This is an article from Curious Kids, a series for children. The Conversation is asking kids to send in questions they’d like an expert to answer. All questions are welcome – serious, weird or wacky!
How can you tell if your cat is happy and likes you? – Melissa, age 12, Melbourne
Hi Melissa, you’ve asked two great questions - I’ll take them one at a time.
First up, how can you tell if your cat is happy? Cats can’t tell us how they’re feeling, but if we watch their behaviour closely we can work out a lot.
What things does your cat like doing? Does it have a favourite chair or ledge to sit on? Or a favourite window to look out of? Perhaps it likes sitting on your lap, or playing with toys? Most cats love to sleep in a warm place.
The things you see your cat doing are probably what it enjoys. As long as it gets the chance to do these things then your cat is probably happy. Providing lots of toys to play with is a great way to keep your cat happy, especially if it’s a kitten.
For example, you could make them a food puzzle - cats have a natural hunting instinct and like to hunt for their food. Find an empty water bottle and put holes around the body of the bottle. Then put some dry food in and put the lid on - as your cat moves the bottle around the food will fall out.
Read more: Curious Kids: why don’t cats wear shoes?
Depending on their personality, cats can show they are unhappy in two ways.
The first kind of cat might hide away under a bed or in a cupboard, and show no interest in playing or interacting. If it also stops eating and grooming this is likely a sign that it’s not happy.
The second kind of cat might pace around, or seek your attention by meowing constantly. These cats might follow you around all of the time, and destroy furniture or other things in your house.
Some cats can also urinate in the wrong places when they are unhappy.
If your cat shows any of these signs it probably means there is something bothering it. If it’s not eating or cleaning itself, or there are other signs you’re worried about, then it might be a good idea to take it to the vet to see if there is anything wrong.
If your cat likes a cuddle on your lap and purrs when you pat it then it probably likes you. Cats will choose to hang around people they really like, the same as you do with your friends. If your cat likes being petted it will probably stay still, close its eyes, and move its head or body so that you rub its favourite places. This might be along the cheeks, under the chin, or between the ears and eyes.
However, if your cat doesn’t like these things, don’t panic that it doesn’t like you! Some cats are friendlier than others, and your cat might not like to be cuddled, the same way some people love hugs and others don’t. Your cat might still enjoy knowing that you’re around, even if it doesn’t want to come right up to you.
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Authors: Susan Hazel, Senior Lecturer, School of Animal and Veterinary Science, University of Adelaide