The human English language has just one word to describe the different types of love. The ancient Greeks were a bit smarter in this respect; they used different words to describe the love for a spouse, a sibling, a parent or a friend.
You have to wonder which word they used to describe the love between pets and people. Humans know how they feel towards their pets, but it is a little harder for us to convince them that we experience the same emotions toward toward them. Is it really love, or is the bond simply a mixture of instinct, dependence and social role?
In short, do we pets really "love" humans, as they understand it? In a word, the answer is yes, according to clinical evidence. Food does play a large role in feelings of affection between pet and caretaker. But dog does not live by biscuit alone – and neither does a cat's affection depend solely on treats. (Although treats are very nice.) The mere presence and/or touch of a preferred person has been shown to reduce our heart rates – a sign of bonding. (The same is true with horses.)
We Cats are said to be independent, aloof, and not in need of company except on our terms. This is true only of some cats; certainly not all. Cats raised by people from an early age either think they are almost human, or that the human is almost a cat.
In fact, throughout a cat-person bond, the two may switch roles without realizing it. On occasion, a cat will bring home a dead or half-dead animal as a token of her love and respect (a touching, if gruesome by human standards, method of confirming the bond).
Bringing home "love offerings" of this type is a sign of attachment and belonging. There are others that require less clean up. When the bond is strong, a cat will:
Tend to follow his or her human around. She may not follow immediately, but after a moment or two she might casually saunter into the room where they're sitting (as if she's trying to play the whole thing down). The cat may jump in their human's lap or may just find a chair nearby. Either way, she prefers to spend time with her human.
(I do this all the time, but I'm probably not subtle, as I will blast by my bean on the way to bedroom and be all ready to be petted and combed and snuggled with during our reading time together!)
Some cats may become slightly depressed when their humans leave, and will greet them enthusiastically upon their return. She may learn to recognize the sound of the car pulling up and run to the door, to wait for the human's presence.
If I am outside, I will go and greet the car when it pulls up. If I am inside, I am almost always waiting by the door. I do not really become depressed when my bean go day hunting, but if she is out extra-long for some reason, I become concerned. And I always get mad when baseball season start, because she leave me alone! Supposedly cats do not get jealous in the same way that human do, but I do! Just like I do not like to see her fussing over that tabby intruder. She is my bean. He need to go find his own bean!
Some Cats will send subtle signals of affection to their humans throughout the day. These often take the form of classic "cat kisses" – staring at their human adoringly, then squinting or slowly closing our eyes. I do not do this, but sometimes my bean sends cat kisses to me! I love when she do that!
Then there are the not-so-subtle signals, such as rubbing our head upon our human, to mark them with our scent, and of course, purring.
Lying on our back, with our stomach exposed is a sign of trust. Because we are now in a vulnerable position we are showing that we trust the human never to hurt us. Many humans mistakenly think this is a request for a belly rub. It usually isn't. Although I can be a really belly rub fanatic some days!
This is the way we express our affection at its most intense. We can't hold hands, and we're not given to jumping up and kissing you the way dogs do. But there's no difficulty to describe this sort of relationship as love.
Do you have any special behavior(s) that you use to show your human how much you love them? Please leave a message in my comment box and let me know!