One of the greatest assets of a cat is its tongue. Their unique tongues are covered in hundreds of flexible backward-curved spines called “papillae.” These structures can store and release saliva on the fur, making self-grooming truly enjoyable for all felines. As you may have already noticed, cats lick almost anything, including themselves, their young, their turf, and even you.
Why do cats even exhibit such adorable yet perplexing behavior?
Why Cats Lick Themselves
Cats are notorious for taking long naps multiple times a day, and believe it or not; they can spend up to half of their waking hours grooming themselves. Felines are naturally equipped with the implements to groom themselves—barbed tongues, flexible forepaws, and sharp teeth—so they don’t really need much help from you or professional groomers.
Mother cats lick their young right after birth to clean them and provide them with comfort, coax them to suckle, and stimulate them to urinate and defecate as needed. At only four weeks old, kittens will start grooming themselves as well as their littermates in a mutual grooming behavior called “allogrooming.”
Licking is instinctual to cats. Hence, owners should take caution in grooming their feline friends using other tools as most cats don’t find it enjoyable or even tolerable and might end up responding aggressively.
Why Cats Lick You
If cats already spend so much of their time licking themselves, why would they take even more time licking you? Here are the possible reasons why:
- Your cat accepts you as a member of her family and is nurturing you in the best way she knows—keeping you clean through licking.
- Your cat is establishing her territory and making it known to other cats that you belong to no one else but her.
- Your cat is licking you to show her affection. Consider licking as your cat’s version of petting you.
- Your cat may be feeling anxious hence, licking compulsively. Pet, cuddle, and give her more attention to reduce her stress and soothe her back to her old self.
If it makes you happy that your cat licks you, then you should have no problem. But if you don’t enjoy it, you might want to establish a no-lick zone by giving her a kitty massage or distracting her with a new catnip toy. Never punish or reprimand your cat for doing something that comes naturally.
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