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What Does It Mean When Your Cat Licks You?

What Does It Mean When Your Cat Licks You?

By Kathy Blumenstock, Animal Planet

Dogs may lick our faces — remember Lucy from “Peanuts” exclaiming, “Aaack, dog germs!” after a kiss from exuberant beagle Snoopy? — but cats are more refined in their public displays of affection. When your cat licks you, usually after a mock-bite or firm grab with his paws, she’s doing what her mother did during the early weeks of her life: providing a good cleaning that also speaks of caring and belonging. You’ve seen cats licking each other, helping in the grooming ritual, especially around the hard-to-reach ears and top of the head. But why is Kitty inspired to lick your arm or toes — or even your hair? Here’s what we’ve discovered.

Territorial Rights

Being licked is the first tactile experience your cat remembers — that washcloth feeling of her mama cat’s tongue thoroughly rubbing her coat, ears and every part of her little body. A mother cat initially washes her babies to remove the afterbirth fluids and to stimulate the kittens’ breathing. She’ll also clean them whenever they return to the nest, firmly re-establishing her scent on them. For cats both male and female, licking is a social exchange as well as a rite of cleanliness. Cats groom each other to remove debris and share scents, just as cats scratch in a favorite place where the scent glands of their paw pads will mark the territory as their own. When your cat licks you, she’s cleaning you up and claiming you — just as she would for a feline friend or litter mate.

What Licking Feels Like to a Cat

Some experts believe that orphaned kittens or those weaned too early from their mothers and litter mates develop oral behaviors such as suckling and licking, and exhibit these babyish habits into adulthood. But as with so much about cats, that’s a generalization. The favorite hobby of Kelsey, a 6-year-old tabby who shares a household with her mother cat, is washing people — and Kelsey’s mother still scrubs her every day. Licking is a comforting, soothing sensation to cats, and feels like the gentle stroking of your hands petting them. If a cat licks you, she’s returning that favor: She figures, who wouldn’t enjoy being petted and assured of affection?

Excessive Licking

If an older cat who’s never shown such affection suddenly begins licking you or suckling at your clothing, pay close attention to this change in behavior. Cats that start vigorously licking themselves may be seeking relief from a skin irritation, fleas, an insect bite or an infection. Help soothe Kitty by examining her skin and fur for problems, and ask your vet to recommend the right treatment.

If your cat’s licking is not linked to illness and you simply cannot tolerate the ticklish feeling of her tongue, do not punish her for this normal behavior. Try gently discouraging your cat by moving away from her when she starts licking. Spritz your arms or hand with lemon juice, an immediate feline turn-off. Offer her a stuffed terrycloth toy to lavish her affection on instead, or just turn the tables and pet her lavishly, assuring her that you love her even if you don’t like the licking.

Related:
10 Fantastic Cat Facts
Study: How Cats Drink
Why Do Cats Knead?

Read more: Behavior & Communication, Cats, Pets,

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407 comments

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4:59PM PDT on Sep 19, 2014

I feel blessed...my cat wakes me every morning with a kiss and cuddle!

10:01PM PDT on Sep 18, 2014

thanx for the post

8:41AM PDT on Sep 17, 2014

I can't imagine not being able to tolerate a little cat kiss! It's such a gift.

8:06PM PDT on Sep 16, 2014

I get kitty kisses all the time!

4:36AM PDT on Sep 12, 2014

what messes me up... is their tongue texture! :-p

9:52PM PDT on Sep 6, 2014

My Tony cat has always done this.
Chulita usually does a little "love
bite", but lately has started following
that with a lick or two.

11:05AM PDT on Sep 4, 2014

Thanks for the article...

5:27AM PDT on Sep 1, 2014

thanks for the great article

7:40AM PDT on Aug 31, 2014

Great article! Cat kisses. :D

7:08AM PDT on Aug 30, 2014

noted

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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