by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Scratch your cat on her back a little in front of the tail and chances are she will start licking – herself, the air, or you. Although this is not a recognised reflex point, it can be useful to encourage her to eat or lick medicine. Some cats will knead their paws or purr at the same time, although not all cats will exhibit a reaction.
There are a number of theories about this response.
Mother cats can reach that part of their kitten’s bodies while they are nursing, to encourage them to drink and knead to increase the flow of milk. When we scratch them there they feel the same pleasant experience, which makes them act like kittens. Since cats that live with us have no real reason to grow-up, many keep their kittenish behaviour.
Grooming is essential for health, and while cats can lick this area of their bodies it is not possible to scratch here. The reaction may be to the feeling of being groomed in an awkward spot; stimulating self-grooming or allo-grooming. This has been observed in cats that are overweight or unable to reach the spot for any reason.
Mutual grooming (allo-grooming) is used in family or multi-cat groups to show affection, and for recognition. Licking and being licked stimulates oxytocin in the brain, the hormone associated with emotional attachment and bonding. Scratching or grooming makes her feel happy, and her response is to return the feeling. This may be an especially sensitive place that stimulates her more than others.
It’s wise to watch her reaction as over-stimulation can lead to an attack!
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