Katz Tales: There's more to a cat's lick than a rasping kiss

  • Animals
  • Monday, 10 Jun 2019

A mummy cat licking her kitten's head, just like we give our loved ones kisses. Photo: 123rf.com

Swooner has decided that it is his duty to welcome me to the world of living at dawn with a super special cat kiss.

Unfortunately, of all the wake-up calls in the world, our junior cat has developed a greeting that rates as the No.1 creepiest.

Remember the "wet-willy" pranks back in school when people would run up to you, stick a wet finger in your ear and twist it a little? It’s like having an earthworm wriggling in your head. Well, Swooner has taken that trick and upped the creep factor.

I will be lying in bed, warm and cosy, aware that the birds singing and bees buzzing means I shall soon have to get up. But being super lazy, I want to enjoy that happy spaced out spot between waking and dreaming.

That’s when there’s a bump on the bed. Before I can collect myself and hide under the pillow, a wet sandpapery tongue rasps over my nose.

As a wakeup call, it sucks. But Swooner thinks it’s pawsome because for him, that early morning greeting says, “I love you” in Cat.

For cats, being licked is linked to happy early memories. Mummy cats lick their kittens moments after they’re born, giving them a tongue bath to clean them up. The kits still have their eyes closed, they don’t open for the first week, so this is their first bonding experience.

Tongue baths also help jumpstart tiny baby cat bodies. Mums lick their infant offspring from top to bottom in order to get them to pee and poop properly. Tip: if you have to foster a tiny kit, you have to copy this behaviour by either rubbing very gently with a finger or a cotton wool bud.

Once the kittens have their eyes open and are tumbling about, mums lick in order to groom. Mum will wash her face and tummy, showing the kids how to do it right, and as the little ones imitate her, mum adds a few licks here and there to help them along.

But apart from the practical stuff, a lick is also a pure sign of love. A mummy cat licks her kittens around the head and face, just like we give our loved ones kisses.

As they grow up, kittens lick their littermates, mums and relatives to show respect and love. One of the most peaceful sights is to see two little cats washing each other’s faces. They could easily use their own paws, but having their friend do it is just so much sweeter.

At the crack of dawn, I get that Swooner is giving me a kiss but the shiver factor comes in because of the sandpaper effect. Cats have rough tongues because they are covered in tiny spines. I have fairly delicate skin so when Swooner is happily kissing me, I feel like I’m being flayed.

The kicker is that cats view grooming as a relaxation technique, too. If a cat sees that his pal is upset, he rolls up and gives his friend a nice soothing bath, washing his ears, face and whiskers. It’s the cat equivalent of a head and shoulder massage.

So when I’m wriggling away, saying, “Eeeew, yes, hello and please stop that”, my daft kitten decides that I need soothing – and comes in with a salvo of licks that scrape my chin, cheeks and nose.

At this point, Target is usually sitting up on our pillow and killing himself laughing. He thinks of me as part cat too but he knows that I don’t like to be licked in the face.

Target gives me headbutts instead. He rubs his face against mine, whiskers twirling, purring loudly as he conks my cheekbones, chin and nose. If he does lick me, he goes for my hands and wrists because he knows I don’t mind that.

So my two pets are treating me like a loved fellow cat but what is funny is that Swooner and Target treat each other to kisses in quite a different way.

Sometimes, they lick each other for the best of motives. Like when Swooner came back from the vet last month, Target went straight over and helped him groom the evil stench of vet office from his fur. Target purred while he was helping his little pal, giving the whole scene a Disney flavour.

But my two cats are boys and they can be awfully naughty. The most common reason Target licks Swooner is as a prelude to wholesale theft.

When Swooner has a treat that Target wants, our senior cat strolls up and licks Swooner on the top of his head. Now, from time to time, Target has followed this up with a nip on the ear. And on several occasions, when Swooner was having a drink, Target bopped his pal on the head, dunking his face right in the water bowl.

Understandably, Swooner has developed a habit of caution. Target knows this and so the kiss is a passive-aggressive intimidation technique.

When Swooner is having a meal and Target swans up, bestowing a quasi-friendly lick, Swooner pauses, wondering if trouble is coming. If I’m there, I tell the senior cat to knock it off. Target then pretends horrified innocence but, more often than not, the junior cat backs off. Target considers this a win, and lecturing him is water off a duck’s back.

Long story short, there’s more to a cat’s lick than a rasping kiss.

I do appreciate that Swooner loves me but I’m determined to persuade him into a more human-friendly wakeup call. When there’s that bump on the bed, I shall try and intercept the lick and offer him a headbutt instead.

As a headbutt is a fighting move nicknamed "the Glasgow handshake" in my native Scotland, and as Swooner should see it as an enthusiastic expression of affection, this greeting should give us both a giggle.

Hopefully, it will do the trick.

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