Licking: Cats are obsessed with licking. Research shows that adult felines can spend up to 8% of your waking hours grooming themselves. Licking also serves an important social role in felines, and adult cats often lick each other just before mating. But what about humans? Why do cats lick people? There is no evidence that your cat considers this part of a pre-mating ritual.
Scientists and cat behavior experts aren’t entirely sure why cats lick your face or hands with their little tongues. However, while there is no comprehensive and definitive explanation for this behavior, there are several theories as to why domestic cats lick humans. Your cat might not like all of them.
Why do cats lick people?
There is no single reason why a cat might lick you. However, there are three main theories as to why domestic cats behave this way:
- It shows they trust you.
- They are accessing biochemical information from your skin.
- They are marking you as their property.
Cats may lick you to show that they trust you or to show that they don’t consider you a serious competitor.
“This type of licking is similar to the cat-to-cat behavior known as allogrooming, which is essentially mutual grooming. When cats are young kittens who are blind and deaf, “They learn this from their mothers. It’s basically cleaning the kittens and strengthening their social bond.” doctor dEnthusiastic, Sands is an expert in animal psychology with over 25 years of clinical experience.
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“Due to this maternal influence, adult cats will only lick other cats that they trust and are not in competition with. And this trusting grooming behavior may be transmitted to humans.
“At the end of the day, cats don’t sit there saying, ‘I’m a cat and you’re a human.’ To them, the animal is either in competition with them or not. And licking. That shows you’re not competing.”
In other words, if your cat licks you, it’s not a positive sign of affection. That’s not a negative thing at all (it’s as good as a cat).
If in doubt, consider the cleverly titled Lincoln University study. Domestic cats show no signs of being attached to their owners.
Researchers swapped human owners with 20 felines and discovered they were felines. He seemed to be deepening his bonds with strangers. than in the actual owner (shown through behaviors such as play and mirroring).
The researchers wrote: “These results are consistent with the view that adult cats are also typically very autonomous in their social relationships and are not necessarily dependent on others to provide a sense of security and security.”’ “We are doing it,” he concluded.
This sounds complicated, but essentially it’s a very simple idea: cats like you because they’re interested in the smell on your hands.
“Cats’ taste buds are so sensitive that they can detect the smell of our skin, which can contain pheromone secretions from other animals,” says Sands. “There could also be salt, moisturizer, or something else you’ve eaten on your hands. To cats, these are all interesting scents, and they can detect it by licking. It could just be that.”
possession play theory
As Sands says, cats are “head-to-tail sniffing machines.” And what’s their favorite smell? Themselves. In fact, they love their unique scent (which acts as a fingerprint suspended in the air) so much that they think it should replace other scents.
Sands explains that this is why cats lick themselves after petting you. “It’s purely to get rid of your smell!” he says.
Many other cat behaviors come down to ownership and territory. Everything they do is very territorial,” Sands added. “When cats groom other cats or humans, they may remove scents and replace them with their own. It’s their way of marking and saying, ‘This is mine.’ I’m yours!”
About our expert Dr. David Sands
Sands, who holds a PhD in animal behavior (animal psychology) from the University of Liverpool, has over 25 years’ experience in animal behavior clinics. He is a Fellow of the Dog and Cat Behavior Association (CFBA) and the Society for the Study of Animal Behavior (ASAB).
Sands is also the author of the following books: Cats 500 questions answered (Hamlin, £4).
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