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Does your cat lick you? Being licked by your cat is a bitter-sweet experience. On the one paw, it’s nice to think the cat loves you, but on the other it’s uncomfortable. . . to say the least!
Indeed, there’s a deal of difference between the sandpaper roughness of a cat’s tongue and the velvet smoothness of her coat. Ironic then that it’s her tongue that keeps the coat silky, along with other things. To discover why cats lick people, let’s brush up on licking in general.
Nature’s Kitty Comb
Before velcro was invented there were cat tongues which are covered in small backwards facing keratin hooks or barbs. It’s the job of these hooks to literally comb through the coat as kitty grooms. This is an amazingly effective way of removing parasites, debris, and dust, to stimulate the circulation to the skin and keep the fur in good order. But it does make for an uncomfortable lick.
The Language of Licking
To understand why a cat licks you, it helps to understand the role licking plays in the cat community. This is because when your cat licks, it means different things in different circumstances. Sometimes licking can be a sign of stress, and it’s important to recognize this so you can help your cat relax.
9 Reasons Cats Lick
Here are the nine key reasons we came up with as to why cats lick:
A Clean Coat
No surprise here. As well as cleaning the fur, licking spreads natural oils to condition the fur and massages the skin to improve circulation.
Cleaning Meat off Bones
When a cat licks you, it feels as if she’s stripping away layers of skin. This isn’t so wide of the mark because a feline tongue does scour meat fibres off the bones of her prey.
Licking covers her coat in saliva, which then evaporates, helping to cool her in hot weather.
Re-establish a Normal Smell
Cats groom a lot after visiting the vet or being stroked by strangers. This is done to remove the alien scent and replace it with one she’s familiar with.
Create a Group Scent
Cats groom each other (amongst other reasons) to create a uniformed scent across the group which acts as a sign of belonging.
Cats may lick each other to keep the peace and redirect tension away from fighting.
Have you ever seen a cat fall off the back of a sofa, to then frantically groom herself? An ‘embarrassed’ cat may groom as a distraction from her faux par and to restore her dignity.
An anxious cat may lick because it releases natural morphine like chemicals into her bloodstream, which helps her feel better. Some cats become so hooked on these endorphins that they groom themselves bald.
A mother cat licks her new-born kittens to stimulate them to toilet.
Why Cats Lick People?
As you can see from the list above, a lick can mean many things. Even if we discount number 9, this still leaves a lot of reasons for a cat to lick her guardian.
Sometimes the cause may be obvious, such as you’ve just finished stripping the skin off a pack of smoked mackerel and your skin tastes super-scrummy to her. Other times it may be a sign of affection and that she feels comfortable in your presence. The good news is that it can also indicate you are included in the cat’s social group and she’s affording you the same honour she gives to the other cats in the household.
More often than not, licking you is a sign the cat values your companionship and feels comfortable with you. If you want to call that a kiss, then who are we to argue!
However, if the licking gets too much, it’s important to rebuff her attentions gently. Never ever punish or scald the cat for licking as she’ll find this deeply upsetting. Instead, try distracting her with a toy or a game to divert her attention elsewhere. If you’re comfortable on the sofa and don’t want to get up, then blow gently on her fur, which should spoil the moment sufficiently to stop her licking.
If your cat licks to the point of obsession then be a little suspicious she’s stressed. Have a good think about her lifestyle and if there’s a possibility she’s bored or feels threatened in some way. Strategies such as using puzzle feeders (for mental stimulation), playtime (for physical exercise to help tire her out), tall cat trees (for her to watch the world) and hiding places (to relieve stress) can make all the difference.
On the whole, be happy about being licked, because if the cat is purring, the chances are she’s giving you a kitty kiss!