Do Cats Really Love You or Are They Just Using You?


Do cats actually love and become attached to their owners? Or do they only act affectionately when they want food, petting, or play? This is a question that has perplexed many cat owners. While dogs are known for their overt displays of excitement and affection towards their owners, cats are much more subtle and reserved. Many cat owners wonder if their cat’s purring and rubbing truly means they’ve bonded, or if it is just a manipulative ploy to get what they want.

According to recent scientific studies and anecdotal reports, there is evidence that suggests cats do form secure and loving bonds with their owners, in a manner distinct from but comparable in some ways to the human-dog relationship.

Cats Show Affection Differently Than Dogs

Unlike dogs who are very expressive with their affection, cats show love in more subtle ways. Cats express affection through actions and behaviors rather than overt displays. Some of the ways cats show love include purring, kneading, head-butting, grooming, and slow blinking their eyes.

Purring is one of the clearest signs of affection and contentment in cats. The low, rumbling sound is made when a cat is happy and feeling safe and comfortable. Cats often purr when petted by their owners or sitting on their owner’s lap. The vibration and frequency of purring can promote healing, so a cat may purr near an injured companion as well.

Kneading or “making biscuits” is another way cats show affection. Gentle paw movements on a person’s lap or furniture indicate contentment, comfort, and pleasure. It may relate back to the motions kittens make while nursing, showing trust and satisfaction similar to humans smiling.

Head-butting or nuzzling is a cat’s way of marking someone as their territory. Cats have scent glands on their head, cheeks, and tail area. When a cat rubs against a person it is leaving its scent, which is a sign of possessiveness and affection. The cat is saying “You’re mine!” through this act of fondness.

Grooming or licking their human’s hair or skin is another nurturing gesture. Cats lick their human companions as a similar sign of acceptance and guardianship they would show towards their own young. It strengthens social bonds.

Slow blinking shows a cat feels safe and happy. When a cat slowly closes and opens its eyes, it is communicating calmness and contentment to the owner. Slow blinking back at a cat signals mutual trust and love.

While cats may not seem as openly demonstrative of their feelings compared to dogs, their unique behaviors and actions reveal just as much love. Understanding a cat’s expressions allows owners to feel closer to their feline companions.

Cats Have Solitary Natures

Unlike dogs, domesticated cats are only semi-social and derived from solitary wild cats like the African wildcat (Felis lybica) 1. Cats have not undergone the same degree of domestication as dogs, which have evolved to be highly social, pack animals. Studies of cat social behavior have found the same results. Cats, even those living in colonies, do not form social hierarchies and bonds in the same way as dogs and wolves 2.

While domestic cats may live in groups if sufficient food is available, they are still solitary hunters by nature. The lack of evolutionary pressure for cooperation and coordination with pack members enabled cats to retain more solitary traits compared to dogs. As a result, cats are generally quite independent and aloof in their interactions.

Cats Bond With Their Owners

Like dogs, cats form attachments and social relationships with their human caregivers. A 2019 study from Oregon State University found that most cats are securely attached to their owners and use them as a source of security and comfort (source). The study observed the interactions between cats and their owners and classified the cat-owner attachment styles as secure, insecure-ambivalent, insecure-avoidant, and disorganized. Securely attached cats see their owner as a secure base they can explore from and return to for reassurance in novel or startling situations.

The hormone oxytocin plays an important role in cat-owner bonds. When owners interacted positively with their cats, oxytocin levels in the cat increased. This hormonal bonding mechanism is similar to what occurs between mothers and infants and indicates cats and their owners can form close emotional relationships (source).

Oxytocin Plays a Role in Cat-Owner Bonds

Like humans, cats produce the hormone oxytocin which promotes social bonding. When cats interact with their owners through actions like purring, kneading, or rubbing on their legs, oxytocin is released in both the cat and human’s brains, strengthening their bond.

A 2021 study found that when female cat owners interacted with their cats through talking, petting, and playing, their oxytocin levels increased significantly. The longer the interaction, the higher the oxytocin levels. This shows that friendly cat-human interactions cause similar oxytocin release and bonding effects as human-human interactions (Johnson, 2021).

Research has also analyzed cats’ oxytocin levels when interacting with their owners. A 2021 study on shelter cats found that friendly interactions with humans significantly increased the cats’ urinary oxytocin. This demonstrates that social bonding through oxytocin works mutually in both cats and humans (Nagasawa et al., 2021).

Cats Use Their Owners Strategically

Cats are intelligent animals that understand cause and effect when interacting with their owners. Studies show that cats have learned how to get what they want from owners through strategic behaviors. For example, cats often meow insistently for food or attention, recognizing that their meowing prompts a response from owners.

A 2021 study published in the journal Animal Cognition found that cats alter their vocalizations based on past interactions with owners to elicit specific responses ( The researchers concluded that cats have an understanding of cause and effect in cat-owner relationships.

This strategic behavior demonstrates that while independent, cats recognize that owners can provide resources they want. Through experience, cats learn which behaviors like meowing and nuzzling most effectively lead to rewards like food, play, and affection from their owners.

Cats Have Individual Personalities

Like humans, each cat has a unique personality that affects behavior. A 2017 study identified five main personality dimensions in cats: neuroticism, extraversion, dominance, impulsiveness, and agreeableness. This study shows that, just as every human is different, each cat also has distinctive traits and quirks that comprise its individual personality.

Some cats are bold and adventurous, while others prefer to be cautious and hide from new experiences. Some cats love snuggling and being petted, while others only want human interaction on their own terms. Much like people, some cats are highly energetic and playful, while others are more mellow and laidback.

Additionally, factors like breed, age, experiences, and environment can shape a cat’s personality. However, each cat has innate tendencies and preferences as an individual. So while general traits attributed to breeds may provide some insight, they don’t determine a cat’s personality completely.

Getting to know your cat’s unique personality takes time, attention, and observation. But understanding your cat’s individual traits allows you to build a stronger bond and meet their needs in a more meaningful way.

Cats Choose Their Owners

There is evidence to suggest that cats choose their owners rather than owners choosing their cats. A recent study examining cat adoption from shelters and rescues in the UK found that most cat guardians did not actively choose their cat. Instead, the cat chose them by gravitating towards and interacting positively with them ( This suggests cats have preferences for certain humans and will select them as companions if given the opportunity.

Research has shown that cats living in groups form social bonds and display affiliative behaviors like allogrooming more often with certain individual cats over others ( Cats seem to apply similar selective social bonding to humans, singling out those they form attachment relationships with. When given choices of human interaction partners, most cats show a preference for women, and women are more likely to be chosen by cats at shelters.

Cats also gravitate towards humans who interact gently and positively with them. People who speak softly, slowly blink, and use tactile strokes are more likely to bond with a cat. So the way a human behaves with a cat can influence whether that cat chooses to adopt them. Ultimately, cats selectively choose humans to form affiliative relationships with based on their interactions and individual preferences.

Signs Your Cat Loves You

Cats have many ways of showing affection to their owners. Here are some of the most common signs that your cat loves you:

Head-butting and rubbing – Cats have scent glands on their head and face, so when they bump up against you or rub their head on you, they are leaving their scent as a sign of affection and marking you as their territory. This is also known as bunting.

Purring – A cat purring is a clear sign of happiness and contentment. Cats often purr when being petted by owners they are bonded with.

Kneading – Also called making biscuits, kneading is when cats rhythmically push in and out with their paws, often while purring. It’s an instinctual behavior left over from kittens nursing, showing contentment.

Grooming you – If your cat gently licks your hair or hand, that’s a sign of affection. Cats groom each other as social bonding.

Slow blinking – When your cat gives you long, slow blinks, that indicates trust and calmness. Slow blinking back will communicate affection to your cat.

Bringing you gifts – While you may not appreciate a dead mouse on your doorstep, your cat thinks it’s an ideal present for a beloved owner. In the wild, cats bring food to their kittens as a sign of affection.

Sleeping on or near you – If your cat curls up on your lap or sleeps next to you, that shows they are comfortable and feel a sense of security with you.

Exposing their belly – When your cat rolls over to expose their belly, that’s a sign they trust you completely. The belly is the most vulnerable area on a cat.

Meowing for attention – While cats aren’t as vocal as dogs, they will meow to get their owner’s attention, especially if they have a close bond.

Following you around – If your cat trails after you around the house, they probably want to stay near their favorite human.


So while cats may not show their affection for us in the same exuberant ways that dogs do, they absolutely do form close bonds with their human companions. From rubbing up against us, to sitting on our laps, to slow blinking their eyes at us – they have their own unique ‘feline language’ to communicate their love and trust. Even though they evolved as solitary hunters, millennia of coexistence with humans means cats have learned to see us as part of their ‘family group’. Cats choose who they want to be close to, and their personalities play a big role in determining how much affection they show. So appreciate your cat for who they are, and pay attention to their subtle signs of affection. With time and trust, you’ll learn to read their love language, even if it’s different from our own.

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