You’re just chillin’ on the sofa, minding your own business when you feel it: the trademark tackiness of your cat’s tongue against your arm. It’s not that you mind, per se — I mean, sure, your cat’s tongue is a bit like wet sandpaper — but you can’t help wondering why your fickle feline friend all of a sudden feels the need to groom you. And while the reason isn’t necessarily complicated, it is nuanced.
Your first instinct may be to assume your cat is trying to clean you, and you could be right. For cats, the cleaning of their coats by their mama cat endures as their earliest memory. It’s a classic case of kitty-see, kitty-do, whereby your cat could very well be following their mama’s example of cleanliness.
It’s also possible your feline friend may simply be trying to show you affection.
In an interview with Vetstreet, board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. E’Lise Christensen Bell of Veterinary Behavior Consultations of New York City explained that grooming can be quite social for cats.
“It’s normal for cats to groom the head areas of ‘preferred associates’ or friends — especially if they are related. Obviously, cats aren’t related to their people, even though we often pretend they are, but hair licking could have its roots (pun intended) in this natural grooming behavior,” Christensen Bell said.
Animal Planet echoes this theory, tendering that such grooming is in response to the pleasure they receive from being petted. Basically, they enjoy being petted and consider it akin to being licked, so they want to return the favor.
The site also explains that licking is territorial behavior rooted in the way a mama cat grooms its kittens to establish her scent and “claim” her brood. That’s a sweet thought, right? It’s nice to consider your cat feels so close to you it wants to mark you as its own.
But if you want to be slightly weirded out, there’s one more possible reason your cat just can’t quit grooming you. It likes the way you taste. According to Christensen Bell, the natural oils found on the human body and in human hair could be a tasty treat to your BFF (read: best feline friend).
Hey, here’s hoping you manage to toe the line between being a tasty little treat for licking and looking like your cat’s next big meal.