How to Know If Your Cat Is Happy

September is Happy Cat Month. It’s a special celebration created by—who else?—the CATalyst Council. The organization’s purpose is to help spread education and awareness about the health, welfare, and importance of our companion cats.

Is your cat happy? We talked to an expert, as well as several cat-loving humans, about how to know if cats are happy and what makes cats happy.

Body Language

In general, we know that cats are happy when they show a relaxed body posture—sprawled on their back, for instance. Their eyes are a normal shape and the pupils aren’t dilated. Ears are alert, not laid back or to the side.

“If they’re walking toward you, their tail is straight up like a flagpole,” says Debbie Horwitz, DVM, a veterinarian who specializes in pet behavior. “Those are generally happy kitties.”

What Cats Like

Every cat is different, so what makes him or her happy can vary. Some cats like to sit on your lap, while others snuggle next to you. Playful cats enjoy engaging in interactive games, such as batting at a fishing pole toy or chasing a ball that you toss down the hall. “I think they like us being around,” Dr. Horwitz says.

Cat lovers agree. Their cats all have different activities that they enjoy and different ways of expressing their happiness.

Moo, a three-year-old Exotic Shorthair adopted by Dee Dee Drake, is a fan of being talked to. “She loves conversation,” says Drake, executive director of Calaveras Humane Society in California.

Basil, a therapy cat and Bissell vacuum model in Oregon who owns Tina Parkhurst, loves breakfast and making visits to nursing homes and hospitals. Making people happy is what makes this orange-and-white tabby happy.

Feeding time is important to her cat Lucy, along with a lap to sit on and a sunny window seat, says Katherine Williams of Albuquerque. Williams’ other cat, Lilu, enjoys chasing a feather, having a perch where she can observe birds, and chilling in a box that is just the right size for her.

A box might seem boring to us, but to a cat it’s something new and different. “A lot of cats like novelty,” Dr. Horwitz says. “Being inside something different makes them happy. Climbing and exploring makes them happy.”

If you’re not sure what makes your cat happy, simply watch and learn. You might be surprised to find out what she loves.

Kitty Quality Time

To celebrate Happy Cat Month, the CATalyst Council suggests spending some quality time with your feline. Here are some suggestions:

Fill a food-dispensing toy with part of her daily food allotment and show her how to use it. Letting a cat “hunt” for some food is a good way to exercise his brain and body.

Teach him some tricks. Contrary to popular opinion, cats enjoy the challenge of learning. Sit, high five, come, and jumping through a hoop are all fun tricks to teach cats.

Establish at least one predictable playtime daily. Just a couple of minutes at the same time each day will have your cat looking forward to your special time together.

“Every cat is a little bit different,” Dr. Horwitz says. “I have two kittens who are litter mates, and it’s amusing to see how different they are in their approach to novelty, what they like, how much attention they want, how much petting they want. I don’t think there are hard and fast rules for making cats happy.”

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Kim Campbell Thornton is content manager for Fear Free Pets and is a Level 3 Fear Free Certified Professional. She has been writing about dogs, cats, wildlife and marine life since 1985 and is a recipient of multiple awards from the Cat Writers Association, Dog Writers Association of America, and American Society of Journalists and Authors. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s competing in nose work trials with Harper, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.