No one is surprised to see a cat grooming itself, since daily grooming is an essential part of its routine. So much so that it is estimated that kittens spend between 30 and 50% of the day engaged in the hygiene of their body. They lick one paw to get it wet, they wipe their faces, then they continue with the other paw, with the back, the tail… It sounds familiar, right?
However, when this toilet has another being as the protagonist, be it another cat that you live with or yourself, this behavior acquires another nuance. More than cleaning itself, what gains strength is the social component. The felines of the same community groom themselves to socialize, to reinforce their bonds. It is a way of taking care of each other.
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Allocation or social grooming
If you’re wondering why does my cat lick my face when I sleep? You should know that it does it, mainly, for two reasons:
- To give you the grooming carethat he has learned from his mother since birth.
- To mark you. The saliva of felines has a strong odor, when licking you it marks you because it recognizes you as part of its family circle. You are his property, now you share a common smell, that of your community.
Through the conical pupils of their tongue, the kittens get rid of adhering dirt and dead hair in one pass. If there is something more forceful they will not hesitate to nibble to eliminate it. In this way, they manage to keep their coat in perfect condition to protect them, for example, from weather conditions.
They learn it from birth. Their parents lick them constantly to keep them clean, warm and to stimulate their sphincters. At 3 weeks of age they are capable of grooming themselves . In addition to ensuring their hygiene, something they value very much, relaxes them, gives them pleasure and serves to show their affection.
But why when I’m sleeping
The domestication process that we have subjected cats to for centuries has made our pets behave like kittens to us. They consider us other cats, larger, who provide them with the care that their mothers used to provide them.
It is not surprising that they extend their social schemes to us . If among them this allo-grooming is accepted to express their closeness and affection towards another fellow man, why should they not carry it out with their human tutor? Given the difference in height, they must look for tactics to access the face, where their pheromones are concentrated.
The time to sleep is perfect. The face is accessible and, in turn, relaxed, something that encourages them even more to perform this social ritual. When we are awake they must settle, for example, with rubbing against our legs or receiving our caresses on their head. When we sleep they can unleash their most genuine social dynamics.
What happens if you repeat it constantly and forcefully?
If you notice that your cat licks you intensely and compulsively, it could be stress. This is what specialists call displacement grooming . They try to calm their restlessness with a routine that per se is pleasant to them. It is a mechanism of emotional restoration through the pheromones that are released from the lips.
In other cases, they may choose to insistently rub their head, potentially hurting themselves, to reverse their discomfort. In any case, the prudent thing is to go to the vet to rule out that it is due to a physical pathology. If its origin is found in a behavioral disorder, the ethologist will be the most qualified professional to help you.
The pica or malacia
If, on the other hand, your cat licks clothes, sucks fabrics or swallows objects, it is very likely that he is going through an episode of pica. Although its most common trigger is usually acute stress , it can also be due to a deficiency of minerals and fiber in your diet or due to diseases such as immunodeficiency or diabetes.
Siamese and Burmese cats have a predisposition to lick fabrics such as wool. Once again, the intervention of the veterinarian and the expert in feline behavior is essential to redirect this behavior disorder.
Other possible meanings of licking in felines
In addition to showing affection for you, having your cat lick you can carry other meanings. Pay attention:
- If you are playing it is very possible that he will lick you and nibble you gently. He wants you to know that he is very comfortable with you and that he is having a great time.
- If you have been cooking or eating, the smell of some food may have been impregnated on your fingers and this will capture the attention of your kitten. Likewise, the very salty taste of our sweat tends to attract them.
- Simply because he is relaxed and happy and wants to share it with you.
- To claim your attention, just like it does when it meows. He may need to point out that he wants to be with you or that you help him with something that affects him (more food, changing the litter in the litter box, etc.).
If you do not particularly enjoy this act of love, never scold, yell, or punish him. You run the risk of scaring and stressing him. According to your social scheme you are doing nothing wrong. It is preferable that when you detect that the lick is close by certain signals you divert your attention to another activity.
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