Eskimo, French and butterfly are just the beginning of the list of ways people describe kissing. For humans, kissing with our lips is a ubiquitous sign of affection. While cats express their affection in a myriad of ways, lip-on-lip action isn’t exactly one of them. But, every cat parent knows our feline friends show their affection toward us, and each other, quite often. So, what exactly is a “cat kiss?” And how can we instigate more tender moments with our beloved cats? Let’s explore the secrets of the cat kiss.
“It’s important to define what is meant by a ‘cat kiss’ — when we think of kissing, we think of a touching of the lips that has romantic, sexual or platonic, but affectionate meaning,” says Mikel Delgado, Ph.D., and Certified Cat Behavior Consultant at Feline Minds. “Cats do sometimes touch and sniff or groom each other near the mouth area, but this is not a romantic gesture because cat sex is not exactly romantic.”
Dr. Delgado explains that all grooming in cats is a sign of cats who are friendly with each other. She makes the distinction that it is not necessarily affectionate. “We don’t know the intention behind the behavior,” Dr. Delgado says. “It could be [that] the other cat has food on his mouth.”
Mary Johnson has been working with community cats (aka feral cats) for over four decades. She’s been a foster caretaker to hundreds of cats and kittens and has been privy to every nuance of their behavior. “They clean each other, they rub each other, but they don’t kiss,” Johnson says. “When cats lick each other during grooming it is a bonding experience. Cats who don’t get along don’t partake in this ritual.”
Johnson witnesses her foster kitties licking each other and does see it as a form of affection. Her foster littermates play together, eat together, sleep together and lick each other — it’s a part of their routine that defines their family unit. Grooming is also a form of marking territory, so they are letting everyone know, “this licked kitten belongs with me.”
Further confounding the issue, cats sometimes do greet each other in a way that resembles a quick peck. Cats will often sniff each other on the nose as a salutation. We could anthropomorphize this and call it their “hello Eskimo kiss!”
Cats are not shy about communicating with their people. In fact, cats don’t really meow at each other, but rather save that vocalization for their guardians. While we’d all like to learn how to speak cat, we’d also like to get our cats to lavish us with affection! Some cats bring us gifts, knead us and show love with belly displays, but they’re never craning up for a big wet smooch.
Sometimes cats do lick their people, including around the mouth area. There are a few reasons your cat is licking you that has nothing to do with kissing. You could be tasty – maybe there are some leftover droplets or crumbs from your last meal. “In regards to licking humans, I don’t believe that is something they necessarily learn from another cat,” Dr. Delgado says. “That doesn’t mean they are born ‘kissers’ either — again, it might just take a new lotion that tastes interesting, or maybe you’re extra salty after a workout, and that’s enough to get them interested.”
But, all licking is not equal — sometimes cats lick when they’re stressed. Cats will also lick all kinds of textures — from cotton to rubber— so it’s important to pay attention to what your cat may be ingesting while he appears to be kissing every surface.
While “kissing” in the traditional sense isn’t part of feline love language, there is one definitive way that cats convey affection toward humans. The subtle cat slow blink is a surefire way to know your cat loves and trusts you. This is when your cat looks at you with soft eyes and slowly blinks. You can (and should!) do it back to your cat in return. It’s so powerful that Jackson Galaxy calls it the “I Love You Blink.”
Cats do the slow blink to people and to other cats. People also use the slow blink when calming fearful and shy cats. It helps alleviate stress and shows the cat, in his own terms, that you mean no harm to him.
So, the best way to show your cat how much you love him is to not plop a big kiss on his face. It’s best to use your eyes. And when your cat is trying to lick your face off, it’s a sign you need to wash it. The most effective cat kiss consists of a hands-off approach!
Tell us: Do you kiss your cat? To you, what is your cat’s version of a “kiss”?
Thumbnail: Photography ©igor_kell | Thinkstock.
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