Research shows that cats have systems of emotions that trigger certain emotional and behavioral responses.1 While cats and humans don’t experience the same range and depth of emotions, happiness is an emotion that cats feel.
Cats may not express their feelings as humans do, so it’s important to identify cues that indicate specific emotions. Learning how cats show happiness can strengthen the bond between you and your cat and make your life together even more enjoyable.
Signs of Happiness in Cats
How happiness is expressed varies from cat to cat, and cats may also show different signs of happiness depending on the situation they are in.
A common sign of happiness and contentment is purring. Although there are some cases where cats can purr out of fear or due to an injury, cats mostly purr because they feel content. So, if you see that your cat is lounging or in another relaxed position and is purring, it’s a sign that it’s feeling very happy.
Happy cats can also blink slowly to indicate that they feel contentment and affection toward you. If your cat is in a relaxed position, makes direct eye contact with you, and blinks slowly, take it as a compliment. Your cat feels happy and is also letting you know that it likes you.
Some vocal cats may also engage in “conversations” with their owners when they feel happy. If your cat is meowing and looking at you, it’s a good sign that it wants to engage with you. Some cats seem to enjoy it when their owners talk back to them calmly, and they’ll meow back some responses.
Another sign of happiness is when a cat starts to knead with its front paws. This behavior is often referred to as “making biscuits” because the action looks like a cat is kneading dough. It’s unclear as to exactly why cats start to knead when they feel happy. Some experts believe it’s because the action is connected to how kittens will knead on their mother.
If your cat is feeling content and comfortable around you, it may start to engage with you more. Your cat can start approaching you and rubbing its face on you. A gentle headbutt can also indicate affection.
Just remember that your cat may start to bother you and want to play out of boredom. So, make sure that it’s getting plenty of exercise and stimulation throughout the day. If you have these bases covered and your cat still wants to play with you, it can be because it likes you and just wants to spend some time with you.
Observe How Your Cat Expresses Happiness
In my experience with cats, I’ve noticed that my cats have expressed happiness in their own unique ways. I’ve had a cat that was very vocal when she felt happy and excited and would often meow back if I said something to her. She was also very shy yet playful. So, if she wanted to play, it was a clear sign that she wanted to spend time with me and have some fun.
Another cat showed happiness just by being in the same room. He’d usually be lounging nearby, but he didn’t prefer getting pets. I knew he was especially happy whenever he made an appearance and started kneading on a rug or blanket.
I’ve also gotten a few slow blinks, but they’re rarer behaviors that I see in my cats. Sometimes, I’ll blink at them slowly when I notice that they’re relaxed and lounging nearby. Occasionally, they’ll respond back with a slow blink, and it feels so rewarding.
How To Promote Happiness in Cats
While you can’t force cats to feel a certain way, you can do some things to help them feel safe and content. These are some things that have helped me create a happy home for my cats.
Establish a Consistent Routine
As creatures of habit, cats thrive off routines. Knowing what to expect can help them feel safe, and many will prefer and appreciate predictability.
While you don’t have to have a routine with strict time blocks, you can start engaging in activities in the same sequence. For example, my morning routine roughly looks the same, even if I may wake up at varying times. After I wake up, I start making my morning cup of coffee. Then, I’ll start making breakfast and preparing my cat’s first meal. I’ll get ready for work while my cat eats. Before I start working, I’ll give her a treat dispensing toy to play with so that she gets some exercise in the morning.
After my cat got used to this routine, I could see her anticipating every activity. She’ll be waiting by her food station while I’m making breakfast, and she’ll also look at me expectantly when she knows I’m about to work because she knows I’ll give her a treat toy.
After establishing a consistent routine, I’ve noticed my cat feeling more relaxed and less likely to interrupt me whenever I’m working. She knows that I’ll eventually take a lunch break and play a little more with her before going back to work.
Create Vertical Spaces
Cats love cozy hiding spots and climbing up to safe spaces where they can perch and observe. Many cats will enjoy having a tall cat tree they can climb. However, you don’t have to install multiple cat trees to create vertical spaces in your home.
I’ve cleared out spaces in cube shelves and laid out mats on them so that my cat can sleep in them. I also have some lounging spaces placed near areas that I most frequent in the house. There’s a file cabinet near my work desk, and I’ve placed a cat bed on top so that my cat can rest nearby while I work.
Provide Fun Playtime
Different cats have their own play styles, and finding out their preferences can boost their happiness immensely. I’ve had a cat that preferred playing alone and was perfectly content playing with a treat dispensing toy by himself. Another cat loved playing with cat wands and was happiest when she was chasing feathers attached to a string.
Many cats are food-motivated and can’t resist certain treats. Getting to know your cat’s favorite flavors and giving them occasional treats is a great way to boost its mood.
You can also add a little more happiness into a cat’s life with catnip and catnip toys. The smell of catnip can trigger the “happy” receptors in a cat’s brain. However, not all cats react to catnip. I’ve had one cat who couldn’t care less about catnip, but I had more luck with silvervine. Silvervine is a completely different plant that also happens to have similar effects as catnip. Cats that don’t react to catnip may react to silver vine instead.
Cats can express happiness in various ways. Learning about cat behavior and being observant can help you determine how your cat expresses happiness and what makes it feel happiest. I’ll be the first to say that cats can be very emotionally expressive. It may take some time to understand how your cat shows happiness and affection. However, once you do, it’ll only strengthen your bond and increase the appreciation you have for each other.
Featured Image Credit: Boyloso, Shutterstock
Cat mom to Ivy – a feisty little rescue kitten that is her one and only child. For now! Throughout her life, she has been introduced to the special love that can be found in the bond with a cat. Having owned multiple felines, she is more than certain that their love is unmatched, unconditional and unlike any other. With a passion to educate the public about everything, there is to know about felines, their behavior, and their unique personalities, Crystal is devoted to making sure that all cats and their owners know the importance of conscious living – and loving!