Do Cats Actually Give Kisses or is it Just Wishful Thinking?


Cats can often be misunderstood when it comes to showing affection. While dogs are known for sloppy kisses and enthusiastic tail wags, cat body language can be more subtle. Some cat owners may wonder if their feline friends actually “kiss” them or if they show affection in other ways. In this article, we’ll explore the reasons behind head bumps, face rubbing, kneading, and other potential signs of “kisses” that cats give their human companions. We’ll also look at the science behind bonding behaviors in cats and how to build strong connections through positive interactions.

What Is a Cat Kiss?

For humans, kissing with our lips is a ubiquitous sign of affection. Cats, however, do not actually kiss with their lips the way humans do. When cats bump their heads on humans or rub their faces against them, it may seem like they are giving “kisses,” but it’s not the same as a human kiss.

A cat’s version of a kiss is bunting or head butting. This is when a cat gently bumps its head or side of its face against a human, another cat, or object. It deposits pheromones from glands around its mouth to mark its territory and show affection ([1]).

Another affectionate cat behavior that may seem like kissing is licking. Cats have rough tongues optimized for grooming, so their licks feel like light scratching to us. While cats do sometimes lick humans they are bonded with, it’s not analogous to a kiss ([2]).

So in short, while cats don’t actually kiss like humans, bunting, head butting, and licking are some of the ways they express fondness and affection.

Do Cats Actually Kiss?

Cats do not actually kiss their owners in the same way that humans kiss each other. This is because cats do not have lips like humans, so they cannot purse their lips together to make a “kissing” gesture. However, cats do show affection toward their owners in ways that resemble kissing.

When a cat rubs its head or side of its face against a person, this is a form of cat “kissing” and a sign of affection (source). Cats have scent glands on their heads, cheeks, and mouths, so when they rub up against something they are depositing their scent as a way to show fondness. This cat head butt or cheek/face rub is the feline equivalent of giving kisses.

Cats also express affection by licking their owners. Light licks on the hand or face can be a sign your cat cares for you and sees you as part of her family group. However, this is more akin to grooming behavior than an actual kiss (source).

So while cats do not kiss in the human sense, they have their own ways of showing affection and attachment through rubs, head butts, and licks.

Why Cats Bump Heads

One of the most endearing behaviors cats exhibit is head-bumping or head-butting their owners. This action is a cat’s way of showing affection for their human while also marking their territory. According to PetMD, when a cat rubs or bumps their head against you, it means they have accepted you into their inner circle. Cats have scent glands on their head, cheeks, tail area, paws and elsewhere on their body. When they rub against you, they are transferring their scent as a way to show ownership and mark you as their territory.

Cats commonly head-bump against people and objects that they know well and consider part of their domain. Some cats may excessively head-bump to try to over-mark their territory in response to unfamiliar scents. But in most cases, frequent head-bumping is a sign that a cat feels bonded with their human and sees them as part of their family group.

While scent marking is one motivation for this behavior, head-bumping also allows cats to have friendly physical contact and express affection for their preferred humans. It often occurs as a greeting when you return home or as the cat settles in your lap to cuddle. The head contains scent glands so head-bumping allows for scent exchange during moments of social bonding.

Cat Licks as Kisses

It’s very common for cats to lick their owners as a sign of affection. When cats groom each other in the wild, it’s a social bonding behavior. According to The Spruce Pets, “When a cat licks you, it’s often a sign of affection or a method of cleaning, since cats lick themselves (or their kittens) in order to groom.” [1] Cats have scent glands in their faces, so when your cat rubs against you and licks you, they are marking you as “theirs” with their scent and showing you acceptance and care.

Cats often lick other cats as well as other animals and people in their family group. It’s a friendly gesture that can mean “I like you” or “I trust you.” So when your cat licks your hand, arm, or face, it’s their way of giving kisses and showing affection. According to Reader’s Digest, “Licking for cats is like kissing for humans.”[2] Enjoy those kitty kisses!

Purring and Kneading

Two of the most common ways cats show affection is through purring and kneading. When a cat purrs, it indicates contentment, pleasure, and comfort 1. The rhythmic vibration of purring has been associated with calmness and well-being according to researchers. Cats may purr during petting, while nursing kittens, or even when recovering from illness, suggesting purring helps with healing and bonding. When a cat directs its purring towards you, it’s a sign of happiness in your presence.

Kneading or making “biscuits” is an instinctive behavior from kittenhood associated with nursing. Adult cats knead when they are happy and relaxed as a way to bond with their owners, similar to how human partners may hold hands. A cat kneading on or near you shows contentment and affection. Cats often purr while kneading, combining two behaviors that demonstrate a loving cat-human connection.

Cats Show Love Differently

Cats express affection differently than humans. While people often kiss to show love, cats have their own unique ways to show affection. Cat behavior like head-butting, licking, and kneading demonstrate a cat’s fondness for their human companions.

Unlike humans who kiss with their lips, cats have no lips to pucker up for a smooch. So rather than kisses, cats rub their heads and bodies against their owners as a sign of affection. This head-butting behavior deposits the cat’s scent on the person, marking them as a loved one. It establishes a social bond and indicates trust.

Another common misconception is that a cat licking their human is like giving kisses. While licking for cats can signal affection, it also serves the functional purpose of grooming. Cats lick themselves and others to clean and stimulate hair growth. So licks are not necessarily kisses, but still demonstrate a cat’s attachment.

Kneading or treading with front paws on soft surfaces is another loving cat behavior. This motion relates back to their nursing days as kittens, showing contentment. The rhythmic kneading while purring happily on a person’s lap conveys a cat’s pleasure and affection.

While cat behaviors like head-butting, licking, and kneading may not equate to human kisses, they have their own special way of showing love and bonding. Recognizing a cat’s nonverbal communication helps humans better understand how felines express their fondness and affection.

Body Language Cues

Cats have distinct body language that can clearly communicate their affection for their human companions. Learning to read your cat’s body language is key to understanding how they express love and bond with you. Some common body language signs of affection include:

Tail up with a hook at the end – This signals happiness and affection. A cat will point their tail straight up and gently hook the tip when greeting a loved one.1

Relaxed eyes and ears – A loving, content cat will have soft eyes and relaxed ears pointed neutrally forward. Direct eye contact also shows a bond of trust. An anxious or upset cat may pull ears back.2

Kneading – Gentle kneading or treading with front paws on a human indicates contentment, security, and affection, similar to the nursing actions of kittens with their mother.3

Rolling over to expose their belly – Rolling over to show their vulnerable stomach area demonstrates a cat’s absolute trust and comfort with someone they love.

Slow blinking – Also called a “cat kiss,” long, slow eye blinks are a social bonding cue and sign of affection from a cat.

By learning your cat’s unique language, you can better understand the subtle, delightful ways cats show their love and bond with you every day.

Creating Bonding Opportunities

There are many ways to create bonding opportunities with your cat. Here are some tips:

Playtime is a great way to bond. Engage your cat in interactive play with toys like feather wands, laser pointers, or balls. Play allows you to interact in a fun way and helps your cat get exercise.

Give your cat treats. Offer treats by hand rather than in a bowl. This associates you with something positive.

Set up cozy spots around the house like cat trees, beds, and cardboard boxes. Cats feel secure with places they can retreat to.

Groom your cat if they enjoy brushing. Regular grooming strengthens your bond through positive touch.

Let your cat sleep on or near you. Allowing close proximity helps build trust.

Talk softly to your cat. Cats recognize voices and can learn their name.

Take your cat for walks on a leash and harness if they are comfortable. Outdoor exploration together can be enriching.

Clicker training is an engaging way to interact using treats and positive reinforcement. Cats can learn tricks and behaviors.

Establish a predictable routine. Feeding, playtime, and sleep at consistent times makes cats feel secure.

Introduce new experiences like car rides carefully. Patience helps cats adjust to change.

Be affectionate but respect their boundaries. Let your cat initiate cuddling and petting.


In summary, while cats do not give kisses in the human sense of pressing lips to lips as a sign of affection, they have their own ways of showing love and forming bonds. Cats will bump heads, rub cheeks, lick, and nuzzle to mark others with their scent and show affection. Purring, kneading, and slow blinking are also signs a cat is content and happy. Though kitties may not “kiss” their owners, they are fully capable of forming close attachments and expressing their feelings if you learn to understand their body language. With time and positive interactions, a strong and loving relationship can form between cats and their human companions.

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