’s a sign they want to communicate and bond with us — even if they don’t really make the distinction between cat and human.
7. He follows you around
Ever wondered why your cat follows you around, even at times when he doesn’t really want you to pet him or pick him up? He might just want you to feed him. Or perhaps he wants to know what you’re doing. But VetStreet notes even cats who don’t appreciate physical attention seem to show their affection by staying near their owners. If your cat follows you around, he’s probably saying he likes your companionship. Or at the very least, he’s reminding you his food bowl is empty.
8. He holds his tail the right way
Your cat’s tail can help you tell how he’s feeling. National Geographic reports you have to take your cat’s entire body into account when you judge what his tail is saying. On a calm cat, a tail held straight up with the tip hooked constitutes a friendly greeting. An aggressive cat holding his tail the same way might just be holding his tail straight up. A fearful cat will have an arched back and a tail held up and puffed out. A whipping tail on an alert cat can signal nervousness or even potential aggression. Learn to pay attention to your cat’s tail, and you’ll learn to spot his most affectionate moods.
9. He purrs at the right time and place
One of the best-kept secrets about cats is they don’t only purr when they’re happy. As Wired reports, nobody has determined for sure why cats purr. They seem to purr “when they’re pleased and feeling good. But that’s not always the case.” The publication adds, “Some cats also purr when they’re hungry, injured, or frightened.” You might notice your cat purring at odd times. But if he’s lying in your lap and purring contentedly? That’s a pretty good sign that he’s saying, “I love you.”
10. He rolls around on his back
Does your cat ever roll around on his back, holding his paws up and exposing his belly? The Spruce reports that if so, your cat probably wants your attention. A cat exposing his belly is definitely signaling he trusts you. But he might not want you to rub his tummy. (If you do, he might grab your hand and rabbit-kick until you manage to pull away.) Rolling around also helps your cat spread his scent around your home. But if you repeatedly see him stop, drop, and roll right in front of you, he’s probably telling you, “Pay attention to me!”
11. He licks your hand or face
Many cats lick their owners’ hands, arms, toes, or even their faces. But why do they do that? And is that a display of affection? Animal Planet reports being licked is the first tactile experience your cat remembers from his days as a kitten. “When your cat licks you, she’s cleaning you up and claiming you — just as she would for a feline friend or litter mate.”
Licking is comforting and soothing to a cat. So when your cat licks you, he’s showing you his affection. Some cats even take their grooming behaviors further, such as by “combing” their owners’ hair. Both licking and combing spread your kitty’s scent, creating a combined scent that identifies you as a family.
12. He head butts you
When your cat walks up to you and head butts you, you’re probably left wondering what he’s saying or what he wants. As VetStreet reports, the behavior, technically called bunting, appears both in domesticated cats and in their wild counterparts. Just like he does when he rubs his face against your leg, your cat head butts you to deposit his pheromones on you. The behavior signals your cat is marking you as safe. In a way, that means it’s a sign he trusts you.
13. He meows at you
Adult cats only meow at people, not other cats, as the ASPCA reports. As a kitten, your cat probably meowed at his mother to let her know he was cold or hungry. But once cats grow out of the kitten phase, they no longer meow at other cats. But they continue to meow at people — probably because meowing gets them what they want. Your cat will meow at you to greet you, to get your attention, to ask for food, or to be let in or out.
14. He chooses you over food
Not every cat owner can envision their kitty choosing attention over a meal. But researchers have found given a choice, many cats will pick human companionship over food, toys, and appealing smells.
More evidence that cats love their people more than food? They don’t hold grudges if you limit their food. Even if you don’t experiment on your cat, you can probably pick up signs your cat loves you for more than your skill with the can opener or your generosity with the treat bag. If he pays attention to you, and not just the food in your hand, that’s one such sign your cat actually loves you.
15. He chooses to sleep in your lap
Cats have a well-deserved reputation as champion nappers. They sleep an average of 15 hours each day. And though it might not exactly be a surprising sign of their affection for you, you can rest assured that a cat who decides to sleep on your lap is expressing his love for you. Cats typically choose to sleep in a secure location. So if your cat sleeps in your lap he definitely trusts you.
16. He responds to the routines you create for him
Even though your cat doesn’t have the same social skills as a dog, domestic cats really do want to bond with their humans. Both you and your cat have to work to understand each other. And the best ways to bond with your cat include petting, playing, and food.
You can also create routines you repeat each time you come and go from your home. Say goodbye to your cat when you leave. And say hello when you come home again. Cats don’t need hours and hours of hands-on time with you each day. Just make sure you give your cat some quality time to bond with you each day.
17. He just acts like a cat
Just by being a cat, your kitty uses thousands of years of instinct to interact with you. The Atlantic reports compared to many other animals, cats have changed relatively little in the domestication process. Cats domesticated themselves about 9,500 years ago.
And though they still might not be totally dependent on humans, they certainly seem to appreciate the way their owners tolerate their egotistical ways and indulge their more idiosyncratic behaviors. As The Atlantic notes, they pretty much tamed themselves — which means in your kitty’s estimation, humans may be “cat’s best friend.”
Read more: Secrets You Never Knew About Your Cat