9 ways pets tell you they love you

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Blue the yellow Lab smiling with red hearts behind him
Our beloved dogs and cats don’t need words when they have so many other ways to tell us how they feel this Valentine’s Day.
By Sarah Thornton

It’s Valentine’s Day on Monday, and you know what that means: Love is in the air, stores are full of pink-and-red-heart-covered cards, and in just a few days, all the chocolate will be on sale. Every day is a good day to tell your loved ones how you feel. Valentine’s Day just gives you the perfect excuse to do it even more elaborately (maybe with those little heart candies).

Of course, we couldn’t possibly leave out our four-legged friends and family members when it comes to showing affection. A kiss on the head, an extra-special treat or belly rubs until your hand feels like it might fall off are all ways you might tell your pet you love them. And, though they might not speak our language, our beloved cats and dogs have their own ways of saying “I love you.”

1. Snuggle time

Child snuggling with a puppy who is kissing her nose

This might be the most obvious way pets can tell you they love you: Your cat climbs up into your lap for a nap, or your dog pushes her nose up under your arm for a cuddle. They want to share your space and get as close as possible because they feel comfortable and safe with you, and it feels good to lean into your warmth and ear-scratches. There are plenty of places they could plonk down for a nap (and they certainly do), but they want to snuggle with you because they love you.

2. Purrs (and meows) of affirmation

Person petting Bryce the cat who looks to be in bliss

When your cat is snuggled contentedly on your lap, you already know what to expect next ― that deep, rumbling sound of his purr. There are many reasons why cats purr and they even do it when they’re scared or not feeling well to self-soothe and heal. But when he’s relaxing with you and turns on that little motor, it’s a good sign he’s happy, content, feeling the love and wants to share those feelings with you.

A cat feeling particularly vocal about her feelings might even meow at you. And while you might not understand what she’s saying, there’s certainly something special about it. Adult cats don’t really meow to communicate with one another. They reserve their meows for talking to people (or at least trying to). So even if she’s trying to tell you her food bowl is empty, she’s doing it in a language she uses just for you: her person.

3. Contagious yawning

Cat in an egg-shaped bed and yawning with front paw outstretched

You’ve had it happen to you before: You see someone else yawn and all of the sudden you feel the need to stretch your jaw and join them. The power of yawns is so strong that even just reading the word can make some people yawn. What about you? Are you yawning yet?

Did you know your dog can catch your yawn, too? According to a study at the University of Tokyo, he’s much more likely to yawn in response to you (who he’s bonded with) than to a stranger. He’s tuned in and ready to show some sleepy solidarity. Maybe a nap together might help.

4. Eye contact

Happy dog on orange chare looking straight at the camera

There’s no question that eye contact is important. They say eyes are the windows to the soul, after all. A simple gaze can communicate all sorts of things between people, and when it comes to our furry family members, eye contact is just as meaningful. It’s a way to get our attention, and relaxed eye contact can be a sign of trust.

Dogs use eye contact to share their affection with their people. And just like you feel your heart squeeze in adoration when you look into those soulful puppy-dog eyes, she’s feeling a rush of love, too. Your mutual eye contact is giving you both a nice dose of oxytocin ― the “love hormone.”

When it comes to our feline friends, a loving gaze comes complete with “kitty kisses” in the form of slow blinking. By focusing on you and softly closing her eyes, your cat is saying she trusts you and can let her guard down around you. Next time you catch your cat looking, trying slowly blinking at her to let her know you love her, too.

5. Grooming

Larry the dog licking the face of a person who appears to be laughing

Speaking of kisses, what could be better than one from your cat or dog? Slobber and sandpaper tongues aside, a pet smooch is about as cute as it comes. For both dogs and cats, grooming is an important part of bonding. Mothers groom their kittens and puppies, and close friends clean each other’s fur. It’s a show of trust that mixes their scents all together in a way that says, “We belong to each other.” And when your pet licks and grooms you, he's calling you family and saying he loves you.

6. Calm goodbyes and excited hellos

Two dogs looking up lovingly at a person at a doorway

If you’re heading out the door and your dog barely gives you a look as you’re leaving, don’t feel bad. It’s a good thing that he’s not upset about it or having separation anxiety. It means he trusts that you’ll be back and has confidence in your home and in your relationship together. He knows you love him and he loves you, and you won’t be apart for very long.

Then when you get home and he’s ready to greet you at the door in full-body wiggles ― well, you already know that means he loves you. Even if he was calm all day while waiting, there is nothing better than having his favorite person back and ready to spend some quality time together.

7. Making biscuits

Cat on a person's lap while person hugs the cat

Who doesn’t love a good massage? And what if it does include some pokey little claws sometimes? That’s a small price to pay for knowing your cat loves you. Right? When cats settle in and start making biscuits ― flexing their front paws back and forth ― they’re showing comfort. It’s a natural, soothing motion for cats that starts from the time they’re kittens (when it helps them nurse from their mom) and it never goes away.

So, when you’re petting your cat or he’s snuggled up against you and starts kneading, that’s his way of saying he’s enjoying himself and feels just as safe and happy as when he was a kitten.

8. Following you

Dog peeking over something so only the top of head can be seen

Pets who love you and feel safe with you want to be near you. Even when they’re too shy for snuggles, you might notice your dog or cat following you from room to room, making sure you’re somewhere nearby where they can see. And if they’re the type who always want to be right next to you, they’re definitely right at your heels when you head to the kitchen ― or even to the bathroom.

9. Giving gifts

Black cat holding a toy mouse in his mouth

They don’t have the thumbs or funds to wrap them up nicely, but some pets, just like people, enjoy bringing gifts to their loved ones ― even if it’s not necessarily something we asked for. Your dog might bring you her favorite toy for a game of fetch, or just to say, “Here, I love this so I thought you might, too.” Some dogs, when they can tell you’re feeling down, might start bringing you present after present to cheer you up. And by the third or fourth random object, it’s hard not to crack a smile.

Your cat might also leave a hard-won gift for you in a place she's sure you’ll find it. She’ll bring a toy that she’s just chased all over the house and drop it next to you with a proud look on her face, sharing the victory with you and searching for your approval. Sometimes, it’s the hair tie you’ve been looking for forever. Sometimes it’s a bottle cap.

After all, it’s the thought that counts, right?

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Read more:

Ten things you can do to show your pets you love them

7 priceless gifts pets give us

Making a better world through kindness to animals

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