Those with a feline friend waiting for them at home will be more than familiar with the sensation of being licked by their cat – there is nothing quite like those furry little tongues! But have you ever wondered why they do it? We like to think that it is a show of the affection that they have for us as their owners and guardians, but is there a deeper underlying reason beneath the surface?
The answer is that yes, to a certain extent, it is a sign of affection but maybe not in the way you would have liked! To cats, we are more than just their humans, we are the weird giant family that they keep around as we are quite handy when it comes to feeding time! So it’s equal parts sweet and domineering.
Essentially, your cat is telling the other cats in the street “this is my human, go and get your own”.
In the animal kingdom, it’s all about marking your own territory and there are few animals more territorial than the cat. No doubt you will have seen, or at least heard, two cats scratching and clawing at each other in the street. It makes for an almighty racket and it’s all because of one reason –they’re protecting their space.
Just as cats will see certain areas as theirs, the same can be said about humans. By licking you, they are sharing their scent with you. If another feline attempts to invade their territory, as is common in the street, they are prepared to fight in order to maintain their “possession”.
This might also explain why other cats may be apprehensive about coming close to you if you already own a cat. They will smell the scent of your cat already on your person and, if they aren’t particularly alpha, will submit to your cat – even if they aren’t anywhere to be seen – by not approaching you.
It is a complex question to ask as for how we, as humans, perceive love is completely different to how our feline friends perceive love. Yes, cats may lick us in order to mark their territory, but they wouldn’t want to ‘own’ us unless there was affection on some level.
Licking is a cat recognising you as an important aspect of their life and/or family. To recognise your importance is one of the biggest displays of affection that you can hope for from a cat.
As we already know, cats lick themselves for grooming purposes. Cats see the act of licking as grooming you, while also ensuring that their scent is prevalent. So if you are hoping the answer to the question ‘why does my cat lick me?’ is love, it is certainly one of the reasons. Very rarely will a cat lick a random stranger as they simply wouldn’t feel comfortable enough around them to do so.
In the same way that we may display affection to a loved one to help comfort them, this is also true for cats – especially kittens. Felines have been known to lick their owners to try to subside anxiety/anxious feelings in the same way as a comforting hug.
This is their way of being there for you. Just as you may stroke and/or pet your cat to calm them down if they are acting particularly stressed, this is what they are doing for you.
While cats may have a reputation for not being half as affectionate as their canine cousins, they need to feel loved every bit as much – possibly even more so. When your cat meows and licks you, this could be their way of asking you to love them.
Cats very much want everything on their own terms as you can be sure that they will be quick to let you know if they have had enough and want to be left alone. Compare that with a dog, and it can feel as though they simply don’t care about you anywhere near as much, when that simply isn’t the case. Cats are just more independent beings than dogs – after all, we like to have some time to ourselves, too, so why shouldn’t our cats?
When cats want love, they want it now. They will lick you, meow, purr and rub their cheeks on you to drop a not so subtle hint. If you have a cat at home, you will know full well how difficult/practically impossible it is to get any work done when they are feeling particularly needy.
Stopping your cat from licking isn’t the problem, it’s all about how you stop them – if, of course, you aren’t a fan of being licked numerous times on the face. You have to remember that, in your cat’s mind, they are not doing anything wrong – they are merely showing affection, and punishing them could have an adverse effect.
Disciplining them by telling them off, or even taking steps such as applying lotion so as your skin has a negative taste, may make the cat associate these with you, as opposed to the licking itself. If your cat begins to build negative thoughts associated with you in their mind, this can result in unwanted aggression, which is the complete opposite of what you are after.
The best way to tackle this problem would be to simply move away when your cat begins to lick you. Over time, they will begin to associate licking with your disappearance, which is the last thing they want because, as we already know, this is their way of telling you that they want you at that precise moment.
Equally, you can look to redirect their actions. When your cat begins to lick you, instead of outright stopping them, begin to nuzzle their head with yours. This is another way in which your cat displays affection – as well as marking territory – so if you redirect them every time they begin to lick, they should soon automatically rub heads with you instead.
So, now you know the answer to the question ‘why does my cat lick me?’ and how to stop them without hurting their feelings. Cats do display love, even if they are claiming you as theirs whilst doing so.
If you think about it, it’s not too dissimilar from buying a beautiful cat ID tag for them to wear proudly on their collar. If you didn’t love them, you wouldn’t claim them as yours.