Should I Let My Cat Kiss My Lips?

The Appeal of Kitty Kisses

Cat owners often find cat kisses endearing and enjoy this display of affection from their feline friends. When a cat licks your face or nudges you with their nose, it’s a sign they feel relaxed and safe with you. As solitary creatures, cats reserve these displays of affection for those they trust most. According to Elite Veterinary Care, “Contrary to their reputation of being aloof and standoffish, cats do express their love for us” [1]. Cat kisses are a special way cats show their bond with their human companions.

While cats don’t kiss the way humans do, cat kisses with licks or nose nudges have an affectionate meaning. As Catster explains, “The slow blink is a sure sign that your cat loves you; it shows your buddy feels relaxed, content, and safe” [2]. When a cat wants to snuggle up close and give you kitty kisses, it’s a display of trust and comfort with you.

Potential Health Risks

Cats can carry bacteria and parasites in their saliva that may pose health risks to humans. Some of the most common feline bacteria and diseases that can spread through cat saliva include:

Toxoplasmosis – This parasitic disease is caused by Toxoplasma gondii and can lead to flu-like symptoms in humans, as well as more serious complications for pregnant women or those with weakened immune systems (CDC). Cats may become infected by ingesting contaminated soil, food or water.

Bartonellosis (Cat Scratch Disease) – Also known as cat scratch fever, this bacterial infection is caused by Bartonella henselae. Symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, fever, headaches and fatigue (Cornell Feline Health Center). The bacteria is carried in cat saliva.

Capnocytophaga – This group of bacteria is commonly found in cat mouths and can cause rare but severe infections in humans, including sepsis and meningitis after a cat bite (CDC).

Pasteurella – Pasteurella multocida bacteria often causes infection after cat bites or scratches. It can lead to painful swelling, abscesses and in rare cases even respiratory infections (CBC).


Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease that can be spread through contact with infected cat feces. While toxoplasmosis is rare, it can cause flu-like symptoms and potentially serious neurological and eye damage in people with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, pregnant women and fetuses (CDC).

Cats get toxoplasmosis from eating infected rodents, birds or other small animals. After a cat is first infected, the parasite lives in the cat’s intestines and is shed in feces for up to two weeks. The parasite becomes infectious one to five days after being shed. The parasite does not live on the skin or fur, so human transmission generally occurs through ingestion of sporulated oocysts from contaminated hands or cleaning the litter box (Cornell Feline Health Center).

For people with healthy immune systems, carefully handling litter and washing hands thoroughly afterwards minimizes the transmission risk. Pregnant women should avoid cleaning litter boxes. Immunocompromised individuals should ask someone else to perform this task.

Bartonellosis (Cat Scratch Fever)

Bartonellosis, also known as “cat scratch disease,” is an infection caused by Bartonella bacteria. Bartonella henselae is the main species that causes infection in humans, and it is spread through bites, scratches, or even just contact with infected cats, especially kittens [1]. The bacteria enter the skin through breaks or wounds and multiply inside the body.

Within 3-10 days after exposure, symptoms usually appear and may include [2]:

  • Swollen lymph nodes near the original bite/scratch
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Poor appetite
  • A skin pustule at the site of the bite/scratch

In rare cases, complications can develop weeks or months after initial infection, such as infection of the liver, spleen, joints, bones, or central nervous system. Immunocompromised individuals may experience more severe symptoms. While cat scratch disease is generally self-limiting, antibiotics are sometimes prescribed, especially for people at high risk of complications.

To reduce the risk of Bartonella infection, promptly clean any bite or scratch from a cat. Watch for signs of infection and see a doctor if concerning symptoms develop. Keeping cats free of fleas can also help reduce Bartonella transmission.

Dental Hygiene

Cats are fastidious groomers and keep their coats clean by licking themselves. However, this self-grooming does not extend to their teeth. Felines in the wild have diets and behaviors that help keep their teeth clean, but domestic cats do not. As a result, cats often suffer from poor dental health stemming from tartar buildup and unchecked plaque [1].

Bacteria in a cat’s mouth due to poor dental hygiene can spread to other parts of the body. Dental infections have been linked to issues in major organs like the heart, kidneys, and liver [2]. Allowing a cat to kiss around the mouth area risks transmitting bacteria that could potentially make you sick.


One potential health risk from allowing your cat to kiss you on the lips is developing an allergic reaction. While it is often believed that cat fur (specifically dander) is the main culprit in cat allergies, research shows that the primary allergen is actually a protein called Fel d 1 that is found in cat saliva, urine, and skin flakes:

According to a report from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, allergies to cats are primarily caused by Fel d 1, which can be transferred from a cat’s saliva to humans through actions like kisses. There are additional cat proteins that may trigger allergic reactions as well.

Per research from the American Animal Hospital Association, the Fel d 1 allergen produced in cat saliva is a major source of cat allergies in humans. When a cat kisses its owner, that saliva can trigger allergic reactions including sneezing, watery eyes, congestion, and more.

Therefore, cat owners who allow kisses on the lips may be at higher risk of developing cat allergy symptoms over time as they are repeatedly exposed to cat saliva. Those with known cat allergies are advised to avoid direct contact with cat saliva through kisses or other means.


One concern with kitty kisses is the potential transmission of intestinal parasites like hookworms and roundworms. Cats can carry these in their saliva or feces. Hookworms in particular can be spread through saliva contact. The larvae enter through the skin and travel through the body to the intestines where they mature into adult worms that suck blood and nutrients.

According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, “Hookworms are intestinal parasites of cats that attach to the lining of the small intestines and suck blood and nutrients from the cat.” They note that kittens are often infected by their mother’s milk, but adult cats get hookworms through skin contact with larvae from feces or contaminated soil [1].

So kitty kisses could potentially transmit hookworm larvae if the cat has an existing intestinal hookworm infection. Carefully cleaning the cat’s mouth and monitoring their health are ways to reduce this risk.

Behavioral Considerations

Cats have different boundaries and preferences for affection compared to humans. If your cat pulls away, turns their head, or gently bats your face when you try to kiss them, take it as a sign they are uncomfortable with kisses.

Instead of forcing kisses, redirect your affection to ways your cat enjoys, like petting, brushing, or playing. Watch your cat’s body language to see what they like. Let them initiate cuddling on their terms. Build a bond through positive reinforcement and respecting their boundaries.

Set a rule with children that kisses should only happen if the cat approaches first. Teach them to be gentle and watch for signals like ears back or tail swishing to know when to stop.

There are many other ways to show your cat affection without kisses. Try massages, forehead rubs, or simply sitting nearby. Cats feel loved through playtime, treats, grooming, and patience. Focus on what makes your unique cat comfortable.

While kitties may not reciprocate kisses, they reward respect with purrs, head butts, and snuggles when they want them. Building trust through boundaries allows true bonds.

Precautions If Allowing Kisses

While the risks of allowing your cat to kiss your lips are low, it’s wise to take some basic precautions if you choose to allow this behavior:

  • Avoid allowing your cat’s tongue to enter your mouth or make direct contact with your lips. Light pecks on the cheek or chin pose less risk.
  • Never let your cat make contact with your eyes, as bacteria from their mouth can cause infections.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after interactions where your cat’s mouth made contact with your skin. This removes any germs or allergens.
  • Monitor your health after interactions and watch for any signs of illness. Seek medical care if you develop fever, respiratory issues or other concerning symptoms.
  • If you have a compromised immune system or open sores/wounds on your face, avoid kisses entirely as you are at higher risk.

While our feline friends show affection through kisses, being mindful can help reduce health risks. Focus cuddles on scratching kitty’s chin or head rubs instead.

The Decision Is Yours

When deciding whether or not to allow kitty kisses, it’s important to assess the potential risks based on your health and your cat’s veterinary history. While occasional affectionate kisses may seem harmless, certain risk factors like immunodeficiency or your cat’s exposure to outdoor pathogens can increase the likelihood of disease transmission.

The decision ultimately comes down to your comfort level and risk tolerance. If you choose to allow kisses, take basic precautions like avoiding mouth-to-mouth contact and not kissing if you have any open cuts or sores. Monitor your cat’s health and oral hygiene. Discontinue kissing if either you or kitty develops any signs of illness. Consider speaking to your veterinarian if concerned.

While most cat owners feel a close bond with kitty kisses, you must decide what’s right for you and your pet based on your circumstances. With some basic precautions, you can safely express affection while minimizing disease risks. But never feel guilty about setting boundaries and training kitty not to kiss on the lips if it makes you uncomfortable. There are many other ways to bond with your feline companion.

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