Sometimes cats make a face that makes you wonder: is my cat actually smiling at me? It looks just like a smile: closed eyes and a mouth turned upward. Not to burst your bubble, but that face he is making is not a happy smile like humans make. Continue reading on to find out more!
What a Cat “Smile” Means
Cats have the ability to make a smiling face similar to how humans smile, but it doesn’t mean happiness, necessarily. It’s purely physiological.
When cats smell certain pheromone-rich smells, like other cat’s urine, the particles enter their nose and go into their mouths. This triggers the “flehmen response,” where cats push those pheromone particles to the roof of their mouth, thus making the “cat smile” face. This area of their mouth houses the Jacobson’s organ, which takes in the information of the pheromones the best.
How to Tell if Your Cat is Happy
So, if the cat “smiling” doesn’t mean he is happy, how do cats show that they are happy in the pet-to-pet parent relationship?
A cat purring can mean a few different things, like fear or even pain, but you know your cat is very happy with you when you pet or scratch him and he answers with purring. That’s because purring is also a contentment noise, a noise that says that he really likes what you’re doing.
You know a cat is very happy when they move their paws in a kneading motion. They will knead a blanket, your skin or hair, another animal’s fur, or even the air when they are extremely comfortable.
This physical response goes all the way back from when your cat was a kitten, nursing from its mother. Kitties, when drinking milk from their mom, will knead their mom with their paws to help more milk come out. It’s pretty adorable to see your cat reverting back to kittenhood when she kneads with her paws!
Cats slow blink at other cats, and even us humans, to exchange good feelings and to show that they are happy and comfortable with you. In the wild, cats would never close their eyes to anything that would seem threatening to them, so take it as “I love and trust you” when your cat does this to you.
Research has shown that humans who do this to their cats will receive the message back to them, so experiment with your cat at home. Do not stare with wide eyes at your cat, simply come at them with relaxed eyes. A slow blink looks first like a narrowing of the eyes, then a slow and steady closing.
A cat that wants to be friendly will commonly rub their heads on any part of you or other animals or things. This is called bunting, and it happens because they have pheromone glands on their cheeks that release a certain non-threatening, friendly pheromone when they rub their heads.
Cats do this when they want to bond with you. Cat mothers teach their kittens that this is a sign of affection, which therefore carries on into the rest of their lives.
An upright tail position that is gently flicking at the end means a happy cat. This tail means that your cat is excited and interested in whatever is in front of them. If they are coming to you with a flicking tail, even a caress on you with its tail, these are both signs that your cat likes you.
Don’t confuse this with tail thrashing, though. A tail thumping on the ground means the opposite of happiness. It means to “get away” or “stop what you are doing, I don’t like that!”
Do Cats Remember Faces?
Cats do not remember people’s faces as much as they do touch, sound, and the smell of their favorite people. Some research has indicated that cats recognize their owners’ voices over stranger voices.
Cats are also experts at picking up on the emotions going on around them, so calm yourself down if you want to get along great with your feline friend.
Though the human-looking smile that a cat displays does not convey happiness per se, there’s lots of other ways that cats can tell you they are happy. We hope by now you understand all the ways cats tell you that they love to be around you.
Featured Image Credit: islam zarat, Shutterstock