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Is my cat happy? Learn how to read the signs.

When we’re feeling happy, a cheery smile is usually enough to let others know, but our moggy companions don’t communicate their emotions in the same way.

Although it can sometimes look like our cats are smiling at us, with the sides of their mouths upturned (as you can see from the fantastic readers' photos on this page!), experts are undecided as to whether this is actually a sign of happiness.

black and white cat smiling

Hyde giving his best smile 


Cats have evolved from a solitary species and so they have less need to communicate in close contact using complex facial expressions like we do. As a result they actually have fewer facial muscles than social species such as humans or dogs.

Instead, they have a range of other body language cues that let us know when they’re feeling content. Here are some of the main cat equivalents of a smile to look out for.

Bengal cat smiling

Phoenix having a smiley snooze

Slow blinking

If your cat looks at you and slowly closes and opens their eyes, this shows that they are feeling relaxed and happy in your presence. If you want to let them know you’re happy too, try slow blinking back.


Social roll 

A cat’s tummy is a very vulnerable area, so if they lie on their back and show it to you, it means they trust you enough not to give them a belly rub. They often use this as a way of saying a happy hello so a simple fuss on the head will be a welcome response.

tabby cat smiling

Fidget's fantastic grin

Hop up 

Cats that love a fuss may hop up on their back legs to meet your hand. This is a very warm welcome and may even be accompanied by a friendly chirrup sound, which is their way of saying hi.


Tail up 

The position of a cat’s tail will usually give away a lot about their mood. If they approach you with their tail up in the air and a slight curve at the tip, this shows that they’re happy to see you.

black cat smiling in the sun

Penny smiling in the sunshine

Head butt/cheek rub 

If your cats starts rubbing their head or cheek on you, they’re actually leaving behind their own unique scent via glands on their skin. Scent is an important method of communication for cats and this behaviour can leave a message for the cat to let them know that it’s a calm, safe place and help you smell more like part of their social group.


Purring and kneading 

The gentle rumble of a cat’s purr usually signals that they are feeling relaxed and happy, and may also be accompanied by kneading. Although having their claws digging into your lap may not feel very relaxing for you, it is actually a sign of cat contentment left over from kittenhood.

To find out more about cat body language, watch our video below and take a look at our other cat behaviour guides on YouTube.

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