How Do Cats Give Hugs To Humans?

Cats show affection differently than dogs. While dogs are very overt in demonstrating love, cats can be more subtle. However, cats do physically show affection and try to hug their owners in their own way.

Cats don’t hug the same way humans or dogs do. But they have a number of behaviors that show their version of hugging and affection for their human companions. These include rubbing, kneading, face rubbing, biting, purring, head butting, blinking, and wrapping their tail around their human.

Rubbing

One of the main ways cats “hug” their owners is through rubbing and bunting behaviors. When a cat rubs up against a person’s legs or face, this is a form of scent marking and an affectionate greeting (Source). Cats have scent glands on their cheeks and tails, so when they rub against you they are transferring their scent onto you and marking you as familiar. This is a social bonding behavior that strengthens your relationship with your cat.

Cats often rub against their owners when being petted or when the owner returns home after an absence. The cat is communicating happiness at seeing you again and wants to mix scents to reinforce their connection. Rubbing is also a way cats claim territory – by spreading their scent on you, they are claiming you as “theirs.” This rubbing and bunting behavior is an instinctive cat “hug” that shows they trust you and feel safe with you.

Kneading

Kneading is when a cat rhythmically presses in and out with its front paws on a soft surface or object. This motion resembles the motion kittens use to stimulate milk flow while nursing from their mother. Kneading is an instinctive behavior that originates in kittenhood but often carries over into adulthood. Many domestic cats will knead their owners, blankets, pillows, or other soft surfaces as a form of communication and bonding.

Cats often knead their favorite humans, especially during moments of affection like cuddling or lap sitting. Kneading on a human demonstrates contentment, comfort, and a secure attachment. As described by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), “Since kneading is a leftover behavior from kittenhood, this shows that your cat feels safe, relaxed and comfortable around you” (AAHA). Some cats may excessively knead or “over-knead” due to stress, anxiety, or compulsive disorders, so it’s important to observe your cat’s body language to distinguish normal, happy kneading from obsessive kneading.

Face Rubbing

One of the most common ways cats show affection towards humans is by rubbing their faces against them. When a cat rubs its face on a person, it is depositing pheromones from glands around its lips and cheeks. This helps spread the cat’s scent and mark its territory 1. Face rubbing also indicates that the cat feels safe and trusts that human. By exposing such a vulnerable part of their body, they are communicating that the person is trusted and cared for2. So when a cat rubs its face against its owner, it can be interpreted as an affectionate gesture and a sign that the bond between cat and human is strong. For cat owners, it is a signal that their furry friend feels comfortable and content with them.

Biting

Cats will sometimes gently bite as a sign of affection. Light nibbling or “love bites” indicate contentment, show connection, and mimic the grooming behavior cats use on their kittens. Source These gentle bites don’t break the skin or cause pain. The cat will seem relaxed during these interactions.

However, it’s important not to confuse affectionate nibbling with aggressive biting. If the cat bites down hard, hisses, swats, or shows other signs of irritation, that indicates the cat is overstimulated or wants the interaction to stop. Aggressive biting should not be seen as a sign of affection. Source

Purring

Purring is perhaps the most universally recognized way cats show affection. It is a unique vocalization that originates from the larynx and diaphragm as cats inhale and exhale 1. The rumbling purr signifies contentment, comfort, and trust. For cats, purring may act as a self-soothing mechanism when they are injured, sick, stressed, or giving birth 2.

When cats purr in the presence of their human companions, it indicates a bonding gesture and positive association. Cats often purr loudly when being petted or sitting in their owner’s lap as a sign of affection. The vibration and frequency of the purr can have a calming effect. Purring during human interaction is a cat’s way of communicating happiness and trust 1. Cats may also purr when rubbing against their human’s legs or curling up beside them, further demonstrating their contentment and desire to show affection through closeness.

Head Butts

Head butting is one of the ways cats show affection and solicit attention from humans. When a cat gently bumps its head against you, it is a request for you to reciprocate and share a bonding moment. Cats have scent glands on their heads, cheeks, and tails, so head butting allows them to mark you with their scent and indicate you are part of their family or social group (Source).

If your cat head butts you, the proper way to reciprocate is to gently bump your forehead against theirs in return. You can also pet their head or cheeks where their scent glands are located. This shows your cat you understand their affectionate greeting. Avoid head butting your cat too hard or ignoring their gesture, as that may discourage them from showing affection in the future.

Blinking

One of the most endearing ways cats “hug” humans is through slow blinking. When a cat slowly blinks at a human, it indicates trust, affection and contentment 1. Slow blinking is a social gesture that cats use to communicate positive emotions with each other, and they extend this communication to humans they feel bonded with. According to cat behavior experts, when your cat blinks slowly at you, they are essentially saying “I love you” or “I trust you” 2.

To return the “hug”, you can slow blink back at your cat. Make sure to close your eyes slowly, holding them shut for a second or two before reopening them gently. Avoid prolonged staring or rapid blinking, which can seem aggressive. Slow blinking back tells your cat you understand their affectionate gesture and feel the same way. It helps deepen the bond and trust between you.

Wrapping Tail

Cats will sometimes wrap their tails around humans as a sign of affection, comfort and trust. This occurs when a cat feels relaxed and happy in the company of their human companion. According to What Your Cat’s Tail Is Secretly Trying to Tell You, wrapping their tail is a cat’s way of hugging and feeling close to someone they care about.

There are a few common situations when a cat may demonstrate tail wrapping behavior:

  • When sitting next to their human on the couch or in bed
  • While being petted or stroked by their human
  • When greeting their human at the door after time apart
  • While resting in their human’s lap

In essence, tail wrapping shows that a cat feels safe, content, and affectionate toward their human companion. It’s a special physical gesture that strengthens the bond between cat and human.

Conclusion

In conclusion, cats have a variety of ways to show affection and “hug” their human companions. By rubbing against legs, kneading with paws, giving face rubs, gently biting, purring loudly, head-butting, blinking slowly, and wrapping their tails around people, cats display their fondness and attachment. While cats may seem aloof at times, their actions make it clear they feel a close bond with their owners. Cat guardians who understand this “feline language” can enjoy rewarding relationships with their independent yet loving furry friends.

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