Every morning it starts out the same: I wake up to my head being licked. Sounds gross? It can be. Cats have rough tongues and when it touches my forehead I pull the blanket up over my head. Then the pawing and dancing around on the bed starts. At first it’s just walking around with a few meows and escalates to having a cat standing on my pillow trying to find a way under the blanket to lick my head even more!
My two cats are better than an alarm clock. I had figured for a longest time it was way to just get food but sometimes they will lick my hand or rather, “try to” when I’m watching tv or reading. It turns out this is a way cats show affection but I still think my cats know it the one thing they can do to make me feed them in the morning.
Grooming is a way of bonding among multi-cat households and communities. When cats are happy they may show it in several ways towards their human companions such as grooming, kneading, head-butting, and bringing objects to you that they want to share. My cats have left me their toys in my sneakers, on my bed, or on my computer as a way of showing they consider me part of their community and like me. Kneading and head-butting also allow cats to “mark” things as “mine.”
Licking and kneading also mark cats and humans as one by releasing scent glands from their paws as well as just the scent of their saliva. This is all fine and dandy, I’m glad to know my cats love being with me but I would rather they didn’t lick my head. From the research I’ve done on cat behavior, as much as it grosses me out, it has great meaning to my cats.
I recently discovered that cats who groom their owners can also be showing respect depending where they lick. Cats who lick your leg, arm, or hand are showing they are happy and content to share the home with you and accept you, like you, have fun with you.
Cats who groom heads and faces are showing all those emotions and also showing respect. In wild cats, the pride leader is often licked on the muzzle and face. Kittens will lick their mother’s face as their first form of showing affection. Licking is the best way cats know to show affection. Head-butting runs a close second.
My cats didn’t always lick my head. They used to just walk around me on the bed and meow like they were starving and the world was going to end if they didn’t get breakfast. I had always thought dogs were the ones who were notorious for licking people and cats were the ones who purred and kneaded.
I’ve had cats my whole life and every one of them has had unique personalities and slightly different ways of showing affection. I know I should be happy knowing what I know but all I can think about right now is this itchy spot on my left temple where my female cat licked me this morning…blech.