Cats say ‘I love you’ in their own way

The perfect nose to bop. Ed Blake / CONTRIBUTED
The perfect nose to bop. Ed Blake / CONTRIBUTED

Husband Ed, daughter Jordan and I have always said “I love you” to each other when saying goodbye.

When Jordan started fifth grade, verbal affection, especially from parents, became “uncool,” so “I love you” morphed into tapping our nose twice and pointing. But by the time Jordan was a junior in high school, the words were back.

I don’t remember why or precisely when, but about that same time I started to combine the two styles while also extending the sentiment to our furry family members. I would tap Lucy, our mixed breed rescue dog, twice on the nose, point to her and say, “I love you.” And she would respond with a confused, “what are you doing?” type of look.

I was hoping the pooch would catch on, but she didn’t, so I stopped doing it and rubbed her tummy more.

By the time Teddy, our current dog, joined the family, the simple gesture had long been discarded.

We had Teddy for just over four years when our sassy tuxedo cat, Pip, joined the family.

Pip liked to climb and sit on all kinds of stuff, including my legs and lap. On one such occasion, when still a kitten, the feline jumped on my lap and curled up. When seemingly settled, I gently bopped him twice on the nose.

To my utter amazement, he bopped me back. And it wasn’t a fluke. Every time after that first bop, whenever I raised my finger toward his nose, Pip would lift his head so I could reach more easily.

I knew that cats rubbed their heads on people and other animals they perceive are in their family. “Wow,” I thought, “this goofy, adorable kitten gets it. He knows that I love him by returning my nose bops.”

Well, a quick review of research revealed my brilliant deduction wasn’t quite as shiny as I had thought.

According to Nicholas DeMarino at, Pip treated me like he would any cat he felt was part of his cat family. Pip touching my finger and/or touching me with his nose is his friendly greeting, whether for a new cat or seeing me after his afternoon nap. “Nose touching remains cats’ go to friendly greeting for other cats throughout their adult life,” DeMarino writes.

Pip’s nose touch tells him where I’ve been while he’s been napping. I’m guessing he’s looking to see if I’ve been anywhere close to his food bowl.

Adri Sandoval at concurs with DeMarino’s analysis of cat greetings, or “repertoire,” as she describes it. Pip rubbing my face, butting me with his head and turning his head upward to accept my finger taps to his nose are the ways he greets his cat family.

So in the end, Pip’s nose bops are, in catspeak, a form of love. By bopping my finger he lets me know I’m a member of “his” family — a special designation from any cat.

Trouble is, I’m still trying to figure out where I fit in his group. Am I his mom, a good friend, or just the crazy lady that makes him bop her finger for a treat.


1. Holds tail high in the air

2. Ears turn forward

3. Body is tall

SOURCE: language 101 how do

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