Dog and Cat Body Language That Says ‘I Love You’

We love our cats and dogs like family. But do they love us back? We tend to view certain behaviors from our animals as signs of love — your dog brings you their favorite toy or your cat curls up purring next to you. Still, love is somewhat difficult to measure when we don’t speak the same language. But we can look at factors — such as how friendly, relaxed and agreeable our animals are — to clue us in on their feelings. Here are some ways dog and cat body language can express their love and other emotions.

Eyes

cat and dog relaxed lying on couch togetherCredit: cscredon/Getty Images

Dogs

You can tell a lot about a dog from their gaze. In a tense dog, you might see more of the whites of their eyes (often referred to as “whale eyes”), and their pupils probably will dilate. On the contrary, “a relaxed dog will often squint, so that his eyes become almond-shaped with no white showing at all,” according to the ASPCA. A dog who wants to show friendship usually won’t make intense eye contact (though some might lovingly gaze at you), but they will watch their human’s eye movements for visual cues. That’s a sign they feel bonded to you and are looking to you for guidance.

Cats

A cat’s eyes also can be extremely revealing about their mood. “When she is content, her pupils will be normal size (not dilated) and her eyes will be open or perhaps slightly closed, if she is especially relaxed,” according to VetStreet. An excited or aggressive cat’s pupils might either constrict or dilate, and their eyes will appear more tense overall. If a cat is staring at you with their normal eyes, it’s typically not a sign of dominance like it can be in dogs. It usually just means they’re interested in what you’re doing. And when your cat wants to say, “I love you,” they’ll hold eye contact with you for a moment before slowly blinking and/or nonchalantly looking away. This is a true sign of affection and trust coming from your feline friend.

Ears

Dogs

Even though dog ears come in all shapes and sizes, they still speak the same language. “Just look at the direction of the base of the ear,” the ASPCA says. When a dog is relaxed and loving your company, their ears will usually be “slightly back or out to the sides.” But don’t confuse that with their ears flattened back, which can mean fear or submission. And an alert dog’s ears will point up and forward — a sign of excitement or possibly aggression.

Cats

Cat ears read slightly differently from dogs. When a cat’s ears are pointed up and slightly to the sides, those are their “smile ears,” according to PetMD. They show the cat is happy and content. Ears pricked forward signal interest or alertness. And ears that are constantly swiveling and twitching can show attention, stress or irritation. Plus, if their ears are completely flattened back or held low and out to the sides, that cat probably isn’t feeling any love. It usually means they’re pretty upset or ready to fight.

Mouth

corgi smiling with content dog body languageCredit: Tatomm/Getty Images

Dogs

Most people are pretty familiar with dog body language that comes from their mouths. For instance, dogs notoriously wrinkle their muzzles and lift their lips to display teeth when they feel threatened. But a dog who’s relaxed around you might have their mouths open and be slightly panting with no signs of tension, according to the ASPCA. (Panting also can indicate stress, so it’s critical to read all of their body language.) Plus, teeth aren’t always paired with a negative emotion. A happy, loving dog might flash you a “submissive grin” — i.e., a smile. “He usually shows a lowered head, wagging tail, flattened ears, a soft body posture and soft, squinty eyes along with those teeth,” the ASPCA says.

Cats

Cat body language around the mouth might be a little more subtle than a dog’s. Some cats lick their lips — or use their mouths to groom excessively — if they’re extremely nervous, according to VetStreet. But to really hone in on their emotions, you might have to look at their whiskers. “When your cat is relaxed, her whiskers are set out from her face, where they are less noticeable,” VetStreet says. “When she is interested in something, her whiskers may move out and forward, becoming more stiff. When she is frightened, she may hold her whiskers flat against her face.” So if your cat is hanging around you with a closed mouth and relaxed whiskers, odds are they’re loving your company.

Tail

A person pets a black cat who is showing happy body language.Credit: npdesignde/Getty Images

Dogs

For those who aren’t well-versed in dog body language, that tail wag might not always mean what you think. “When observing a dog’s tail, there are two things to consider: the position of the base of the tail, and how the tail is moving,” according to the ASPCA. A relaxed, friendly dog typically holds their tail at spine level or slightly below, wagging loosely from side to side. A frightened dog commonly holds their tail very low or tucks it between their legs. And when a dog becomes excited or agitated (or thrilled to see the human they love), their tail might rise above spine level, wagging more rapidly. One study even found that a dog’s tail might wag more toward the right when they see something that provokes a positive emotional response (their loving human) versus toward the left when something makes them nervous.

Cats

Cats also are incredibly expressive with their tails — though not quite in the same way as dogs. “When a cat is content, she will typically hold her tail out loosely behind her,” according to VetStreet. “When she’s happy, she may hold it high, with a slight twitch or curl forward. A slightly moving, twitching, wagging tail is a sign of interest.” But a tail that’s rapidly whipping back and forth usually means a cat is agitated or getting ready to pounce. And a stiff tail with fur bristling out is about as far from love as you can get. It means the cat is terrified and trying to look intimidating.

Voice

Dogs

Dogs communicate with a variety of vocalizations, though some might not always be so obvious. A dog might bark out of excitement, alertness, aggression or even boredom, among other meanings. But it’s actually the more subtle vocals that can express love and comfort. “Low-pitched moans are very common in puppies and are signs of contentment,” according to the American Kennel Club. “Puppies moan when they are in close contact to their littermates, their mother, or their humans. Another sound of contentment is the sigh, usually accompanied by the dog lying down with its head on its forepaws.” So if your dog curls up next to you and sighs or moans, it might just mean they love you like family.

Cats

Cats aren’t always known as the most vocal animals, but they do have a pretty extensive vocabulary. Purring, of course, is a common sign of a happy, relaxed cat — though some cats also might purr when they’re nervous or hurting as a way to comfort themselves, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Cats use “meow” as “an all-purpose word,” HSUS says. It can be a friendly greeting, a demand, a call for attention or even a warning. (Some more obvious warning signs include growling, hissing and spitting.) Still, if your cat meows when they see you and begins purring when you pet them, that’s likely a gesture of love and friendship.

Posture and movement

A woman sits with a black cat and dog.Credit: PeopleImages/Getty Images

Dogs

There are several ways dogs show their love — and other emotions — through posture and movement. First and foremost, a relaxed body is always a good sign that a dog is happy to see you. Most dogs who want your company will actively seek it out — possibly coming toward you with loose, wriggling movements depending on their excitement level. But “a dog who seems stiff, moves slowly, or who keeps moving away may not be interested in social interaction,” the ASPCA says. Dogs also might show their love and trust by choosing to snuggle up next to you or soliciting a belly rub (which shouldn’t be confused with submissive rolling on their backs). And if they come enthusiastically running at the sound of your voice, there’s a good chance they love you — or it’s time for a walk.

Cats

Cats who are comfortable will typically carry themselves in a relaxed manner with their claws retracted. They also might use their paws to “knead” a surface — sometimes you might be that surface — when they’re really happy or content. A cat who approaches you with an arched back and flat fur is happy to see you, according to HSUS. But an arched back with raised fur might mean they’re upset. And if you see a cat lying on their back, it usually doesn’t mean they want a belly rub. When they’re on their back, tense and possibly growling, that’s a sign they’re upset and ready to attack. But if they’re on their back, relaxed and purring, it means they’re very comfortable and trust you. Finally, when a cat softly headbutts or rubs against you, it can be considered a show of love. “What they’re really doing is marking their territory,” HSUS says. So if nothing else, marking you means they think you’re a keeper.

Main image credit: chendongshan/Getty Images

100 comments

Ardelia Amanda
Ardelia Amanda9 days ago

thank you

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hELEN hEARFIELD
hELEN habout a month ago

tyfs

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara2 months ago

Cats will hold the tail high saying 'notice me!'

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara2 months ago

Cats and other animals like to rub against one another to blend scents, saying 'we are all one family' and they do this when they rub against you.

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara2 months ago

The cat marks scent with its paw soles as well as lips and cheeks.

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara2 months ago

Always good to understand body language. But 'often referred to as while eyes' ? By whom? I have never heard that in my life. Why would anyone transpose a whale onto a dog? As for cats' eyes, the purpose of the slit pupil is to protect the eye from a lot of light and the open pupil admits more light.

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Anne M
Anne M2 months ago

No dog,, no problem... - I miss having a dog,, been a long time...

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hELEN hEARFIELD
hELEN h3 months ago

tyfs

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Peggy B
Peggy B4 months ago

Noted

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Rebeca S
Rebeca S4 months ago

Loved it, thank you for sharing!

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