When you are holding your cat, does she sometimes lick you? She is probably purring and rubbing on you at the same time. We instinctively know that these behaviors are a good thing and indicate positive feelings, but have you even really wondered why? We cannot ask our cats (well we can..but they won’t answer) so we must turn to science for our answers.
Many social animals have a behavioral repertoire of interactions, but cats have not typically been thought to be particularly social. However, a study published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery explained that cats can exist as solitary creatures, but in settings with adequate resources (like plentiful food and resting places), cats can also reside peacefully in a colony or group.
In colonies, behaviors like licking and grooming seem to be intended to maintain social bonds with valuable partners, reduce tension and express social status within a group. Our relationships with our cats is no different.
Furthermore, many cats seemed to develop preferences, called “preferred associates” among the group. These preferred associates are the most frequent subjects of grooming and licking.
What this means is that when your cat licks you, he is treating you like a “preferred associate”, family member or someone who is his favorite. Whether you like it or not, when your cat licks you, he is just saying, “I love you.”
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- Social organization in the cat: a modern understanding. J Feline Med Surg.2004 Feb;6(1):19-28. Crowell-Davis SL, Curtis TM, Knowles RJ.