Do Cats Know and Express Love?

Learn how cats show their love to each other — and to you, too.

By: Jennifer Viegas

Some of us are incurable romantics — but we also think that feelings and expressions of love exist only within our species. But what about cats and other animals? Does anything akin to love exist in their world? The answer may surprise you, as it turns the love mirror back on us, revealing mysteries about our own struggles with l’amour.

Love Redefined
Love turns out to be a valuable brain-initiated mechanism for species survival. It permits alliances between individuals, such as males and females or parents and children, to facilitate breeding and infant care.

Domestic housecats have no need for extended male-female love in regard to reproduction. They then go their separate ways fairly quickly after mating, with mothers handling all parental duties.

Lions are the one exception among cats, according to Jonathan Balcombe, author of the best-selling book “ Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good.” Male lions actually care for their cubs, he explains.

What Does Your Cat Think of You?
“Cats recognize we’re not cats,” says Balcombe, so the bond between you and your cat has no direct equal. Instead, Balcombe believes cats view us in various ways, depending on the circumstance. When you groom, pet or hold your cat, you may become like a mother or beloved sibling, since cats associate these activities with kittenhood and experiences shared among brothers and sisters.

Balcombe suspects cats also value companionship. He admits that selfish reasons, such as a warm lap on a cold day, might sometimes motivate felines, but there are times when companionship alone is the only reward.

Feel the Love
Since love is tied to pleasure seeking and personal rewards, you can demonstrate your fondness for your cat in ways that your feline friend will understand. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Try grasping and massaging your cat at the back of its neck, Balcombe advises. That’s what your cat’s mother did, so you will be giving your pet some motherly love.
  • Schedule regular grooming sessions with your cat in addition to frequent massages. Felines are very tactile creatures, so touch is key.
  • Cats exude contented absorption when kneading, Balcombe says. This is another activity linked to mother-kitten interaction. Instead of wincing when your cat may knead on you, place a blanket on your lap to absorb the claw piercing.
  • Playing helps to ease tension and to promote trust-forming hormones. Be sure to play with your cat as much as possible.

Also know that your relationship probably isn’t one-sided, either.

“Love, warmth and caring seem to be expressed by cats,” Balcombe says.

Jennifer is the managing editor of The Daily Cat. She is a journalist for Discovery News, the news service for the Discovery Channel, and has written more than 20 books on animals, health and other science-related topics.


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