As cat parents, we all want our feline friends to be happy, and we go to great lengths to ensure they’re living their best lives. After all, your kitty deserves top-shelf catnip, and you know how they feel about people sitting in “their” chair.
But how do you know your cat is happy? Cats can’t talk or text—or at least, they choose not to—so it’s up to pet parents to understand how cats communicate their feelings and needs.
The more you know about your four-legged friend, the better you can care for them and strengthen your unique bond. Read on for signs that your cat is, indeed, a content kitty.
11 Ways To Tell if Your Cat Is Happy
How can you spot a happy kitty? We asked the experts.
When it comes to cat body language, tails are downright chatty. Tail positioning and movement lend quite a few clues about a cat’s emotional state, says Dr. Cheri Honnas, DVM, a Texas-based veterinarian and veterinary advisor to Bone Voyage Dog Rescue
. “A raised yet relaxed tail, swaying gently, often signifies a kitty on cloud nine,” she says. “Plus, there’s that steady strut—the confident walk they showcase when everything feels just right in their world.” Talk about a cat walk!
Similar to humans, cats communicate quite a bit through their eyes. The hallmark of a happy cat? Slow, lazy, not-a-care-in-the-world blinks
. “Slow blinks from a cat are akin to sending you a kitty kiss,” says Dr. Sabrina Kong, a California-based veterinarian. “It’s their way of saying, ‘All's well in my world.’”
If your cat frequently “headbutts” you or gently rubs their head against you
, consider it a sign of affection—and a happy cat! “Cats have this endearing behavior of rubbing against us, which is more than just seeking attention,” says Dr. Honnas. “In doing so, they’re leaving their scent on us, kind of like saying, ‘You’re part of my family.’”
4Relationships With Other Cats
Not all cats are besties, but if your cat is on friendly terms
with other resident felines, it’s a good sign that they’re thriving. “When a cat gets along well with fellow felines, it’s a clear indication of a well-adjusted and content kitty,” says Dr. Honnas. “It showcases their social side and their ability to form bonds not just with humans, but also with their own kind.”
Does your cat ever “knead
” you with their paws? The behavior—popularly referred to as “making biscuits”—is a classic (and delightful!) sign of a relaxed, happy cat. “Some cats will actually knead soft surfaces with their paws when they’re happy,” says Dr. Honnas. “It’s an adorable behavior that harkens back to their kitten days.”
Contrary to popular belief, purring
a good sign. Sometimes, cats in pain or under stress will use purring as a self-soothing mechanism, says Dr. Honnas. However, if your cat seems otherwise content and is letting the purrs roar, you can assume they’re happy. “If your feline friend is lazing in the sun, letting out deep purrs, that’s them sharing their joy,” she says. Soft meows are also a good sign, she adds.
Purring isn’t the only vocalization that signifies happiness. Trilling and chirping
are also signs that your cat is content. “Cats aren’t just about purrs,” says Dr. Kong. “Chirps and trills are also in their happy vocal repertoire, often signaling excitement or a friendly greeting.” Yowling or screeching, however, may indicate fear, aggression or a health concern and should be addressed with your veterinarian.
If your cat is always ready for a battle with the feather wand
, that’s a good sign that they’re loving life. “A happy cat is a playful cat,” says Dr. Kong. “Whether they’re chasing after a toy mouse or simply rolling around in a sunlit spot on the floor, these actions scream joy.” Regular play sessions can also increase happiness, so don’t forget to schedule daily sessions with your pet! Keep in mind: Senior cats might not play as much as they used to, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t happy.
Similar to humans, a cat’s emotional state can influence their appetite. In general, a happy cat looks forward to mealtime and treats, says Dr. Bethany Hsia, a California-based veterinarian, cat parent and co-founder of pet end-of-life care business CodaPet
. “A happy cat will have a healthy appetite,” she says. Changes to your cat’s appetite can signal an underlying health issue, so check in with your veterinarian if your cat seems unusually hungry or loses interest in food.
iStock.com/Caíque de Abreu
Cats are famously tidy, and a happy cat typically lives up to their squeaky-clean reputation. A content, comfortable cat will spend time grooming themselves, says Dr. Hsia, and will have a healthy, shiny coat. Matting, dullness and greasiness are signs that your cat is struggling to care for their coat and should be addressed with your veterinarian; arthritis
or another underlying health condition could be to blame.
Although they have a reputation for being aloof, in reality, cats are social creatures who form strong bonds with humans. Not every cat appreciates full-on cuddles, but in general, a happy cat will initiate interactions, says Dr. Hsia. “Cats are known for their independent nature, but happy cats often seek out social interaction with their human family members, and may rub against your legs, purr when petted, or curl up next to you for companionship,” she says.
Is the Internet-Famous “Happy Cat” Actually Happy?
Everyone loves a cute cat who can’t contain their excitement. Case in point? The famous “happy cat meme,” in which an adorable cat jumps for joy when their humans return home.
“When a cat is overwhelmed with happiness, that energy needs an outlet, and playful pouncing is often it,” says Dr. Honnas of the video. “It’s these candid moments that reinforce the deep emotional bond cats share with their humans.”
However, don’t panic if your cat’s greeting is more subtle than a viral TikTok. While the “happy cat” video is certainly cute, less enthusiastic reactions are just as indicative of happiness. “Some cats might jump or dash around when their favorite human comes home, while others might show their happiness in more subdued ways, like a gentle headbutt or curling up on your lap,” says Dr. Kong.
Similar to humans, some cats are naturally “extra,” while others are more low-key with their emotions. “Each cat is an individual, and their expressions of joy are as unique as they are,” adds Kong.
All About Happy Cat Month
September is Happy Cat Month! An annual observance created by the animal-welfare organization CATalyst Council, the initiative encourages cat parents to learn more about their pets’ unique needs, health and welfare. Here are some ideas for how to celebrate:
- Invest in engaging, interactive toys to stimulate your cat mentally and physically.
- Schedule extra play sessions to strengthen your bond.
- Enrich your cat’s environment with feline-friendly amenities, such as a cat condo, cat tree, a catio, or climbing shelves.
- Work on training! Similar to dogs, training is a great tool to engage your cat’s mind and improve mental health.
- Check in with your veterinarian to ensure your cat is up-to-date with routine healthcare. (A healthy cat is a happy cat!)
- Work with your veterinarian to evaluate your cat’s diet. Are you feeding the appropriate cat food for your cat’s life-stage and health needs?
Although they have the reputation of being mysterious, cats are social creatures who provide tons of information about themselves and their emotional states. As pet parents, the more we know about our cats, the better we can provide for their health and happiness. Ready to discover more about your four-legged friend? Learn about these weird (but common!) cat behaviors
, and what they mean.