How do I know my cat is happy?
The signs that your cat is happy will be subtle. It is easier to ask yourself whether you are happy and whether you have created an environment for your cat which will make her happy. I feel that the question should be redirected towards the person.
Yes, it can be difficult to know whether your cat is happy. This is because they’re not very good it showing their feelings. And we don’t know a lot about the extent of the feelings that domestic cats experience. We have to be careful not to project human emotions onto our cat. They experience things in a different way. And I don’t believe that domestic cats experience the same levels of happiness and unhappiness that humans experience. They are more even in their emotions.
Jackson Galaxy, in his book Total Cat Mojo does not list the word “happy” in the index. This is significant.
Contentment versus happiness
I think the better words are “contented” and “discontented” rather than “happy” and “unhappy”. In my view, domestic cats don’t seek happiness like humans do. They don’t register that particular emotion as a goal in life and don’t feel it and remark upon it to themselves consciously. Domestic cats accept what happens around them and get on with life.
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I think the word “contented” is a more subtle version of happiness which is why I prefer it in this instance. If you have created an environment for your cat which in all aspects is near as idyllic as you can get it in the interest of your cat’s welfare then you can presume that your cat is contented. You can tell by your cat’s general demeanour and interactions with you.
You could almost argue that if you are contented in your relationship with your cat and perhaps in your life generally then your cat will respond in kind. The happiness and well-being of a person is often reflected in the contentedness or discontentedness of their cat. If the home is pleasant and in harmony your cat will feel it and respond accordingly.
However, I know that people want specific signs which tell them that their cat is happy. A happy cat will eat well (i.e. have a healthy appetite), be interactive with their cat guardian, be willing to play and be generally active. This will include plenty of vocalisations such as requests for food and vocal interactions. Domestic cats like to follow their “owners” around the home if they have a close connection with them. If they are lap cats (not all cats are) they will like to sleep and snuggle down on their owner’s lap and join them in bed, perhaps even under the covers. These are all signs of a close connection between cat and human. When the connection is close, the relationship is good and when the relationship is good the parties are happy.
A cat who has “Mojo” is a contented cat. You don’t really need signs that your cat is “happy”. You need to look to yourself as to whether you are happy and have created an excellent environment for your cat companion. Jackson Galaxy, the well-known cat behaviourist, uses the made-up word “catification” to describe a home which is environmentally rich and warm from a domestic cat’s perspective. And he describes a contented cat as one who can express his natural desires. In short, a cat who has Mojo.
The most important component of ‘Cat Mojo’ is a cat’s ownership of their territory, Jackson Galaxy says. He calls them “raw cat territorial instincts”. There has to be compromise in providing your cat with a suitable home. Cats live in a vertical world as well as a horizontal one. They rely on scent to reassure themselves about their environment. There will be a “base camp” in the home which is the core environment that your cat likes best and uses the most. I would recommend that you buy Jackson’s book “Total Cat Mojo”. It is a complicated book which you have to read and reread but it gets to the heart of how to make your cat happy.
P.S. The dictionaries don’t define the word “Mojo” properly in this context. They refer to the word as a magic charm or spell. It is not in this context. It means that a cat is fully able to express his natural feline behaviours because his environment allows it or draws out these traits.
I admit that feline facial expressions are very subtle. But you can read cat expressions when you combine them with body language and behaviour. For example, we know that cats show their pain through facial expressions. There are subtle changes. So, in terms of observing contentedness in your cat through their appearance, it is difficult but there are subtle signs which you read in conjunction with the environment that you have created for her. You should know, actually, whether your cat is very likely to be content because of the efforts that you have made to meet her requirements. And this requires a knowledge of what a cat demands to meet their requirements. There are lots of pages on this website about that (‘enriched environment’). And I have mentioned it above. There are some links to posts about that below, by the way.
Here is a photo of an unhappy cat because they are being held incorrectly and he wants to be released:
You can read about this cat and see a video by clicking on this link.
A lot has been written about a cat’s tail position. The nearest we have to a cat demonstrating contentedness in their tail position is the “tail-up” friendly greeting. When your cat comes up to you with their tail up as they should, they are in a friendly mood. If they are friendly towards you, the relationship is good and if the relationship is good your cat is going to be content provided the environment is suitable for a domestic cat.
RELATED: Does a cat’s tail have a mind of its own?
Some posts about the environment
Magical domestic cat wonderland where artificial intelligence makes them happier
14 facts about the duration of stay at shelters by rescue cats
How to get a cat used to his travel carrier (and more)
Cat ‘training is logical’ – informal and formal training