Cat Kisses. Are Your Kitty’s Morning Licks a Sign of Affection?

The Meaning of a Cat’s Morning Licks

Cats frequently lick themselves and others as a grooming and social bonding behavior. Their small, rough tongues allow them to clean their fur and spread protective oils throughout their coat. Licking triggers the release of endorphins, which causes both the cat giving and receiving licks to feel more relaxed and loved (1). When a cat greets you with licks in the morning, it is likely expressing affection, care, and a desire to bond with you.

Kittens begin licking their mothers and littermates from a very young age to seek attention and comfort. The behavior continues into adulthood as a way for cats to greet loved ones. Morning licks may be your cat’s way of saying good morning and reconnecting after you’ve been asleep (2). It shows excitement to see you again and happiness to have you near. Consider morning licks a compliment – your cat is showing you how much it enjoys being with you.

While licking can sometimes signal medical issues like anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder, most morning licks are purely signs of a content, affectionate cat. Relish those special morning greets as your feline friend’s kisses. With proper care and treatment when needed, you can enjoy those morning licks as a daily dose of kitty love.


Do Cats Give Kisses?

While cats often lick people as a form of affection, they do not actually kiss like humans do. Cats lack the facial musculature and lips that allow people to make full lip contact and create suction when kissing. Instead, when cats lick and nuzzle up against things, that is their way of showing affection and care, which could be interpreted by owners as a type of “kitty kiss.”

A cat’s sandpaper-like tongue allows it to groom itself and others. Licking helps spread the cat’s scent and contributes to bonding. When a cat licks a human companion they have a close relationship with, it signals trust, contentment, and fondness [1]. So while cats do not actually kiss their owners, their licks are a feline version of a kiss – a sign of true affection from our furry companions.


Why Do Cats Lick Humans?

Cats lick humans for several reasons. One of the most common is to show affection and bond with their owners. When cats lick each other, it helps reinforce social connections and relationships. Licking people mimics this grooming behavior and allows cats to create attachments with their human families. Cats that lick their owners frequently are likely showing signs of bonding, affection and trust (Pumpkin, 2023).

Licking is also a way for cats to investigate smells and tastes. Their sense of smell and taste are intertwined, so licking gives them sensory information about their environment. When cats lick people, they are gathering data about that person’s scent and flavor. This investigative licking allows them to satisfy their curiosity (PetMD, 2021).

In some cases, a cat may lick a person to mark territory. By spreading their scent, they are claiming ownership over that person. Cats have scent glands on their tongues, so licking deposits pheromones. This territorial marking reinforces the bond between cat and human.

Finally, licking serves a practical grooming function. Cat saliva acts as a cleaning agent. When cats lick humans, they are essentially trying to groom them. This instinct comes from their desire to stay clean.

Morning Cat Behavior

Cats tend to be more active and energetic in the morning hours. This stems from their natural hunting instincts, as cats are crepuscular animals who are most active at dawn and dusk when prey is abundant. After a long night’s sleep, cats wake up ready to play, hunt, eat, and engage in their morning routine.

A cat’s typical morning behavior often involves grooming themselves, stretching, eating breakfast, and engaging in play. According to PetPlace, an ideal morning routine for cats involves waking up between 7-8am, eating breakfast around 9am, and playing or looking out the window from 9am-12pm. This mirrors their natural instinct to hunt and be active in the early morning hours.

Cats may also wake their owners up in the morning by meowing, nuzzling, or jumping on the bed looking for attention and food. As social animals, they crave that interaction first thing in the morning. Cats who wake their owners up early are often bored, hungry, or simply adhering to their natural circadian rhythms that make them most alert in the morning hours. Establishing a routine can help meet their needs and prevent excessively early wake up calls.

Interpreting a Cat’s Licks

Cats use licking as a way to communicate a variety of messages to humans. Slow, gentle licks on a human’s hands or face are usually a sign of affection. Your cat is showing you love by grooming you as if you were another cat. According to Purina, “If a cat sees you as theirs, they may begin to lick you to mark you as part of their territory.”1 Licks to sensitive areas like your ears or neck may be more investigative as your cat learns your scent.

Faster licks that turn into soft bites or nibbles are your cat’s way of showing playfulness. The Cat site explains, “Nibbling is a form of social play for cats. It’s one way they communicate with you and show affection.”2 So if your cat is gently biting you in the morning, she is likely feeling energetic and wants to interact.

While cat licks are usually harmless, be cautious of excessive licking that leads to irritation. And avoid licks near wounds or sensitive skin. Understanding the context behind your cat’s licking habits will help you bond.

Encouraging Licks from Your Cat

Cats often use licking as a way to strengthen their bond with their owners. If you enjoy your cat’s morning licks and want to encourage more, there are a few tips:

Use positive reinforcement with treats when your cat licks you. Give them a small treat right after so they associate licking with a reward. Just be careful not to overfeed. As recommended by Purina, you can distract them with a treat if the licking becomes excessive.1

Regular grooming and petting is important for bonding. Set aside time each day to brush your cat and give them affection. This provides close interaction they crave.

Make sure your cat gets plenty of playtime and stimulation. An energetic, engaged cat will be less likely to act out with obsessive licking. Use interactive toys and play games to keep them active and entertained.

When to Avoid Cat Licks

While cat licks are usually a sign of affection, there are some situations where it’s best to discourage this behavior:

If you have any open cuts or wounds on your skin, avoid letting your cat lick these areas, as their saliva contains bacteria that can cause infection. Gently redirect your cat if they try to lick wounds and clean & bandage any injuries.

Cats can transmit some illnesses through saliva, such as cat scratch fever. If you or your cat are sick, limit licking contact to avoid spreading infection.

Excessive licking can be a sign of over-grooming behavior, which may indicate anxiety, stress or a medical issue. Consult your vet if your cat’s licking seems obsessive. Provide more enrichment and affection to anxious cats.

While morning licks are usually a happy cat greeting, be cautious if licking becomes excessive. Protect injuries, reduce contact when ill, and watch for obsessive grooming behavior. With some care, you can safely enjoy your cat’s licking and kissing.

Alternatives to Licking

While some cat licks are normal, excessive licking can be a sign of anxiety or boredom. There are several healthy alternatives cats can do to show affection instead of constant licking:

Cuddling – Cats often enjoy curling up in their owner’s lap or snuggling up beside them while sleeping. This close contact is a natural way for cats to bond and feel secure. The warmth and touch stimulate the release of oxytocin, bringing feelings of attachment.

Rubbing on owners – Cats have scent glands in their cheeks and often rub up against their owners to mix scents. This “marking” behavior is a sign of trust and affection. Allowing your cat to rub up against you gives them an outlet for bonding.

Purring and kneading – A cat’s purr vibrates at a frequency thought to promote healing and relaxation. Paired with kneading or massaging an owner with their paws, purring provides comfort and connection. These behaviors are instinctive ways cats show contentment.

Gifts of prey – In the wild, cats would bring home prey to feed their young or as an offering to a mate. Domestic cats may leave “gifts” of prey like mice to show their owner they can provide. While unappealing to humans, it’s a natural sign of a cat’s affection.

Redirecting compulsive licking to any of these bonding behaviors can strengthen your relationship with your cat. Just be sure excessive licking isn’t caused by a medical issue. Ask your veterinarian for advice if needed. For more information see this article on healthy alternatives.

Safety Precautions

While cat licks are generally safe, there are some precautions humans should take:

Clean hands after licks. As mentioned, cat saliva can contain bacteria that are harmless to felines but problematic for humans. Thoroughly washing hands with soap and water after interacting with a cat can help reduce risk of transmission.

Monitor for skin irritation. Some people may experience rashes, redness or itching from cat saliva. Pay attention to any reactions after being licked and consider limiting a cat’s access to affected areas.

Avoid mucous membranes. Cats should not be allowed to lick the face or inside of mouth/nose. These areas contain delicate tissue that could be easily irritated by bacteria in saliva. Also refrain from letting cats lick open wounds, which could lead to infection.

While most cat licks are innocent bonds of affection, taking basic precautions allows enjoying those special moments without worry. With proper hand hygiene and awareness, human-feline licking interactions can remain positive experiences.

The Bond Between Cats and Humans

A cat’s morning licks can help strengthen the bond between cats and their human companions. Licking is a social grooming behavior for cats that reinforces bonds and relationships. When a cat licks a human, it shows they are comfortable with and trust that person. According to The Atlantic, cat licking releases oxytocin in both the cat and the human, which promotes bonding and decreases stress levels[1]. By licking their human in the morning, a cat is showing affection and trust. They are also seeking to reduce any anxiety or stress their human companion may be feeling to start the day. So while cat licks may not be exactly like human kisses, they certainly are a sign of a close, loving bond between cat and human.

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