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Have you ever wondered why your cat licks your nose, your cheeks or your hands when you are petting it? This behaviour – typical of dogs but often considered unusual in cats – can have many different meanings.

Understanding the language of cats is a fascinating, and every owner aspires to it. Cats communicate using body language and by making noises, to make their message clearer. Licking is one of these methods. Here are some of the reasons why they do it.

1. TO SHOW AFFECTION. It’s intuitive: cats lick us to tell us that they love us and we are important to them. They do so because they consider us part of their family, and they feel safe with us. Effectively, they are doing the same to us as their mother did to them when they were kittens.

2. TO MARK THEIR TERRITORY. Usually cats lick each other to wash areas that they can’t reach on their own. Above all, it is a strong mark of friendship. But when they lick us, there is an element of marking their territory: as they lick they leave their scent, and consequently we belong to them.

3. TO PLAY. For cats, licking other cats means to go back in time, to when they spent their days with their siblings. If a cat suddenly licks us and then bites us while we are playing together, it is no cause for concern and we shouldn’t tell it off: it’s the cat’s way of telling us that it’s having fun and that it wants us to continue playing with it.

4. TO LOWER ITS ANXIETY LEVELS. If a cat licks itself constantly, or licks our hand or our hair insistently, it could be a sign of distress, perhaps because it’s stressed. For example, after an operation it could lick itself to the point it loses its fur. In this case, we should continue to cuddle it, and if the problem persists, take it to the vet.

If our cat doesn’t grace us with its lovely rough tongue, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t love us. There will be other ways in which it can show us its love!

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