In my considered view, the domestic cat’s slow blink is not a sign of love for us. It is far more subtle than that. I would describe it more as a recognition by our feline friends as an acceptance of the friendly relationship that we have with them. It is, therefore, an indirect sign of friendship. It’s a bit like a person saying: “Yes, we do have a good relationship, which I appreciate”. Cat slow blink is more about reciprocal friendship than intense mutual love.
That’s a more realistic assessment. It’s a bit like the feline purr being described as a sign of contentment and nothing else. That, also, is untrue. It means a lot more than that and it has a variable meaning depending upon the context.
If we use human concepts and attitudes when analysing cat behaviour, we have to be careful because we can tend to assume that cats have the same feelings as us and therefore think in the same way as us. There is no doubt that domestic cats have feelings and emotions but we should exercise caution when we use the very elastic word “love” in the context of feline behaviour.
Cats don’t understand the meaning of love
If we could ask a cat whether they understood the meaning of the word “love” I don’t believe that you would receive a positive response. Cats are more into supportive friendships and associations rather than that intense emotional connection that humans experience when they fall in love with somebody.
Of course, I am speculating but I don’t believe that domestic cats experience love as humans do. It is said that love is painful because it is too obsessive and too intrusive. It is both beautiful and painful. This degree of emotional intensity, I believe, is the domain of humans. I don’t think cats are intelligent enough to reach those sorts of heights of mutual affection.
People may well disagree with me on that, which I would fully accept. We don’t know, is the truth of the matter. But when scientists talk about affection between cats, they refer to the cats as “associates”. That’s scientific language to mean friends. We see a lot of this and there is a chemistry between certain cats just as there is between people.
My cat slow blinks at me when I talk warmly to him. There may even be a certain amount of confusion in a cat when they slow blink. What I mean is that the slow blink may sometimes be a sign of uncertainty in a cat as to what their human companion means or wants. It’s a bit like the displacement activity of a cat when they lick their noses. This, too, is a sign of uncertainty.
I don’t know of any scientific study on the feline slow blink! It is not the kind of thing that interests scientists although it probably should. I therefore have to think about it myself from scratch.
Projecting human thoughts
Perhaps the reason why a lot of people think that the cat slow blink is a statement of love towards their human companion is because it happens when there is an intimate communication between human and cat, such as I have just stated i.e. when talking warmly to your cat. This will encourage people to project their thoughts onto their cat. To clarify: they love their cat and they want their cat to love them. Their cat slow blinks and they interpret that as their cat loving them. That’s how I think it happens.
There is no doubt that the slow blink is a gentle, positive sign that a cat is feeling emotionally warm but I would doubt that it is a sign of love for their human. And there may be an element of slight uncertainty as to what the human means or is trying to communicate to them.
Preventing an intimidating stare
Along the same lines it is said that the slow blink prevents an intimidating stare. It this is true is a sort of negative confirmation of my assessment.