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What is a Cat Kiss?

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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.

Do cats kiss each other?

A gray cat kissing an orange cat.
Do cats kiss each other? Sort of! Photography ©Voren1 | Thinkstock.

“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!”

Do cats kiss people?

A woman in a turtleneck kissing a cat on his head.
Do cats kiss people? Yes — but it’s not how you’d expect! Photography ©coscaron | Thinkstock.

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.

You might be missing those kisses!

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.

Read more about cat affection on Catster.com:

49 thoughts on “What is a Cat Kiss?”

  1. My cat doesn’t lick very much but sometimes likes to touch noses with me, and when I come home from being out even for a short time, he’s always nuzzling and rubbing whatever part of me he can get close to, Whether it’s my ankle when I’m standing or my face when I get down on the floor with him . He likes, or at least tolerates, my hugging and kissing him on his fur. He is the furry equivalent of my baby, and I think he knows it. He purrs a lot and seems to like belly rubs.

  2. I don’t know if I fully agree with this article. My 5 year old girl cat has always been a face licker. Whether my face is clean or dirty she wants to lick right below my nose on my top lip. She does it to other people when they show her affection too. She is her most comfortable when she’s laying on your chest getting head scratches and licking the crap out of you nose. That is how she shows affection. My 4 year old boy is not that extreme but after he’s just gotten a good rub down and is cozy, he will lightly catch your hand or arm with a light flick of the tongue. I think it’s foolish to say that their “grooming or others” has no affectionate connection. A cat that doesn’t know you or trust you is NOT going to groom you. My animals do show affection with the slow blink, and cuddles, and kisses (in the form of grooming). So if mine do, then other cats do too.

  3. My cats seems to do this things were we touch noses. It seems like affection as I always slowly blink and they do it back. Then they leave. We all seem happy about the little exchange.

  4. My boyfriend’s kitty will tilt his head and give you a peck on the lips as a greeting. It’s a trained behavior, but it’s so adorable.

  5. My Gracie and I will do the slow blink with each other, but she also loves it when I kiss her on the top of her head. She’s also big on giving head rubs.

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  10. I have 2 cats, brothers that I got from a friend of a friend when they were finally old enough to leave mom. I’ve had them for 2 years now and I’m basically their mom now.

    My one kitty definitely gives me kisses. He probably learned it from watching my boyfriend kiss me because he never gave me kisses until after I started seeing me boyfriend. I usually encourage him with pets because I think it’s adorable, and if I make kissy faces at him he’ll usually give me a kiss.

    His brother doesn’t like people being close to his face, but if I’m laying on the couch, he’ll still hop up next to my head and give me a little peck before wandering off.

  11. My cat, Mitzy, has been kissing me on the lips, mostly, since I’ve had her, about 4 months now. Whenever she jumps up on the sofa to be on my lap when I’m sitting or on top of me when I’m lying down, her goals seem to be the same: a display of cuddly affection such as petting her under her chin and tummy. However, first come what I call kitty kisses, rapid licks on my mouth lasting for however long she wants followed by mutual paws and hands on each other with los of pets, hugs, and gentle rubs. Whether affected by odor, after I’ve had a shower or not, I have no idea, or even after I’ve eaten or not, doesn’t make a difference. I think the “kisses” on my mouth may have been a learned response or not (from previous owners, two, I don’t know)! I also sense some strong attraction to cats that I always seemed to have, even when I was never aware of this, as I always had dogs as long term pets who were always loving to me. Cats, small ones, have often been motivated to climb up my legs with strong displays of affection, even the first time I met them. I currently have a small Pomeranian dog, who is quite jealous of my cat, who is a large Calico cat. Is this explainable?

  12. I believe my cat kisses me all the time. She leaves these “butterfly” kisses every night on my nose. Occasionally, she licks my mouth or rubs noses. Most of all, I love it when she hugs me.

  13. At present I have two brothers who were found under a car as baby kittens. Had them checked by vet who found them basically healthy, somewhat underweight. They were full of fleas but too young for flea treatments so I gave them daily baths and removed all I could. Neither purrs loudly (I have to put my ear to the body to hear.) nor are they much for lapsitting. They prefer to sit or lie next to me or where they can see me. They both show their bellies and seem to enjoy belly rubs as well as petting. They head bump me a lot and last be being scratched under their chins or around their ears. They stare at me and slow bli k which I return. They groom each other and my arms and legs. They miao when they want something (usually food). They took immediately to using litter box but one does not cover but scratches sides, top of box and sometimes floor. The other will cover most of the time. This is the first time I e had male cats or two at one time and they are certainly more active and destructive but I love them dearly.

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  15. I do kiss the top of my cats heads when I know they’re open to it (from body language & the situation, IE when they’re sitting on my lap) but I definitely slow blink at them basically as often as possible. I also kinda consider scratching under their chin a “kiss” because I know most cats Love that and it’s my way of non-verbally saying “I love you and want you to know it”. Sometimes my cats lean up and rub against my nose, and whether or not that’s them kissing me it absolutely melts my heart. If I look up and see that they’re staring at me I tend to pat my lap for them to come over and say “hey, I love you”. Yknow, being a cat lady is only worth as much of a crazy cat lady you act like. Yuck it up as much as possible!

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  17. My cat Ming kisses me he comes up to me when he wants something or just some attention and he comes up and puts his whole nose on my lips and I make a kiss sound its so cute he usually does it when he’s kissing up no puns intended lol!

    1. My Harvey does this too me all the time and I always kiss him back and love on him. I’ve tried every way I can think of too get an idea of what he actually means when he does this. I can’t seem too find anyone who understands what I’m talking about. It’s frustrating because I’d really like too know what my little fellow is wanting when he does this. We just love him so much!

  18. We do a nose to nose with foreheads to each others! almost like a simultaneous head bump/nose bump. I can always kiss his face and head anywhere but he returns the affection with the bump.

  19. Mr Noel wakes me up in the mornings with eskimo kisses all over my face.. The funny thing is he is 10 1/2 and just started doing it a few weeks ago! Could this be a form of a kitty kiss??

  20. Princess used to kiss me in the morning. She would rub her face on my cheeks and then when I said “SMOOCH?!” she would put her lips on the tip of my nose and lick my nose daintily with her little tongue.

  21. I have 6 cats and love when the blink to me. They like to lick me all the time and the funny thing is they never lick the same spot. Two of my cats were very affectionate to watch other when they were young, but after a couple of years they were not as affectionate even though I know they love each other still. I have 1 cat that would always be with me including sleep with until I think I was giving a of affection to other cats. He still is with me, but has not slept with me for a bit which makes me sad. I do love spoil my cats just like children because they are my children. To end this it is great when I get blinks licks. Cats kiss humans all the time.

  22. My cat was feral when I rescued her from my yard when I lived in California. It took her a long time to become affectionate so I appreciate it all the more. She doesn’t do the slow blink but she always comes to bed with me. First she gives me a couple of head butts, then she gives me little licks on my arms or face. When she settles in to sleep, she always lays some part of her body against my arm and purrs. I love it. She gets several forehead kisses a day.

    1. My cat never head butts. He only wool sucks on my lap, but only with a particular pair of pants. He is never affectionate. He does however lay on his back and shows his tummy after I’ve been out for a while. He was a rescue and I’m really sad that he’s so cool towards me. He does follow me everywhere I go however.

  23. I give big kisses on the lips lol, and I also do the slow blink. Sometimes my boy grooms his sister and she used to do it back but now she just acts like a princess and lets him clean her lol. The other way I show affection or, rather, gain their trust and affection is to scruff them and “bite” (lips over teeth) their ears as their mother would do. They love it and and turned them from feral scaredy cats into my little love bugs. Also, if I’m having a particularly hard day emotionally, my girl will place her paw on me as if to let me know she is there for me… Cats are very spiritual. Never underestimate them… they both knew when my father was in his final days and would take turns placing their paws on him. When he passed, they stood by him like soldiers when the coroner arrived as if they were guarding him. I’ve never seen anything like it…

  24. Theresa O’Rourke

    I’ve been taking care of cats for years now, including my own.
    When I see a cat licking and groom8ng another, I definitely see it as a sign of affection. I had two brothers who adored each other and would sleep together, and groom each other. So sweet! When one died and I eventually had two others join us, the brother who was left never took to the new cats, certainly wouldn’t bother to cuddle and lick them.
    When my cat head butts me with love, and touches my face with his paw, and jumps on my lap to cuddle, I take it all as a sign of love and affection. One likes to have his belly rubbed, they are all so different, one follows me around , I love them all, and to me, with their beautiful purring, to me that is love and affection that they each express in their own way. I never heard of the cat blinking, but will watch for it, and definitely try it. Thank you.

  25. My first cat, Fluffy, would “kiss” me goodbye and help by briefly touching my lips with her nose. I’d stop as I was leaving or coming home and say “Give me a kiss” and she’d touch her nose to me. Except one day I was leaving to go to a friend’s house for a sleepover. She would not kiss me. When I asked a third time, she reached up and marked my face with her mouth, as if to say “I know you’re spending the night with other cats, but remember, you’re MINE.”

    1. We currently have 3 kitties, a female Pepper, she’s 2 now, rubs her nose on my face or does gentle, sometimes not so gentle, nips (don’t know if that’s a kiss she does it lot). Peanut is Peppers Mom, she is not affectionate but love her just the same she was a feral kitty who had just given birth to Pepper her only kitten, she was only about 5 months old (according to our vet) at the time, when we adopted the two of them. Our most recent addition is about 8 months his name is Mr. Kitty, he adopted us, scooted into the house one night, jumped up on the couch and went to sleep, looked at each other, hubby said call vet tomorrow, get him checked out, looks like he’s staying. He was in great shape except for a few fleas, he was part of the TNR (trap, neuter, release) program in our area, his ear was clipped and he hadn’t quite healed from the surgery, anyway he kisses all the time, in the morning, if I go out, when I return, when I’m heading to bed for the night, or for no reason, just walking by he kind of hops up and rubs noses or if I bend over he’ll do the same but add some face rubbs as well. I think he’s thanking us for letting him stay.

      1. Theresa O’Rourke

        You sound like a very kind person, and your husband. That cat who moved in was very smart! Ha!ha! And lucky he found such a nice couple.
        I wish there were more like you two.

    2. Catherine,
      My cat Jeremiah gives me the same kind of good bye kisses. When I’m leaving the house I yell goodbye to both my cats and tell them when I’ll be home. ‘Miah runs to the door to see me go, and when I say “give me a kiss” he puts his nose to my lips. That is, unless I say I won’t be back that night. Then he watches me go, but refuses the kiss. He was an abandoned kitten, 3 days old when I found him. We have a really close bond.

  26. My kitten loves giving me kisses!

    He loves to nuzzle my hand with his nose, lick my forehead, show me his belly (he loves belly rubs!), and he loves to sit on my leg. He loves me and I love him

  27. Usually pushing with head to snuggle, sticking his face in my face. Then snuggling and loud purrs. Sometimes it’s just a bite.

    1. Theresa O’Rourke

      Mine too! I have one who jumps on my lap, full of love, and bites me,
      But in an affectionate way, not in an irritated
      Overstimulated way, more of a love bite, if that makes sense. Kind of like an excited puppy, I know that is his way of showing his love. Sometimes he overdoes it, and I get annoyed and shoo him away cause it hurts. It is strange because he is not angry, just sort of over passionate
      If that make sense?
      I’ve seen him angry with the other cats, but with me it is like a love bite.
      He’ll bump me and rub against me at the same time. I really love this funny fellow.

  28. Josette French kisses. She sticks her tongue out about 1/4 inch and touches the back of my hand. I love the feel of her soft breath and her whiskers along with the tiny moist spot her tongue leaves. This is a behavior I believe she does to soften me up to pet her or continue to pet her. But she sometimes French kisses me on my face when I am in bed and almost asleep.

  29. Christine Quigley

    We rescued
    my beloved orange tabby kitty, that someone duct taped in a shoe box, no air , and left him to die in a hot box in late July. He was 4 wks old. He couldn’t even sit, his little eyes half closed. Anyway took him to the vet next am, fixed him all up. He is now a happy three year old loving, best behaved kitty ever.
    Loki comes , when I am lying down, will come up and lay on my shoulder, usually with his front leg stretched out. He then will put his nose in or by my ear, and breath in and out quickly. He has always done this. Lasts for about a minute. Feels funny. Yes I keep my ears clean. :))
    What is he doing? I feel it’s a sign of affection, along with other things he does. Loki and I also do the slow blink since he was little, it works.
    Thanks, Chris & Loki

    1. How did you guys discover the cat in the taped up shoe box? Stories like that make me so angry! But I am so grateful that you guys were somehow able to find/save him…

  30. Our wonderful cat Bullseye will not lay down and go to sleep at night unless she gives both my Wife and I a couple of licks on the tip of our nose. She’s done that since we can remember. Not sure how you would classify that but anyway.

  31. One of my cats, Molly, loves to press her nose against my nose.
    Sometimes it’s slower and more delicate; other times she pushes harder.
    It’s always when she’s purring and on me in some form.
    It’s been noticed that she seems to have emotions that are more on the human side than any other cat I’ve seen.
    She likes to be touching both my boyfriend and I when we’re sitting together.
    And she likes to touch her paw to my face; like she’s patting it.
    At night she is usually curled against me, in my arms.
    She’s pretty special.

  32. Every night I hold my kitty on my lap and she crawls up my chest; she will purr and touch my face with her paws and then will go nose to nose with me. I call that my kitty kiss.

  33. My cat Luna gives me “Eskimo kisses” every evening after I brush her, and at random times otherwise. She’ll also push her forehead into the bridge of my nose sometimes.
    And sometimes, after her morning scratches, she’ll give me “special kisses”. I’m on the floor with her, and have my face close to hers. She’ll rub the side of her mouth along the edge of my mouth. I don’t even move, she does it all.

  34. I do the slow blink back when they do it to me, lol, I have two, both of them slow blink, and the one female I have is inside cat, she will gently wake me and often gets close to my face to stare into my eyes in the mornings, it’s cute, she has expression in her eyes, they stare blankly, sometimes they look sort of angry, and in the mornings when her paws are on my shoulder and slowly patting my face, I look at her inches away from my face and her eyes smile, honestly…. she’s hungry, but she trusts me like that I think completely, it’s very sweet.

  35. My cat Harley was the runt of the litter and he is so close to me when I get home from work as I walk in the door he will stand on his hind legs with his front paws in the air wanting me to pick him up and put him on my shoulder. That’s when the loving begins. He nuzzles my cheek with affection and purrs like crazy. He also loves when I walk through the house with him on my shoulder. Us is so in love with me and vice versa. Jodi T.

  36. We have three, and my mom loves to pick up our cat Freddy and smother him with kisses and nibble his ‘lip’. He doesn’t like it, but he tolerates it, so I think that’s his way of telling her ‘I love you’

  37. I often end up slow blinking at cats when I realize I’ve been staring at their beauty/cuteness for too long and am probably making them uncomfortable. O.O

  38. I saved my cat as a kitten. It was my first day moving into my new home and Him and two of his siblings came strolling up to my door step. He was obliviously the runt and not just because of being smaller he was also being ignored and pushed around.. I fed and gave them shelter from the rain and when i checked on them during the night the other two had ran him off and he was under my car meowing… When I called him to me came right to me.. The poor thing had goop all around his eyes and could hardly open them… I took him in right away but had no idea what to do… I had never had a cat of my own… I wrapped him up to keep him warm and brought him with me to the store in the middle of the night to get what I could… Before we went in I held him close then he crawled up to my face and began to lick right between my eyebrows on my “Third Eye” he is a year and a half now and since that first moment of bonding with him that night every time I pick him up and hold him close he will head bump me then give me my “Third eye” kiss. His name is Tao and he is my little man cat!

  39. My husband is teaching Haiku (one of our Siamese) to “give kisses.” We have a kitchen stool that is about counter height, and the cat jumps up there for treats (and to keep him off the counter as much as possible). Haiku also gets petted there, standing up and putting his paws on my husband’s shoulders. My husband will say “give kiss!” and pucker up. Haiku will usually give him a peck on the lips.

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