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What Does It Mean When Your Cat Licks You?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Smokey (Head cat) grooms younger Baggy (& sometimes me)


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.


Have a great day.
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  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

SPARKCHANTAL 8/17/2013 4:45AM

    I get licked by my cat all the time.

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IDLETYME 8/16/2013 9:04AM

    Thanks a bunch - lots of good information. Hope you have a super weekend!! emoticon

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NELLJONES 8/16/2013 7:43AM

    My cats lick each other far more than they lick me. Cat licks are dry and raspy and don't smell bad, unlike dog licks. Give me cats any day!

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NSPIXIE 8/16/2013 6:35AM

    Good info! Mine likes to lick my hair as a tactic to get me to wake up and feed her.

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THROOPER62 8/16/2013 6:14AM

    emoticon interesting emoticon

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LADYRH 8/16/2013 5:34AM

    Interesting info

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ARTJAC 8/16/2013 2:29AM

    emoticon emoticon

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BROWNCOFIDDLER 8/15/2013 9:37PM

    Great info. Thanks!

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FOREVER27 8/15/2013 4:33PM

    Thank you for the information! emoticon

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MILLISMA 8/15/2013 4:01PM

    I get CatNip magazine from Tufts and they always have some great articles like this. Daisy, who I adopted at the age of 13 this past March is a licker. She also likes to groom your hair. She's usually purring all the while she does these things. I enjoy it and have felt that is one of her ways of showing affection.

Thanks for the article.

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LOUIE-LILY 8/15/2013 2:32PM

    Great blog! Personally, I LOVE when my fur babies lick me :) Louie has recently begun to lick my hand after being rescued over 2 years ago. I take it as a great compliment and a sign of love and affection and perhaps, gratitude. He tries to lick Lily but she doesn't appreciate it. She'll put up with it for a bit, but tires of it quickly. And she doesn't return the favor. They're just wonderful creatures :))
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