Cats Think You’re a Cutie. The Science Behind Your Feline Friend’s Affection

Do Cats Have Emotions?

Scientists believe cats have primary emotions similar to humans, including fear, anxiety, and pleasure (Quaranta et al., 2020). Studies show cats exhibit signs of these emotions through their facial expressions, vocalizations, and body language. For example, when a cat is happy, it may purr, knead, or rub its head against things. When scared, a cat’s ears go back, pupils dilate, and it may hiss or run away.

However, research suggests cats likely experience a more limited range of emotions compared to highly social animals like dogs. Dogs have evolved more complex emotional capabilities to facilitate bonding, cooperation, and non-verbal communication with humans and other dogs (Quaranta et al., 2020). As predominantly solitary hunters, cats have less need for advanced emotions involved in social structures and relationships. But they still experience basic emotions and can form social bonds.

How Cats Show Affection

Cats have a variety of ways to show affection towards their owners. One of the most obvious signs is when cats rub their heads or bodies against you or another cat. This is called “bunting” and deposits pheromones from glands around their mouth and face to mark you as theirs. It’s a form of kitty kisses!

Cats also show affection by nuzzling up against you or head-butting you. They may push their head against your hand to encourage petting or rub their face against you when being held. Purring is another way cats express happiness and affection, especially when petted or sitting on your lap.

Slow blinking is actually a cat’s way of showing love and trust. When a cat slowly blinks at you, it indicates they are comfortable and content. You can return the gesture by blinking slowly back at your cat to tell them you feel the same!

Kneading or making “bread” with their paws is something cats often do when sitting on you. It’s an instinctual behavior from kittenhood that shows contentment. So take those kneady paws as a compliment!

While cats may not be as overtly affectionate as dogs, they certainly have their own unique ways of showing they care. Understanding your cat’s body language is key to recognizing when they are expressing their love.

Do Cats Recognize Their Owners?

Cats can become strongly attached and loyal to their human caregivers. According to the Cats Protection organization, cats recognize their owners’ voices and scents ( Even if they can’t recognize human faces as well as dogs can, cats form strong bonds with their owners.

Cats are able to distinguish their owners’ voices and will often respond when their names are called. A study from Japan found that cats can recognize their own names and are not just responding to any random human voice saying words ( Cats can also recognize their owners’ scents. They have an excellent sense of smell and use scent signals to identify familiar humans.

So while cats may not recognize their owners’ faces, they form strong attachments through voice and scent recognition. With time and interaction, cats learn to respond positively to their human caregivers.

Why Cats Rub Against Your Legs

Cats have scent glands located in various places on their bodies, including their heads, cheeks, and tails. When a cat rubs up against you, like rubbing against your legs, they are depositing their scent onto you and marking you as safe territory [1]. This is one way that cats show affection and claim you as theirs.

According to veterinarians, when a cat head-butts or nuzzles you, they are transferring their scents onto you from glands in their head and cheeks. Cats also have scent glands near the base of their tails, so when they brush up against your legs with their tails, they are scent marking you with pheromones. This leaves their scent on you, which lets other cats know that you are familiar and belong to them [2].

By rubbing against you, your cat is announcing to themselves and other cats that you are a safe and trusted companion. It is a social signaling gesture that reinforces the bond between you and your cat while marking you with comforting pheromones. So next time your cat rubs against your legs, they are really saying “You’re my friend!” through chemical secretions from their scent glands.

Do Cats Get Attached to People?

Yes, research shows that cats can become strongly attached to their human caretakers. Like human infants, kittens go through an imprinting and attachment phase during their development. Kittens imprint on their human caretakers in a similar way that human babies imprint on their parents (1). This imprinting stage, which occurs during the first 2-7 weeks of a kitten’s life, facilitates social attachment and bonding with their human owners (2).

Studies have found that cats form secure attachments to their owners that are like the bonds dogs and human infants form. Scientists measured cats’ attachment to their owners using behavioral tests modeled after child-caregiver assessments. Just like dogs, cats tended to maintain proximity to their owner, use them as a source of security in an unfamiliar environment, and exhibit signs of distress when separated from them (3). So while cats may seem more independent, research demonstrates they depend heavily on their human caretakers and become truly attached.




Do Cats Feel Love?

Yes, cats absolutely feel love and attachment towards their owners. According to experts, cats have complex emotions and their brains even produce oxytocin – the “love hormone” – when petted by their owners, similar to the attachment humans feel when in love (1).

Cats become strongly bonded and attached to their human families. When cats rub against your legs, jump on your lap when you get home, or sleep next to you, these are signs of affection. Cats that are standoffish or aloof when they first meet you can become incredibly loving and attached over time as you build a bond together. Just like dogs, cats can experience separation anxiety when away from their favorite person. All of this points to cats feeling deep affection, familiarity and comfort with their owners (2).

So when your cat head-butts you, brings you toys, or looks longingly into your eyes, it’s likely they are feeling love! Cats may show affection differently than dogs, but make no mistake – they do feel strong bonds and attachment to their closest humans.


Do Cats Like Kisses?

Most cats dislike kisses on the mouth, as face-to-face interactions are often seen as confrontational by cats. Cats greet each other nose-to-nose as a sign of affection, so they may interpret a kiss on the mouth as aggression. According to, direct eye contact and looming over a cat can seem threatening.

However, some cats who are frequently handled and kissed from kittenhood may come to tolerate or even enjoy kisses from their owners. Much depends on the individual personality of the cat.

A better way to show cats affection is to kiss the top of their head. The head contains a cat’s scent glands, so kissing there mimics feline social behavior. Cats rub their heads on people and objects to mix scents and mark territory. So a kiss on the head can help bond a cat with their owner.

As notes, “Kissing the top of the head is a non-threatening sign of affection.” It helps avoid the confrontational feeling cats may get from direct kisses on the mouth.


Do Cats Smile at Their Owners?

Cats do not smile in the same way that humans do by showing their teeth or turning up the corners of their mouths. However, cats have their own unique way of smiling and showing happiness to their owners (

One of the most common “cat smiles” is a slow blink. When a cat slowly blinks at you, it is a sign of affection and contentment. Slow blinking shows that a cat feels safe and trusts you. So while it may not look like a human smile, a slow blink from your cat is a definite feline smile (

Cats may also smile with their eyes. If your cat makes soft eye contact and their eyes appear relaxed, bright and squinty, it means they feel happy and comfortable around you. Direct eye contact is a sign of trust between a cat and their human.

So while cats don’t grin from ear to ear, their smiles are still there – you just have to know what to look for. When your cat slowly blinks, makes eye contact or looks relaxed around you, it means they think of you as family and feel happy and safe in your presence.

Do Cats Mimic Their Owners?

It’s often said that pets start to resemble their owners, both in looks and personality. But is there any truth to the idea that cats mimic their owners’ behaviors and traits?

According to a 2019 study published in PLOS ONE, there does seem to be some evidence that cats form close social bonds with their owners and may mimic certain behaviors and personality traits.

The study analyzed the personalities of cats and their owners using surveys. It found correlations between owner and cat personalities – cats with more outgoing and friendly owners tended to be more sociable and active themselves. This suggests cats may subtly pick up on and reflect their owners’ personalities over time.

However, cats likely don’t consciously mimic their owners. The researchers propose it’s more that cats form strong attachments and sync up with owners in things like activity levels and sleep schedules. So an outgoing owner may interact more with their cat, making the cat more sociable too.

The bottom line is cats form close bonds with owners and this relationship shapes their behavior. But they don’t purposefully imitate owners. It’s more an unconscious synchronization stemming from a tight human-cat bond.

The Bottom Line

While cats may not be able to conceptualize “cuteness” the way humans do, they are capable of forming strong social bonds and feeling affection for their owners. A cat’s brain is complex and they experience a range of emotions. When a cat is happy, they show it through actions like purring, rubbing against legs, and gentle head-butts. While they may not think you’re “cute,” cats do perceive their owners as trusted companions. Your cat’s affectionate behaviors are their way of showing they feel positively towards you.

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