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Your Pet, Our Passion.
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Can Cats Laugh and Smile?

6 min read

Cats are the masters of the internet, and it probably very often happens that you come across different photos of them displaying very human-like facial expressions. Grumpy cats, happy cats, sad cats – they’re just like us, you might think. But are their facial expressions really the same as ours - can cats smile, or laugh, or look sad? 

If you’re the proud owner of a feline, you know that there’s more to the way they show their feelings and communicate with you. Even though they might have facial expressions that resemble smiling or laughing, these expressions are not necessarily connected with the way they feel. 

Can cats laugh? 

Although laughter has been shown in some animals, with current scientific knowledge, it seems that cats don't laugh – although they do have their own noises to indicate they are happy. They do have the ability to make facial expressions that look like laughing, but this doesn't mean they are happy. More research is needed to uncover the meanings behind all the facial expressions of cats (including those that resemble human laughter). However, we already know that in other species (for example, in rats) the more they laugh, the more optimistic they are, so maybe in the future we can say the same for other species like cats. 

Even though there are no indications that cats can laugh, it doesn’t mean that they don’t feel or show happiness. In case you're wondering, even though cats can't laugh, they do seem to recognise human laughter and they do seem to know when you're feeling happy, sad, or even sick. For example, if you laugh at them, some might almost look embarrassed and try to hide. If, on the other hand, your cat is mischievous and loves attention, they might seem to try their best to make you laugh by doing things that they know you enjoy. 

Can cats smile? 

Yes, but a cat’s smile will be different from a human smile. While some cats might be able to display a grin, happiness or being content is not necessarily conveyed thorough facial expressions. Your feline friend is most likely to sketch a smile when they’re relaxed and calm, and they have their mouth closed, without showing any teeth. If you also notice them narrowing their eyes and blinking slowly, this might also be associated with showing happiness. 

Both facial expressions and body postures have different meanings depending on the context in which they occur. In other words, they are like polysemous words where the word has one meaning or another depending on the context. Therefore, it's important to mention that this described facial expression of happiness could, depending on the context, indicate that the animal is stressed or in pain.   

It's important to also know that even though your cat might be happiest cat around, they may not show it in a way that humans tend to recognise. So, don’t feel disappointed if they don’t externalise their feelings and seem to act indifferent – they still love you. 

How to know if your cat is happy 

Even though cats cannot laugh, when they’re truly bonding with their owners, they will find different ways to show their affection. Here are a few you might recognise: 

  • Asking for attention 

Soliciting affection from you by pushing against your hand – and when you give it to them, relaxing into you and half closing their eyes in bliss. This might be a time when you think you can spot a feline smile! 

  • Purring 

Purring might be the closest thing that comes to laughing. Keep in mind though that cats also use purring as a way of staying calm in stressful situations and soothing themselves. This is something that can often be seen when you visit your vet. It’s important to pay attention and learn the differences between a happy purr and a stressed one so you can recognise when they may be struggling and try and diffuse the situation to lower their stress levels.  

  • Rubbing against your leg or feet 

This can happen at any time, and it most often occurs when they haven’t seen you for a while. If you’re returning home and your cat goes out of their way to be close to you, this is their way of showing you they’re happy and excited that you’re back. 

  • “Making biscuits” on you 

Also known as kneading, cats do this when they’re happy, relaxed, and content. It often happens when they’re being petted or when they’re settling in for a nap. 

  • Meowing 

The ability and vocal richness of cats is incredible. Meowing is a cat’s way of communicating with you and often this is telling you they’re happy you’re there (or they want something from you!). However, they might also meow for different reasons, for example, if they’re in pain, ill or frightened by something. All cats meow differently depending on breed, individual and situation. Learn your own cat’s meows so you can use them to get a good idea of what they are feeling and what they are trying to tell you.  

What is fascinating is that cats rarely mew to each other and it is a language that cats have largely created to ‘talk’ to their humans. 

  • Cuddling 

If your cat gets close to you and touches you with their paw, that’s also a sign they’re happy. When they’re cuddling next to you, they might even purr to show that they’re content. 

Four ways of making your cat happy 

Contrary to popular belief, cats are simple creatures. Give them enough enrichment, attention, care and love, and they are sure to be happy. In case you’re looking for ideas on how to best spoil your feline friend, here are a few. 

1. Cats like spending time with you and playtime can be a great way of bonding. Give your furry attention and keep them entertained by playing games. A game of fetch or hide-and-seek will not only help with physical and mental stimulation but will also improve your cat’s mood. Enrichment toys like cat trees that have lots of different levels can be a cat’s idea of heaven. 

2. A clean and tidy cat is a happy cat. Although they’re perfectly able to keep themselves clean, if you have introduced grooming when your cat was a kitten, they will surely appreciate a good brushing occasionally to help keep their coats shining. When it comes to feline beauty care however there is nothing like a good pawdicure. Make sure you give them plenty of scratching post opportunities to keep those claws in tip top shape. 

3. Offering your cat their favourite treats is by far the easiest way of making them happy, and any pet for that matter. But remember to only use treats in moderation as too many of them can affect their health and wellbeing. If you have a very playful – or predatory - cat, food dispensing toys can give both treats and enrichment. 

4. Boosting your cat’s happiness can also be achieved by doing something as simple as cuddling – or just letting them use you as a cat bed if cuddling isn’t their thing. Some cats crave company more than contact. This shows care, affection and it’s sure to make them feel cosy and comfortable at the same time. 

Secure bonds are built upon trust. To establish a strong connection, provide the opportunity for them to choose what they want to do in each moment. In other words, don't compel them to engage in activities they don't desire; offer the possibility, but without imposing. 

Want to learn more about a cat’s behaviour and how to make sure they’re feeling happy? Read our guide on Understanding Your Cat’s Body Language next.