How do you know if you have a happy cat on your hands? Is it in their purr, how they slowly blink at you, or are there even more subtle signs that your cat is content? While there’s nothing better than a content kitty, it may not always be obvious how your cat is feeling.
Although our feline friends may not yet have mastered the art of speaking in a language that humans can understand, they constantly communicate with us about their feelings. If you pay close attention, you can pick up on this by observing their body language, behavior, feeding patterns and other physical signs.
Don’t forget, though - it’s important to remember your cat’s general demeanor and temperament. Some cats are more reserved than others, while others simply love to vocalize their happiness. Knowing your cat’s usual behavior pattern will help you spot the signs of joy, and know when your cat may need more care and attention.
We’ve rounded up some of the most common ways your cat can express how happy they are, including playfulness, grooming habits and that telltale kneading. If you notice any or all of these 17 behaviors and signs, that’s a good indication that you have a very happy kitty on your hands!
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.
11. A relaxed body posture
When your cat is happy it shows in how they hold or relax their muscles. A contented cat will have a very relaxed body posture when they lie down, with their body stretched out and their legs extended or tucked underneath them. They’ll appear loose and free from muscle tension rather than rigid or tense.
12. A relaxed face and whiskers
Even your cat’s face can hold an expression of happiness! You may notice your chilled-out cat’s whiskers are relaxed and not pulled back in a guarded manner, while their eyes are partially closed or blinking softly to let you know they love you.
13. Healthy sleeping routine
A happy cat is a cat that sleeps regularly and restfully. Your feline friend is likely to have a number of favorite spots to curl up and nap for around 20 out of every 24 hours. A cat who has difficulty sleeping may be stressed out or unhappy in their home environment. A contented cat will find lots of comfortable areas around the home to stretch out or curl up for a peaceful sleep.
14. Bursts of zoomies
It’s not just dogs who have zoomies. Bursts of physical activity and playfulness by scampering about, chasing their tail, or jumping out at you are all signs that your cat is feeling confident and happy.
15. Healthy litter box habits
A cat who regularly uses its litter box for pee and poop is a cat who is relaxed in its home environment and confident enough to use the litter box whenever they feel the need to go. However, if you notice signs of accidents around the home or your cat seems unwilling to use the litter tray, it may be time to do some training or invest in a new litter tray. Remember, some cats don’t like to go in the same litter tray as other cats, so you may have to invest in a second litter tray for your fussy feline to make them feel safe, secure and happy.
16. They show that they trust you
A cat who rolls over to show you their soft and fluffy belly is telling you that they trust you and feel safe and comfortable in exposing this vulnerable part of themselves to you. They also have a little stretch and a moment of relaxation, another sign of happiness. Of course, not all cats like to have this sensitive part of their body touched, so pay attention to your cat’s body language if you go in for a tentative belly rub.
17. They have overall good health
A cat with a well-groomed coat, bright and clear eyes, good muscle tone and good energy levels will likely be a happy feline. Of course, certain breeds, such as Persians, are more likely to need your help with keeping their eyes clear and coats groomed, but over time you’ll get to know the physical signs that your cat is healthy and happy, no matter what their breed. Always consult your vet if you notice a difference in your cat’s behavior or eating habits.
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Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.