There are few things more delightful than cute cats and fluffy kittens. Whether they’re racing around the room in a bout of zoomies or purring in our laps, cats provide unlimited entertainment. Even when they’re knocking glasses off the table or sitting on our laptops while we try to get work done, they’re still pretty darn charming…and we can’t help but love them.
While we know cats are adorable (and the millions of cat videos that proliferate on social media certainly confirm this!), we wonder what, exactly, makes them this way? The cuteness of cats actually triggers responses in our brains that positively impact us on an instinctive, psychological level — and we spoke to experts to explain just how our furry feline friends can effect our mood and wellbeing. Read on to learn more — and see some bliss-boosting pictures of adorable cats, of course.
We are hardwired to find cats’ faces cute
We know…you’re probably thinking that the cuteness is self-evident — even if you’re not a “cat person” it’s hard to deny the appeal of a fuzzy kitten. That’s because there are scientifically-proven reasons behind why we find cats as adorable as we do. A study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that faces of cats have a similar emotional effect on us as the faces of babies, which triggers the brain to produce more oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone.”
Released into our brains under the right circumstances, oxytocin has the power to regulate our emotional responses in a way that makes us happier, more trusting and more open to others. Thanks to oxytocin, we get a toasty, tranquil feeling that displaces anxiety and worry.
What exactly about cat’s faces triggers our bodies to release oxytocin? Their infant-like features say scientists. Known as “social releasers,” childlike features — which include a big head with a round face, a large forehead, large eyes and a small nose and mouth — engage our lovey-dovey, protective instincts. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “fur baby.”
For a treasure trove of cuteness and an accompanying rush of oxytocin, click through 7 Flat Face Cat Breeds That Are (Almost) Too Cute to Handle.
Cute cat behaviors also draw us in
Cats don’t just look cute, their behaviors are also major contributors to the the way they make us feel. “Cats are known for rubbing around their owner’s ankles at feeding time, but many cats will head butt their owners just about anywhere,” says Susan Nilson, a cat and dog training and behavior expert and founder of The Cat and Dog House.
These head butts have special meaning. As Nilson explains, “Cats have scent glands all over their bodies, including the forehead, chin and cheeks, and when they butt heads with you, it’s a way of claiming you as their own and marking you with their scent. It’s a sign of affection, trust and bonding.” Humans also subconsciously pick up on this affectionate gesture and feel a stronger bond with their cat.
Other cute cat behaviors act as reminders of kittenhood. Says Nilson, “Adult cats often knead with their paws, as if they are kneading dough, when they’re feeling happy and content. It’s a throwback behavior to when they were kittens and would knead on their mother’s stomach to stimulate milk flow and feel good while they were feeding.” This behavior, adds Nilson, also sparks our instinctive protective and nurturing instincts.
Cats also often get into the beloved “loaf” position, also known as “loafing” with paws and tail neatly tucked underneath their fuzzy little bodies, when they’re feeling relaxed, which causes them to look round and baby-like. Want to give your cat a fun place to lounge and loaf? Read about the best catios.
Wondering about other quirky cat behaviors? Learn why they lift their butts in the air and why they bite (and how to stop them from doing that!).
Cats know exactly how to communicate with us
Cats are simultaneously cute and smart. Any cat parent will tell you that their pet is a pro at getting whatever they want, whenever they want it. “Cats rarely communicate with each other by meowing, yet they use meowing as one of their primary ways to communicate with humans,” says Nilson.
Cats have been living alongside humans for thousands of years, and “Over time, they realized that humans tend to respond to their meows, which, arguably, sound similar to a baby’s cry,” she adds. The combination of a baby-like face and a baby-like meow works wonders when it comes to capturing our love and attention.
(Click through to read more about the history of how cats came into our lives)
Cuddling cute cats boosts our health and well-being
Ever had a bad day and felt your mood instantly lift as soon as you pet your cat? That’s just one more of their cuteness superpowers! Wendy Diamond, Chief Pet Officer of Animal Fair Media and author of How to Understand Women Through Their Cats explains, “Interacting with cute cats is a delightful symphony for our well-being — petting a cat can release the feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine, which helps ease stress and boost joy.” There have even been studies showing that petting cats may lower blood pressure and reduce stress hormone levels.
Even more fascinating is that the sound of a cat’s purr is not only calming, and it may also have restorative properties. That’s right — the meditative vibe you get from hearing its little motor run can help heal us. Research has shown that purrs fall within a frequency associated with tissue regeneration. Pretty amazing, right?
Considering all the fun facts about how simultaneously powerful, mysterious and cute cats can be, we can’t wait to have a little cuddle time.