by Barbara George – Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Cats lick to groom themselves and they groom their social friends as a way of showing that they care. Grooming another is their way of showing affection, so when your cat licks you treat it as a kiss!
Along with the grooming goes the exchange of scents, all animals in the same social group have the same scent and can be recognised quickly and easily as a friend. Licking you makes you one of them, at least until you wash the smell off!
Since scent is an important communication device, spreading their scent on you sends a signal to other cats that this cat ‘owns’ you, you are part of their territory.
Mother cats lick their kittens to clean them as well as to calm them. Licking is a soothing, comforting sensation. Cats that are nervous or in strange surroundings will often lick more than usual in order to comfort themselves and may also lick you more if they feel you need comforting.
Cats are curious too, so may lick you to ‘taste’. They may be licking the last of something you have eaten off your fingers, looking for salt, or be attracted to the chemicals in your body lotion, shaving gel, perfume or shampoo!
Cats believe that licking is acceptable, loving and caring, so punishing your cat for licking sends them the wrong message – you don’t like to be loved. If you really don’t like the best signs of love you cat can give, the best option is distraction. Offer a part of your body that can be licked, e.g. an arm instead of your face. Stroke or groom your cat to show that you do care or replace your body parts with a soft toy. Talk to your cat gently and lovingly.
To contact Barbara, please email firstname.lastname@example.org