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Is Your Cat Smiling? Let’s Decode Your Kitty’s Cheeky Grin

Is Your Cat Smiling? Let’s Decode Your Kitty’s Cheeky Grin

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Understanding your cat’s emotions might be a bit trickier than you’d think. For most of the time, our feline friends seem genuinely annoyed with us, making it challenging to determine if they’re truly happy.

Dog lovers certainly have it easier. It’s a breeze to figure out if dogs are happy or not. You know, with their wagging tails, big round cheerful eyes, and their generally excited and all-over-the-place demeanor. They even appear to be wearing a smile!

But our feline friends are a lot more enigmatic. One moment they’re sweet and cuddly, and the next they’re nibbling our fingers and scratching our furniture. No wonder many cat parents wonder if their furballs ever crack a smile. 

So, do cats even smile? Or is that just a misconception? Let’s delve into the mystery of the elusive feline grin together!

Do Cats Smile Like Humans Do?

happy woman with cat

When pondering whether your beloved furball can sport a grin, keep this in mind: Yes, cats do smile, but it’s not quite the way you might think. 

While we humans flash our pearly whites in a wide grin, our feline companions express their contentment differently.

According to Dr. Marci Koski, a feline behavior and training consultant, cats actually smile with their eyes. 

When a kitty is happy, their eyes appear slightly squinted, almost as if they’re about to shut completely. This is often referred to as the “slow blink” or the “cat kiss” and it’s an obvious sign that a feline is happy and at ease.

cute cat with one eye closed

We humans are known for our expressive faces, using various muscles to convey emotions like happiness, anger, disgust, excitement, and more. However, as per Marci, cats don’t have the same range of facial expressions.

In a conversation with the USA Today, she said:

“They (cats) can move their muscles in their face, but the results are a lot more subtle than what we see in humans and dogs. If you look closely in a stressed cat or a cat who’s in pain, you might see the furrowing of the brow or the whiskers can be held in certain positions.”

So, as a proud cat parent, while you might get a particular expression from your precious ball of fur, remember that when it comes to smiling, you should only focus on the eyes.  If Scarface is to be believed, the eyes never lie.

Should You Smile Back At Your Kitty?

child laying with cat

Absolutely! You should definitely return a smile to your cat.

However, keep in mind that your version of a smile might not align with your furball’s, especially if she’s a rather timid or insecure kitty. 

Instead of just showing her your teeth, try this nifty trick: Offer a gentle smile and exchange slow blinks with your cat. 

This gesture might encourage her to come cuddle with you, which is something I’m pretty sure you won’t mind.

What Are Some Common Feline Expressions That Are Often Mistaken For A Smile?

cat with funny looks

Sure, your fluff is nothing short of adorable, but you should know that she’s much more than just a pretty face. Her little boopable nose, mesmerizing eyes, and cute pink tongue can unravel the mystery of her mood in no time.

Here are three common feline facial expressions you might have noticed before – and mistook for a smile.

1. Resting Smile Face

cute ginger cat

This amusing term was coined for the purpose of describing a standard feline expression. 

Most cats, when they’re at rest, appear as though they’re sporting a smile. This is because the corners of their mouths appear to be turned upwards, which creates the impression of a grin. 

Of course, there are exceptions, with some felines naturally wearing a very grumpy expression

2. Teeth Baring

cat with teeth out

You might have mistakenly interpreted this facial expression as a broad, open-mouthed smile. After all, that’s how humans often express their joy, right? 

Well, when your furball shows her teeth like this, she’s definitely not trying to convey laughter. Instead, it’s more of a warning sign to back off. 

Cats typically bare their teeth when they feel threatened or need to defend themselves. 

3. Flehmen Response

happy gray cat

Many mammals, including our feline friends, have special scent receptors on the roof of their mouths. 

To enhance their ability to smell, they tend to open their mouths, which allows better airflow to their vomeronasal organ (VNO), also known as Jacobson’s organ.

Located at the base of the nasal cavity, the VNO  is in charge of processing pheromones and hormones released by other animals.

By opening their mouths, cats gain better access to information carried through those scents. This strange but voluntary behavior is often referred to as the Flehmen Response – and yes, it’s commonly mistaken for a smile!

However, it’s hands down my favorite feline grimace! Whenever my cats make this expression, it looks like they’ve smelled something rather pungent, and it’s always amusing.

How To Tell If Your Kitty Is Genuinely Happy?

adult gray cat

Since the above-mentioned facial expressions aren’t necessarily indicators of happiness, how could you ever be sure your kitty is genuinely content? 

Well, if you consistently make an effort to keep your cat healthy and happy, you likely have nothing to worry about.

However, if you need some reassurance, here are four telltale signs of feline happiness you should pay attention to!

1. She’s Purring

human petting gray cat

This one’s a no-brainer! Purring is widely recognized as a sign of happiness and comfort in cats. 

A kitty who’s being pampered by her beloved owner or has just enjoyed a tasty meal may purr to convey joy and contentment.

In rare cases, cats might purr when they’re frightened or unwell. However, there’s no need to worry; because of their body language, it’s pretty easy to distinguish a happy purr from an anxious one. 

2. She’s Making Biscuits

cute domestic cat

Kneading, or making biscuits, is another unmistakable sign of feline happiness that traces its origins back to kittenhood. 

As a kitten, your adorable furball kneaded her mother to stimulate milk production. Now, as an adult, she kneads to express relaxation and comfort. It’s also a fantastic way for her to stretch her muscles and prepare for a nap. 

In short, it’s a clear indicator she’s feeling good.

3. She’s Perched On A High Spot

cat sitting on kitchen table

It’s common knowledge that our feline friends adore elevated vantage points, from which they can observe everything around them. 

So, if your furball is perched atop her favorite cat tree, a shelf, or a kitchen counter, she’s certainly feeling happy and at ease. 

A sad or frightened cat, on the other hand, would usually seek refuge in hiding spots.

4. Your Kitty Headbutts You

owner and cat

Lastly, if your kitty loves to occasionally headbutt you, you can be certain she’s a happy fluff. 

That’s her way of marking her territory, and letting you know that she genuinely likes you and considers you her friend. How adorable is that?

Final thoughts

owner petting white cat

While our feline friends may not show facial expressions the same way we do, they do have their unique version of a smile.

So, when you’re worried your kitty is unhappy because she’s not cracking a smile like you do, remember to gaze into her eyes. 

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then your kitty’s captivating emeralds are the most enchanting windows you’ll ever peer into. Believe me!

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