Aug. 24, 2013 at 4:17 PM ET
People generally equate purring with a happy cat. While contentment is a reason that cats purr, it’s more an indication that they feel safe and secure than a sign of affection, says Dr. Hazel C. Carney, a feline medicine and animal behaviorist. So what are the ways your kitty says he cares?
The most affectionate, intimate cat behavior, according to Dr. Carney, is bunting, or a gentle bump of his forehead or rub of his cheek against your face, hand, leg or foot—or wherever he can access. This behavior deposits his scent on you to “claim” you as his own. (Silly you, if you thought it was the other way around.)
Cats communicate with their eyes, so when your pet slowly closes and opens his while gazing at you, he’s indicating he trusts you. “This behavior is only done in the presence of other cats or owners when they feel most comfortable,” says Dr. Carney. It’s the opposite of a stare-down, which cats hate and interpret as aggression.
Like a toddler, a kitty may follow you around, and for the same reason—it’s a sure sign that he likes to be near you. Sitting on your lap or near you (some pets aren’t lap cats) also shows he’s happy to see you.
A mommy cat’s first show of affection to her kittens is to groom them, so your cat may want to share that kind of TLC with you. It’s also another way to impart their scent, marking you as a member of their family.
Another way cats show trust is to expose his furry, sensitive underside to you. When your kitty rolls around on his back at your feet, he’s saying he feels safe around you, enough to be completely vulnerable—this pose could mean certain death in the wild.
Amy Roberts is a New York City-based writer and editor.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.