Why do cats lick you?

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Cats are notorious for his or her allegedly aloof nature, but even a habitually frosty feline may occasionally swipe a human arm, leg or face with its textured tongue. So why might a cat lick you? Is it displaying affection, or does it just desire a taste?

Anyone who has ever observed a cat’s each day activities probably knows that cats lick themselves on a regular basis. Domestic cats (Felis catus), which sleep a mean of 14 hours every day, spend as much as 1 / 4 of their waking hours grooming their fur, in keeping with a 2018 study published within the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (opens in recent tab).

“Cats lick themselves to assist keep their coats clean and healthy,” Kristyn Vitale, an assistant professor of animal health and behavior at Unity College in Maine, told Live Science. “It can be crucial that cats groom themselves since it helps to keep up the health of their fur.”

Cats groom their fur with assistance from lots of of sharp, hole, backward-facing spines carpeting their tongues. These spines, called papillae, are product of keratin, the identical substance that hair and claws are product of, in keeping with the 2018 study. Due to the spines’ hooklike shape, they behave like Velcro: As a cat’s tongue glides over fur, the keratin spines catch on tangles of hair, in keeping with research presented on the 2016 annual meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics in Portland, Oregon, Live Science previously reported.

Related: Why do cats ‘play’ with their prey?

Regular maintenance of the coat is essential for cats, because it removes any debris or matter that has grow to be stuck to their fur and helps prevent the fur from matting — that’s, becoming knotted and tangled, Vitale explained. Matted hair cannot only cause discomfort for cats but additionally lead the skin underneath to grow to be irritated and inflamed, posing a risk of infection, in keeping with 4 Paws Veterinary Care (opens in recent tab) in Wynantskill, Latest York.

Cats may groom themselves “as a stress-relieving behavior,” Vitale said. “Sometimes this will turn into over-grooming, by which the cat licks itself a lot that patches of fur go missing. This may increasingly be an indication of a behavioral or medical issue.”

Mother cats often lick kittens to assuage them and keep them clean. (Image credit: Bogdan Kurylo via Getty Images)

Cats also often lick other cats. As an illustration, mother cats often lick their kittens.

“Licking of kittens actually plays an important role in kitten survival,” Vitale said. “Very young kittens are unable to urinate or defecate on their very own. The mother will lick the genital region of her kittens with a purpose to stimulate them to go to the lavatory.”

Moreover, “the mother licks her kittens to assuage them and keep them clean,” Vitale said. Anyone who has raised orphaned kittens knows it’s a full-time job attempting to keep a newborn kitten’s fur clean.”

Finally, cats may lick acquaintances — a behavior generally known as allogrooming, Vitale said.

“Cats may engage in allogrooming with other cats in addition to other social partners, corresponding to dogs and humans,” Vitale said. “Friendly behaviors like allogrooming are thought to strengthen the connection between the individuals involved.”

Cats may engage in further friendly licking “before or after a bout of play,” Vitale added. “Often with my cats, they’ll begin by grooming each other, after which the interaction will slowly shift to play wrestling and chasing, before the 2 cool down and go to sleep next to at least one one other.” 

Unlike scent marking, allogrooming shouldn’t be a way for cats to designate what they consider their property.

“Territorial behaviors are people who promote lively defense of a location,” Vitale said. “As an alternative, allogrooming is an affiliative behavior, or a bond-building behavior. Allogrooming occurs when a cat is relaxed and within the presence of a preferred social partner. The cat may initiate social contact through licking because they’re looking for attention from the person.”

Originally published on Live Science.