10 Sure Signs Your Cat Is Madly in Love With You — Kitty Love Language Explained

Written by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

what cats need to be happy

Story at-a-glance -

  • A very clever veterinarian with a felines-only practice has put a cat-centric twist on psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs — she calls it Meowslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
  • Since “cats are people too,” they have similar motivations to satisfy basic physiological and safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs, and the need for self-actualization
  • It’s up to cat parents to meet their feline family member’s needs so they can live their best lives in the “captive” environment we provide for them

Some of you may have heard of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, especially if you've studied psychology. The hierarchy was developed by Abraham Maslow, one of the founders of humanistic psychology and considered to be one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century.1

In a paper he wrote in 1943 titled "A Theory of Human Motivation," Maslow proposed that healthy human beings have certain needs, and these needs are hierarchical, with some needs (such as physiological and safety needs) being more primitive or basic than others (such as social and ego needs).

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is depicted as a five-level pyramid, with higher needs coming into focus only once lower, more basic needs are met.

maslows hierarchy of needs

Maslow's Hierarchy Applied to Your Favorite Feline Friend

Recently I came across an article in a veterinary journal cleverly titled "Meowslow's Hierarchy of Needs."2 The author is Dr. Elizabeth Colleran, who operates a feline-only veterinary practice, and I just love her cat-centric twist on Maslow's hierarchy. In her Meowslow's hierarchy, Colleran applies Maslow's needs as they relate to what motivates kitties:

4. Self-actualization needs

"A cat can't reach it's full potential unless it's able to learn and solve problems (e.g., hunting)."

3. Esteem needs

"Cats need positive reinforcement to learn how to be confident and satisfied."

2. Love and belonging (also called "social belonging") needs

"Cats can form strong bonds with other cats and with humans, but this socialization must usually occur during kittenhood."

1. Physiological and safety needs

"It's critical for a cat to feel safe and in control of all resources."

Your Cat's Physiological and Safety Needs

The most basic need of cats is to occupy a piece of territory that offers safety and familiarity. Dogs attach to their human; cats attach to their territory.

Since he's prey to larger animals in the wild, your kitty is hardwired to seek out a safe place to call his own. It's a place (often the entire house, or at least every room you give him access to) where he feels very comfortable eating, sleeping, grooming, relieving himself, playing, napping and watching the world go by.

It's also important to remember that cats get stressed when they don't feel in control of their territory. In fact, any slight variation in kitty's daily routine can unnerve him. The reason for this may be because felines equate "unauthorized" changes in their environment to a loss of control. Cats very much like to feel in control and when they don't, they get anxious.

Her Love and Belonging ('Social Belonging') Needs

To achieve the best outcome, it's recommended that kittens be socialized to other cats and humans when they're very young — from two to eight weeks of age. It can be difficult to create peace and harmony between two or more cats who are introduced as adults. Female kitties tend to get along better with other cats than males do, and intact males can be a special challenge.

Because of the complex nature of feline social structures, if you're thinking of adding a new cat to the family, I recommend you talk with your veterinarian or an animal behavior specialist. Often there are things you can do to minimize problems with aggression or other undesirable behaviors. When it comes to her favorite human, as you might guess, your kitty has her own love language. Here's a quick translation guide:

  1. She grooms you — Mother cats groom their kittens from the moment they're born, so being licked was one of your kitty's very first feelings of being cared for. Siblings raised together often groom each other throughout their lives. So if your kitty is licking you, she's showing her love for you.
  2. She rubs her body against you — Rubbing is how cats show contentment and affection. If your kitty rubs up against your leg or your face or head butts you, she's putting her scent on you and claiming you as her own. It's important to your relationship and bond with your cat to allow her to rub against you.
  3. She gives you love bites — This show of love from your kitty can prove to be a bit painful, especially if she nips at your nose or elsewhere on your face, as many cats do. Kitties nip each other affectionately, and their skin is tougher than ours, so your cat really doesn't understand her love bite isn't always pleasant for you.
  4. He pretends to "mark" you — Male cats urine mark to claim their territory. Since much of your kitty's love for you takes the form of claiming you as his own, don't be surprised if your male backs up toward you with a quivering tail. Fortunately, it only seems he's about to urine mark you — he won't actually produce a urine spray.
  5. She rubs her gums against you — It's a little weird, but if your cat rubs her gums (usually the upper gums) against you, know that it's just another way she's claiming you as her own and showing her love for you.
  6. She blinks slowly at you — This might be the display of cat love that is easiest for humans to understand. If your kitty first stares at you, then blinks, then opens her eyes wide, then slowly blinks a second time, she's telling you she loves and trusts you. It's the equivalent of being kissed!
  7. She purrs — Newborn kittens can't yet see, so they're guided to their mother by her purr. That's why purring is a sign your cat is feeling content. Purring also lowers your kitty's heart rate, so she may sometimes purr to sooth herself. Unless she's ill or feeling stressed, rest assured her purring means she feels cared for by you.
  8. She brings you something dead — When your kitty brings home a small dead something and presents it to you, it's a sign she feels safe and secure in your home.
  9. She rolls around in front of you — When your cat either drops to the floor and rolls around, or jumps up on your bed or another piece of furniture and does the same, she's trying to get your attention and affection. When a kitty shows her tummy voluntarily, it's only to those she truly trusts and loves.
  10. She sleeps on you — Your cat is most vulnerable when he's sleeping, so where he chooses to snooze must feel safe and secure to him. If one of his favorite nap spots happens to be your lap, legs or the top of your head, consider yourself well-loved by your kitty.

Kitty's Esteem Needs

This is really about how confident your cat feels, and if you've known many cats, you know they span the spectrum from painfully shy, to bold and assertive. As Colleran points out:

"Plenty of gentle handling in the first few months of life can turn a naturally bold cat into a highly social one. Cats are learning all the time, both good and bad. Teaching them with positive reinforcement how to tolerate novelty, how to feel as if they are in control of any situation, and how to feel safe in an uncertain situation (the cat carrier, the veterinary visit) is key to their confidence and satisfaction."

The Feline Need for Self-Actualization

Self-actualization for your cat primarily involves having opportunities to exercise his natural instincts as a skilled hunter. It's important to remember that kitties are curious, brilliant creatures. They need stimulation. "Cat Daddy" Jackson Galaxy believes that if we can learn to walk through the world as our cats do, we can understand their needs on a very basic level, and we naturally ensure they have outlets for their curiosity, energy and other innate gifts.

Today's cats are still very much in touch with what Jackson calls their "raw cat." They have maintained their drive to awake from a nap to go hunt, catch, kill and eat prey, groom, go back to sleep and do it all over again in a few hours. That's a cat's ideal life, and when he's not given those outlets, he can wind up hunting your ankles, your children or your dog.

Play is also crucial, and the goal should be to increase interactivity. Interactive play means we become our cat's prey — the mouse or the bird — moving the way it would, unpredictably, and really drawing out the cat's hunter energy. As Colleran points out, problem solving is also a significant part of a full and satisfying cat life.

"Hunting isn't easy," she writes. "It takes time, dexterity, physical exertion, cognitive skill and acute sensory concentration. A great deal of learning occurs in hunting — one false move and prey is lost. Mice can disappear in and out of vegetation, rabbits can scoot down holes, and birds can fly away if approached too quickly.

Each type of prey presents a unique set of problems. Hunting is wonderfully pleasurable for cats — the reward center of the brain releases endorphins."

An excellent way to satisfy your kitty's need for self-actualization is through environmental enrichment, including feeding systems that encourage cats to "hunt" for their food.

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