In the great debate of cats versus dogs, one of the greatest weapons in the dog-lovers' arsenal is the theory that dogs are friendlier and bond more quickly with their people. How could cats compare, the dog people say, when dogs clearly love us and cats clearly don't. A sound argument, but not entirely true. Cats do bond with their owners, they just have more subtle ways of showing it. Here's how to tell if you cat has bonded with you.
Are cats capable of bonding with humans?
First, we have to start with the basics: Can cats even bond with humans? The answer is yes (not a surprise to cat owners, right?), but that the relationship between cats and humans is far more complex than the relationship between humans and dogs (also, surely, not a surprise to cat owners).
In 2011, Smithsonian Magazine reported on the findings of a group of scientists who spent time studying pairs of cats and their humans in Vienna, Austria. The study dug into the personalities of both the humans and cats and found that the bond between them was complex, much like the bonds between pairs of humans. If the human in question was more extroverted, for example, the cat was more likely to exhibit complex patterns of behaviors. This suggests that cats adapt to their humans, and the relationship between them is a give-and-take that represents the personality of each.
The researchers also found that women tend to have "more intense" relationships with their cats than men do, which might account for some of the unfortunate origins of the "crazy cat lady" stereotype.
"In response, the cats approach female owners more frequently, and initiate contact more frequently (such as jumping on laps) than they do with male owners," co-author Manuela Wedl of the University of Vienna told Discovery News, adding that "female owners have more intense relationships with their cats than do male owners."
How do cats show affection?
So, yes, it's possible that your cat does actually like you. How can you tell if that's the case? There are several ways cats show love and affection, and you've probably seen many (maybe all) of them with your own cat.
If your cat starts giving you those slow blinks, then you're in. You probably notice this most often when you're petting your cat's head. By slowly blinking, she's saying, "Yes. You are a person I like, doing a thing that I like." You can even try to blink slowly back at your cat to see how long the loved-up, silent convo lasts, if you want to (which you know you do).
Kneading and Head-Butting
Does your cat like to knead you or ram his head into your body? He's not trying to physically assault you; he's saying, "Hey! I love you!" Kittens knead at their mothers' stomachs to make milk flow. When adult cats knead, they're mimicking the relationship they had with their mothers. As for head-butts, rubbing his face on you is a great way for your cat to transfer their pheromones to you, which lets other cats know you're definitely spoken for.
Cats spend a lot of time grooming themselves, and this favor is often extended to humans when cats are feeling especially lovey-dovey. If your cat gives you a lick or even a little love nip, she's probably trying to communicate some combination of "Hey, I love you" and "Hey, give me some attention."
Signs a cat has bonded with you.
You know that your cat at least doesn't hate you, but how do you know if her feelings are more "Oh, you're ok, for a roommate" or "WE SHARE A DEEP AND IRREVOCABLE BOND"? Here are some signs that your cat has seriously bonded with you.
- Kneading you
- Staring into your eyes
- Grooming you
- Exposing the belly
- Curved tail-tip
- Rubbing against your legs
- Following you
- Sitting on top of you
- Slow blinking at you
- Vocalizing to you
- Bring you gifts
The biggest sign that your cat has bonded with you is repeated and frequent displays of those cat-approved forms of affection: slow blinks, licking, kneading, grooming and head-butting. Soft, welcoming purrs are always good, and if your cat likes to present her butt to you, well, you're definitely in.
Ways to bond with your cat.
If you're still thinking, "Oh god, my cat might kind of hate me," don't worry. There are definitely ways to strengthen your bond with your cat (or to make sure you bond right away with a new cat).
"Instead of insisting on interacting with cats, people need to encourage the kitty to come to them," Marilyn Krieger, Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and author of Naughty No More!, told Cuteness. "They can be across the room or a few feet away. All they need to do is to lean or squat down to the cat's level and point an index finger towards the cat at her nose level. If the cat is feeling secure and social, she will advance to the outstretched finger, touch it with her nose, turn her head and rub it with her cheek. She is essentially marking the person with pheromones from scent glands on her cheeks. This is an invitation to pet her."
The key is to meet your cat on her terms. By interacting with your cat when and how she wants (because your cat knows who is in charge and won't forget it), you'll quickly become one of her favorites.
Cat's aren't so different from people, really. They prefer their human companions to treat them well, to listen and to pay attention to them. Basically, humans who interact with their cats — giving them attention in the way they want attention — quickly become the preferred member of the household, and the cats will then bestow their affection.