A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

12 Telltale Signs Your Cat Is Happy

Updated: Nov. 20, 2023

Wondering if you’ve got a happy cat? If your kitty is exhibiting these purr-fectly content behaviors, the answer is yes!

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Cute cat lying on his back on the carpet. Breed British mackerel with yellow eyes and a bushy mustache. Close up.

Figuring out your finicky feline

Sometimes, stereotypes exist for a reason. Case in point: cats. Even with the most affectionate cat breeds, it can be difficult to tell whether your cat loves you, likes you, or just kinda, sorta tolerates you—and even whether you’ve got a happy cat or not. But we have some good news: Most of them love you, and science proves it. According to a recent study from Oregon State University, most cats do, indeed, bond with their caretakers. Researchers looked at 70 kittens between three and eight months of age and found that the majority (64 percent) had secure attachments to their owners. So, how can you tell if your cat is happy—with you and with life, in general? We got the lowdown from pet experts on how to decode feline behavior. After, take a look at these tell-tale signs your dog is happy.

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They rub against you

Are cats marking their territory when they rub against you—or are they just happy to see you? It’s a little of both, actually. Cats that live together and have a strong social bond typically groom and rub on each other, according to Wailani Sung, DVM, PhD, a pet behaviorist with Chewy.com. “It has been theorized that they do this to promote a colony scent since this action leaves behind oils from the scent gland on their head, cheeks, and chin,” she explains. “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.” On the flip side, here’s how to tell if your cat is secretly mad at you.

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Adorable White and Tan Kitten Playing on Soft Bed
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They knead or “make biscuits”

You might have noticed your kitty making a strange kneading motion on blankets, pillows, or even you. It’s completely adorable, but it’s also a sign that they’re in a very good mood. “Cats are feeling content and safe when they knead,” says Shelly Zacharias, DVM, a veterinarian and the vice president of medical affairs at Gallant. “You may also notice they purr and have their eyes half-closed, which are often other signs of feeling safe and content.” What else is ridiculously adorable? Pictures of the most adorable cat breeds as kittens.

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Detail of a beautiful soft tabby cat lying on its owner's shoulder and purring. Selective focus
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They blink slowly at you

Blinking may seem like the most common and mundane motion to us, but for cats, it’s a sign that they trust you. That’s because when they’re blinking, their guard is down, and that shows they’re content and happy. “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 return the slow-blink favor, you’ll communicate the same. Here are some other signs that your cat trusts you.

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Cat grooming himself cleaning his fur while resting on window sill. Bengal cat. Spines on the cat's tongue visible
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Grooming remains a top priority

Cats are fastidious when it comes to their grooming, and a well-kept coat is a good sign that all is well in your kitty’s world. “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. “If your kitty is not keeping up her grooming habits and appears unkempt, make an appointment to see your vet.” Here are some more silent signs that your “healthy” cat is actually sick.

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Beautiful tabby cat sitting next to a food bowl, placed on the floor next to the living room window, and eating.
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They’re eating well

In the same way that consistent grooming is an indication of good health and happiness, having an appetite is also a sign that your feline is feeling fine. If they’re eager to eat at every meal, that’s good news for everyone. Conversely, cats who aren’t eating may not be feeling well or may be under stress. Is your choice of cat food as good as you think it is? This is the very best diet for cats, according to vets.

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Cute funny cat at kitchen table on blurred background
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They purr

“Cat purrs during interactions with people, greeting familiar cats, while nursing kittens, or being pet can mean they’re feeling happy and content,” says Dr. Sung. “Cats may also purr when they are sleepy or drowsy or when they are in warm, familiar environments when soliciting food from the owner, and kneading.” You can generally interpret purring as positive if your kitty also exhibits some of the other telltale signs of contentment on this list. That said, a purring cat is not always a happy cat. Here are some other reasons why cats purr.

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Homeless animals series. Tabby kitten looking up meowing
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They emit a high-pitched purr or chirp

Have you ever heard your cat make a high-pitched purring or chirping sound—kind of like a cross between a purr and a meow—but had no idea what it meant? We have the answer: They do that when they’re in a great mood or when they want to play. It’s their way of saying, “I’m a happy cat!” and letting others know. “This is a form of communication and a self-soothing mechanism for the kitty,” says Dr. Zacharias. “They want other animals, and us, to know they come in peace.” According to a new study, cats like baby talk AKA when their owners speak in high-pitched voices as well. Don’t miss these other cat facts that are purr-fectly fascinating.

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Grey tabby cat sitting on a shoulder at the girl. Outdoors
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They greet you with meows

In addition to chirping, cats that greet you with quick and high meows can also be a sign that they’re in good spirits. “When the owner is gone for the day and is greeted by meows at the door, this vocalization is a greeting. It may also be an expression that the cat is happy to see the owner,” says Dr. Sung. “Sometimes cats come up and meow to solicit attention. In this situation, the cat may want the owner to interact with him in some manner, whether it’s to pet the cat, give him or her food, or perhaps play with the cat.” Did you know cats make more than 100 different vocalizations, including these 10?

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cat with extended tail walking on the street
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Their tail is in the “question mark” position

Cats use tail positions to tell us how they are feeling. “It’s their way of letting us know when they are happy and playful, feeling threatened, scared, or even not feeling well,” says Dr. Zacharias. “Happy, confident cats hold their tail in a question mark position. These cats are in a good mood and usually ready to interact.” Their body language can reveal a lot, but it can’t reveal everything. Here’s what your cat would love to tell you if he could.

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They want to cuddle

Though cats may be viewed as solitary creatures who prefer to do their own thing, they also enjoy cuddles like the rest of us. “Sleeping curled up with another family member—animal or human—is a sign of pure love,” says Dr. Zacharias. “These cats are happy in their relationships and are expressing their love for another.” But should you let your cat sleep in your bed? The answer may surprise you.

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Cute, orange tabby cat looks alert and wants to play, in an older, urban, city apartment with wood floors. His toy lies unused beside him.
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They’re eager to play

A playful cat is a happy cat who’s in a particularly good mood. Maybe they’re excited to bat around a stuffed toy, dart around chasing a laser, or try to catch pet-approved bubbles. This energy is a sign that they’re feeling healthy and happy! On the other hand, if your cat is lethargic or won’t engage with you, it could be a sign of discontent or stress, particularly if the malaise is ongoing.

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Small gray kitten in plastic litter cat on floor
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All’s well with the litter box

Cats communicate with their owners through the litter box, so pay attention when scooping. If they’re going outside of the box, says the ASPCA, it could be a sign of an underlying physical issue or unhappiness (even if it’s with an unclean box or the type of litter you’re using). If the issue is persistent, it’s time to call your vet. By the way, here are the things you’re probably doing that veterinarians wouldn’t.

Next, browse these pictures of cute kittens—we dare you not to smile at them!