I have two cats. Truffles is 15 years old, a geriatric and squeaky-meowing calico. She loves to lick like nobody’s business. I’m not sure that any skin could possibly taste good enough to lick for that long, but she’s a strange bird anyway. She’s also scared of just about everything—especially the outside. She will not go outside even if you carry her. She’ll wiggle and growl and scratch out of your grasp and race back inside.
And then there’s Finn. His full name is Sir Finnegan the Knight Cat. He’s supposed to be a Knight at least, but I usually call him Sir Finnegan the Jerk Cat instead. He’s two and half years old. He’s a white cat with grey tabby spots on his face and back and a striped tail that makes him look like a raccoon. He’s much bigger than Truffles. He’s long and athletic with a loping stride, and he very rarely walks anywhere. (In contrast, while Truffles is a little pudgy in her old age, she’s very petite and light-boned.)
Finn is my favorite though. He has the biggest personality of any cat I’ve ever encountered. He’s a jerk, yes. But he’s also hilarious. The faces he makes. The silly things he does. The innocence he tries to portray. And because he has such a big personality—it’s almost like a person, really—I always wonder to myself, “Is my cat happy with his life?”
You see, my cats have a relatively limited life. They live primarily in my family’s unfinished basement. They have a laundry basket that holds a kitty bed for them to snuggle in, but not much in the way of toys or amusement activities. We let them upstairs when we’re home and not eating (because Finn can’t be trusted around food.) There they have a huge basket full of every cat toy imaginable which Finn particularly likes to turn over and strew everything around the house like a two year old who doesn’t yet understand the concept of putting away one’s toys.
But would he be happier somewhere else? With someone else? Does he even like me or is tolerating me just a requirement of getting feed that he’s resigned himself to? Can cats even really be happy? I know pets can be stressed and even depressed if their owner or another pet in the household passes away, but happiness for a cat seems like a really hard emotion to decipher. Dogs tell you if they’re happy. It’s pretty obvious if a dog is happy or not. But a cat kind of looks like this most of the time:
I imagine cats operate under an umbrella of “contentment” most of the time. Just finished breakfast and lying in a sun patch on the bed? Super content. Hear the can opener and run to the kitchen for food only to discover that it was just a can of corn. Not very content. Seeing you come home from work. Indifferently content.
Cats are weird. Being a cat lady is weird. When I look at Finn and he gives me that “indifferently content” look, I just think “Love me! Why won’t you love me more! I need to know! You need to show me you love me somehow. Just a little sign!” And then I realize how ridiculous I’m being. He’s a cat. He doesn’t even really care all that much. If I went missing for a year, but he still got fed every day, he probably wouldn’t even really notice, would he? I’d come back all world-weary and he’d just lead me to his dinner bowl and meow like “Oh good. You’re back. I need dinner now.”
But he can be sweet too. It will be during the most unexpected moments that he’ll cuddle up with me while I’m taking a nap or roll around on my bed like a little cuteness overload monster when I’m trying to get dressed for work. That’s when I think, “He loves me! He’s the best, cutest kitty in the whole, wide world! He’s got to be happy if he’s doing this!” And then a few minutes later he’ll have chewed through a bag of rice and strewn it around the house or peed off the side of the cat box and I’ll be yelling about how much of a scoundrel he is. I guess there isn’t really a happy medium.
So I guess my conclusion is that you can’t really tell if your cat is happy. Basically if you have a cat, you’re probably going to be a bit of a weird person, and you’re going to want to know the answer to weird questions like “Is my cat happy?” If you had a dog, easy! You’d know in an instant. But since you have a cat, you’re going to have to resign yourself to not knowing anything about your cat’s contentment level and just go with the flow. Unless he’s clawing and growling at you, you should probably just accept your cat’s generally indifferent mood as happiness if it makes you feel better. Happiness is overrated for cat people anyway. So says Grumpy Cat, I’m sure.