While our feline friends don’t wear their emotions on their sleeves in quite the same way as our canine companions, the signs of a happy cat are not as difficult to spot as you might think.
Whether it’s rubbing up against you as you’re measuring out the perfect portion of cat food or chirping softly as they lay next to you, cats express how they feel in much the same way we humans do - through body language and vocalizations.
At first glance, cat communication may seem to be more complex than that of dogs, but once you’re aware of the unique way that they express their happiness, you’ll soon be able to quickly and easily recognize your fur baby’s emotional state from one moment to the next.
The truth is, that much like humans and all other animals, our feline friends feel the happiest when all their needs are being met and they’re living in an environment that makes them feel relaxed, comfortable and safe.
To help you figure out how your furkid is feeling, we’ve rounded up the telltale signs of a happy cat with all the behaviors and sounds to be on the lookout for.
1. They rub up against you
Why do cats rub against you? Well, one reason is to show you how happy they are to have you around, but rubbing behavior isn’t just a sign of affection. It’s also their way of marking you with their scent so that other cats know that you belong to them.
Cats feel happy when they have strong social bonds with those they consider a part of their tribe - and that includes you. According to pet behaviorist Dr. Wailani Sung, our feline friends rub up against us to create a colony scent.
“When they rub on people, they leave behind oils to mark us, but it is also a sign that they like us and are happy to see us.”
Have you ever noticed your kitty engaging in a rather strange behavior where they spend what seems like forever making a kneading motion on beds, blankets and sometimes even your lap?
Also known as ‘making biscuits’ because the motion looks like they’re working dough, kneading is a surefire way to tell that your feline friend is in a good mood. Vet Shelly Zachrias explains that “cats are feeling content and safe when they knead.”
The height of contentment, it’s thought that kneading makes our furkid’s feel so happy because it’s a behavior that harks back to kittenhood when they would knead their mothers for comfort. Check out our guide to ‘why do cats knead?' for more information.
There’s nothing more soothing than the gentle and rhythmic sound of a cat's purr and if your kitty is curled up next to you and their motor gets started, rest assured that you have one very happy cat on your hands indeed.
According to Dr. Sung, cat purring is almost always positive. “Cat purrs during interactions with people, greeting familiar cats, while nursing kittens, or being pet can mean they’re feeling happy and content.”
There are some rare instances where purring can be a sign of stress, so if you suspect that’s the case, our tips on how to calm a cat during periods of high anxiety will help you get your feline friend back to their old self again.
4. Slow blinking
One of the sweetest and most endearing of cat behaviors, if a cat slow blinks at you two or three times in a row, they’re signaling both trust and contentment.
“Direct eye contact is considered a challenge or threat,” says Dr. Sung. “If a cat is looking at another cat or person, they want the other party to know that it is a friendly look and not a hostile stare or glare. Therefore, the blink conveys the cat’s intention to be friendly.”
If you’d like to send your cat’s happiness levels through the roof, try returning the compliment by slowly blinking back at them.
5. They make conversation
Why do cats meow? While it can certainly be a sign of stress, for many cats, it’s their way of engaging with their humans. Not all cats will converse with you, quiet cat breeds tend to prefer to show their happiness in other ways, but when it comes to highly outgoing kitties, expect plenty of vocalization when they’re in a good mood.
6. Normal eating, sleeping and grooming habits
A great sign that your cat is happy is if they go about their usual routine. Whether you feed them the best wet cat food or the best dry cat food, if your feline friend is eating their normal portions of food each day that’s one indication that they’re in a good headspace.
Cats are also fastidious groomers, so another thing to be on the lookout for is whether or not they’re keeping their coat looking its best. “Keeping up with a healthy, pristine coat is an activity of a cat who is feeling good, healthy, and has an overall feeling of positive well-being,” says Dr. Zacharias.
A content kitty will stick fairly closely to a schedule, eating well, sleeping up to 20 hours a day and keeping their coat well-groomed and shiny. If your furkid is going about their business as usual, that’s a great indication that they’re mentally fit.
7. Their tail is in the question mark position
It’s important to observe what your cat's tail is telling you when you’re trying to figure out whether or not they’re happy. From feeling content or playful to threatened or scared, one of the primary ways a cat communicates their state of mind is through their tail.
“Happy, confident cats hold their tail in a question mark position. These cats are in a good mood and usually ready to interact,” explains Dr. Zacharias.
Cat chirping is one of the most adorable sounds our feline friends make and it’s something they’ll only do when they’re in a great mood. A cross between a meow and a purr, a chirp is a high-pitched noise that communicates a message of happiness.
Just like with meowing and other forms of vocalizations, not all cats will chirp, but if you do happen to catch them making this sweet sound in your presence, consider yourself very lucky indeed.
9. Spending time with you
When is a cat at their happiest? Why when they’re with their favorite human of course! Although we often think of dogs as being people-orientated and cats being more independent and solitary, our feline friends are actually highly social and enjoy being in the presence of those they love - whether it’s simply near you or curled up on your lap.
A kitty engaged in a play session with the best cat toys is undoubtedly one very happy kitty indeed. Whether it’s solo play with a toy they can use independently or time spent having fun with a family member, playfulness is a sign of joy.
Kathryn is a freelance writer who has spent the past two years dividing her writing time between her two great loves - pets and health and wellness. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with one very mischievous Cocker Spaniel, drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and attempting to set numerous world records for the longest ever FaceTime calls with her family back home in NZ.