With cats, the key to communicating love is respect. This means:
- not forcing them to cuddle when they’re not in the mood
- letting them go when they’ve had enough cuddles
- not shouting at or hitting them when they do something you don’t like (cats do NOT respond well to punishment like this)
- keeping their food, water, and litter bowls pristine
- not making them wear strange clothes and/or accessories
- not giving them strange haircuts (I know it sounds weird, but cat self-esteem is more sensitive than you think. They can withdraw, refuse food and human contact, or even go into depression if they hate the way you’ve made them look)
Once we’ve taken care of that checklist, we can go on to the more nuanced ways of expressing love.
- Touch: Cats are like people. Some people love having their heads patted, others hate it. Some people love foot rubs, others have ticklish feet. Likewise, every single cat has specific places it likes and dislikes having touched. Some generally safe places are the top of the head, underneath the chin, and the scruff of the neck.
- Attention/time: Do not leave your cat alone for too long. Some cats get separation anxiety - I have friends whose cats poop and pee around the house when their owners leave for holiday. This isn’t bad behavior to be punished - it is a sign of distress at perceived abandonment.
- Volume: Keep your voice soft. Cats have very sensitive ears, and loud/angry voices can stress and scare them.
Above all, listen and watch. Cats are nonverbal communicators. Do not rely on meowing/hissing/purring as the sole indicator of your cat’s mood, as vocalizations are equivalent to shouting for cats (a last resort). Cats speak a lot with their eyes, ears, whiskers, tail…body language, in general.
I would not recommend bribing your cat with food. Besides the obvious risk of obesity, research suggests that cats actually prefer your company to kitty treats.