What Happens When You Lick Your Cat? Their Surprising Reaction Revealed

Why Do Cats Groom Each Other?

Cats groom each other for several reasons. One main reason is social bonding. Cats that live together and have bonded will groom each other to reinforce their relationship. The grooming helps the cats recognize each other through their scents. It also releases endorphins, creating positive associations between the cats (Comfort Zone).

Another reason cats groom each other is to remove dirt and parasites from their fur. Cat saliva acts as a cleaning agent. By licking each other’s fur, cats help keep their coats clean and free of debris (Heart and Paw). The grooming also helps distribute natural oils throughout their coats, improving skin and fur health.

Cats also groom each other for scent marking. As they lick, they deposit their own scent. This helps establish group identity and reinforces social connections. Facial rubbing and head butting during grooming spreads scents further, marking the other cat as part of their group (AmeriVet).

Cat Communication Through Licking

Cats use licking as a way to communicate and bond with other cats. Licking between cats is a social behavior called allogrooming or social grooming.

When a cat licks another cat, it’s often a sign of affection. Cats will lick other cats they feel close to, such as siblings or mates, as a way to strengthen social connections. Licking releases oxytocin in the brain which promotes feelings of trust and wellbeing. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “Cats lick each other as a sign of affection and social bonding” [1].

Licking can also be a calming signal between cats. When cats are in tense situations or feel threatened, they may lick another cat to help diffuse the situation. The licking motion signals they are not a threat. Licking also releases pheromones that provide a calming effect.

While mutual grooming is normal, excessive licking of another cat can signal stress or anxiety. Cats may overgroom themselves or other cats as a self-soothing behavior. If a cat is excessively licking other cats to the point of irritation, it may indicate an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

Cats’ Sense of Taste

Cats have a significantly weaker sense of taste compared to humans. They have fewer than 500 taste buds, whereas humans have around 9,000 taste buds (Purina 2022). This means cats experience flavors differently than we do.

One of the main differences is that cats cannot detect sweet flavors. They lack the taste receptor gene that allows humans and some other animals to experience sweetness from sugars. This explains why cats generally ignore sugary foods and candy (The Spruce Pets 2022).

While not attuned to sweets, cats’ limited sense of taste still serves an important purpose. Their taste buds easily detect bitter flavors, allowing cats to avoid toxic plants and spoiled foods that could make them sick. So their sense of taste helps cats detect poisons and stay safe (Catson Broadway Hospital 2019).

Even though cats have fewer taste buds, their sensitivity to bitter tastes keeps their sense of taste vitally important for their health and survival.

Do Cats Like Being Licked by Humans?

Some cats enjoy being licked by their human companions, while others strongly dislike it. According to one Quora user, most cats are content with being petted and kissed, but do not need or desire to be licked (https://www.quora.com/Do-cats-like-being-licked-by-humans). On Reddit, many cat owners report their felines disliking being licked, even if they regularly groom each other (https://www.reddit.com/r/explainlikeimfive/comments/37uql9/eli5_why_do_cats_not_like_being_licked_by_humans/).

Whether a cat enjoys human licking often depends on the bond and level of trust with their owner. Cats that are very bonded and affectionate with their human are more likely to tolerate or even appreciate being licked. Shy, skittish, or less socialized cats will probably react negatively. According to an Atlantic article, licking can seem intimidating or overstimulating to cats, especially when done by humans and not other felines (https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/07/does-my-cat-want-me-lick-her-back/594988/).

In summary, licking from a trusted human companion may be welcomed by some cats, but most do not seem to seek or enjoy this form of interaction. Paying attention to the cat’s signals and boundaries is important to build a healthy relationship based on mutual affection and respect.

Health Risks of Licking Cats

Licking cats may pose some health risks to humans due to the bacteria, parasites, and allergens present in a cat’s saliva. When a cat’s saliva is ingested or comes into contact with broken skin or mucous membranes, there is a risk of contracting an illness or infection.

One concern is ingesting parasitic organisms like Toxoplasma gondii, which can cause toxoplasmosis. While rare, toxoplasmosis can lead to flu-like symptoms, muscle aches, and more serious complications in people with weakened immune systems (CDC).

Bacteria commonly found in a cat’s mouth include Pasteurella, Capnocytophaga, and Bartonella. These bacteria can be transmitted through a bite or scratch and potentially cause infections, especially in immunocompromised individuals. Even a minor break in the skin when interacting with a cat poses a risk of bacterial infection (PetHelpful).

Those with cat allergies may also react to cat saliva on their skin. The major cat allergen, Fel d 1 protein, is present in cat saliva and could trigger an allergic reaction when licked by a cat. Symptoms like itchy skin, watery eyes, sneezing, and wheezing are possible in those sensitive to cat allergens.

In rare cases, diseases like cat scratch fever may also spread between cats and humans through saliva. It’s important to be aware of the potential health complications when allowing a cat to lick bare skin.

Appropriate Human-Cat Interactions

While cats use licking as a social behavior with other cats, humans should be mindful of appropriate ways to interact with their pet cats. Some positive ways for humans to bond with cats include:

  • Petting, brushing, playing games, and giving treats – these are all positive ways for a human to interact with a cat and help strengthen their bond. Slow blinks, offering a finger for the cat to sniff, and using a soft voice also help a cat feel comfortable with a human.
  • Letting the cat initiate licking contact – forcing a cat to be licked can cause stress. It’s best to let the cat choose when it wants to lick its human companion.
  • Avoiding overstimulating sensitive areas – some spots like a cat’s belly and back should only be pet gently to avoid overstimulation which may lead to biting or scratching.

It’s important for humans to learn a cat’s unique preferences and respond appropriately to the cat’s cues, whether they want more interaction or need some space. This allows for a healthy, trusting relationship between a human and their cat.

For more tips, see this helpful guide on appropriate human-cat interactions.

Signs Your Cat Dislikes Being Licked

If your cat dislikes or is uncomfortable with you licking it, there are some clear behavioral signs to look out for. These may include:

Agitation, scratching, and biting – A cat that suddenly becomes agitated, starts scratching or tries to bite you when you lick it is expressing displeasure (https://pethelpful.com/cats/Signs-Your-Cat-Hates-You). These behaviors suggest the licking is making your cat feel threatened or angry.

Pupils dilating and ears flattening back – A cat’s pupils may dilate and ears flatten back against the head when feeling fearful or threatened. If you notice these signs when licking your cat, it likely wants you to stop (https://www.quora.com/Can-I-lick-my-cat-to-show-affection-to-it).

Hissing, growling or swatting – Cats may hiss, growl or swat at you to express their displeasure. These behaviors usually mean “stop doing that” in cat language. If your cat exhibits them in response to licking, it’s best to refrain from doing so (https://pets.stackexchange.com/questions/24135/one-cat-licks-the-other-but-hates-being-licked).

Suddenly leaving – If your cat abruptly gets up and leaves when you try licking it, this is a clear sign it wants you to stop. Cats remove themselves from situations they don’t like.

When Licking May Be Problematic

While licking and grooming behaviors are natural for cats, excessive licking can sometimes indicate an underlying issue. Compulsive licking due to stress or anxiety is one potential cause. Changes in a cat’s environment, schedules, or relationships can trigger obsessive grooming as a self-soothing mechanism. Consulting a veterinarian or animal behaviorist may help identify and resolve sources of stress.

Medical problems can also prompt excessive licking. Allergies, parasites, infections, and pain are possible culprits. If licking focuses on a particular body part, irritation or injury may be present. Identifying and treating any underlying medical condition often eliminates obsessive licking. Veterinary exams and tests can pinpoint issues.

Cats have rough tongues covered in backward-facing spines called papillae. Frequent licking of human skin can lead to irritation, rashes, and even infection. Cats tend to target hands, legs, ankles and feet with licking. Washing licked areas promptly helps minimize risks. Using bitter tasting gels or sprays may deter licking. Providing alternative outlets like toys can also curb problematic licking. Setting boundaries firmly but gently can reinforce good pet behavior.

For sources see: https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/cats-lick-too-much

Establishing Healthy Boundaries

It’s important for cat owners to set reasonable boundaries to maintain a healthy relationship with their pet. Excessive licking from a human can overstimulate a cat and lead to behavioral issues over time. If licking becomes a frequent occurrence, there are some techniques you can try to redirect your cat’s behavior:

Redirect with toys – Keep interactive toys like wands and feather teasers in multiple rooms. When your cat tries to initiate licking, initiate a toy play session instead to shift their focus to appropriate stimulation and bonding.

Provide alternative bonding – Give your affectionate cat other ways to connect with you, like brushing, petting, or clicker training. Sitting calmly and giving your cat attention without constant physical touch can also strengthen your bond.

Give access to “alone” spaces – Ensure your cat has safe spaces to retreat when they need a break, like a cat tower, enclosed bed, or box. Shutting them in a bathroom with food, water, and litter can also give temporary relief from over-stimulation by a human seeking to lick them.

With patience and consistency, you can set reasonable physical boundaries with your cat. But remember to provide appropriate outlets for their energy and need for affection. Maintaining a strong relationship requires mutual understanding and respect.

Fostering a Strong Human-Cat Bond

Building a strong bond with your cat requires patience, respect, and regular positive interactions. Make time each day for play sessions using interactive toys like feather wands and laser pointers. Let your cat set the pace and intensity of play based on their interest. Be sure to give your cat affection through gentle pets, chin scratches, and head rubs. However, always respect your cat’s signals if they seem overstimulated or need some space. It’s important not to overwhelm or stress your cat.

Providing enrichment through cat trees, scratching posts, puzzle feeders, and hideaways will keep your cat engaged and content. Rotate toys to keep things interesting. The more mental and physical stimulation your cat receives, the deeper your bond will become. With time and positive reinforcement, a cat who was previously aloof may warm up and seek out your company. However, let your cat initiate affection on their own terms rather than forcing interactions.

With patience and respect, you can form a lasting friendship with your feline companion. But allow the process to unfold gradually and avoid scolding or punitive training methods which will only erode trust. If you can learn to read your cat’s subtle body language and provide an enriching home environment, you’ll be rewarded with a loving, devoted pet.

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