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Do cats like being scratched under the chin?
March 9, 2011 2:58 AM   Subscribe

Why do cats sometimes lick you when you scratch behind their ears/under their chin?

Often when I pet a cat, I begin to rub behind its ear and under its chin. They seem to love it, and often begin to nuzzle into the palm of my hand, and sometimes they also lick my hand gently. Does this happen to other people as well? Why might cats do this? I've always thought of it as sweet and maybe affectionate; is this a reasonable thought?
posted by bibliophibianj to Pets & Animals (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
This happens to other cats as well, that's where this all starts. Social grooming, you could call it. Means that you're high on the fellow-cat-list of your cat. It also means that should you ever irritate her, her bites and scratchings will likely not be very hard. Way to go, learn the cat way of life!
posted by Namlit at 3:12 AM on March 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


Why might cats do this
Because you are tasty. (I'm serious, cats like salt.)
posted by b33j at 3:12 AM on March 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Cats do this sort of shit because people fall for it every damn time. In order for affection, both sides need to be equal and cats think they're superior and they're right. Think about it, if any human destroyed your furniture, scratched you on a daily basis, whined when you didn't feed them, vomited up hair balls and shit in a box for you clean up, would you be affectionate with them? No. We are stupid, just get used to the idea.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:38 AM on March 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


Default cat question answer: it's because cats are fucking weird.
posted by Aizkolari at 4:50 AM on March 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


Yes, it's affectionate behaviour. The cat has deemed you worthy of domestic servitude.
posted by arcticseal at 4:57 AM on March 9, 2011


Cats do this sort of shit because people fall for it every damn time.

Rather than it being some sort of conspiracy (????), I'm pretty sure they behave that way because skritches feel good, and the cat likes you.

There's a common misconception (mostly among cat-hating dog people) that since cats don't love everyone indiscriminately like dogs do, it means they're assholes. The difference between dogs and cats is, you need to earn a cat's affection. Once you do, they're just as affectionate as any dog.

Think about it, if any human destroyed your furniture, scratched you on a daily basis, whined when you didn't feed them, vomited up hair balls and shit in a box for you clean up, would you be affectionate with them?

If any human licked the faces and sniffed the crotches of everyone he met, ate poop and barked all the time at nothing, I not only wouldn't be affectionate with him, I'd have him locked away. What's your point?
posted by Koko at 5:00 AM on March 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


Cats do this because this is how they show their appreciation for their human slaves. It's kind of like the emperor allowing you to kiss the hem of their garment while averting your eyes. Either that or they think you are tasty.


Think about it, if any human destroyed your furniture, scratched you on a daily basis, whined when you didn't feed them, vomited up hair balls and shit in a box for you clean up, would you be affectionate with them?

These hypothetical humans are called babies and yeah, people keep making them despite these serious character flaws. It baffles me too.

posted by elizardbits at 5:16 AM on March 9, 2011 [31 favorites]


You're grooming them and they are grooming you back. Our twin cats do this to each other and to us all the time. You are just another cat to them-- presumably a cat they like, since a cat will only social groom a cat it has bonded with. When you pet the cat's head, it is the equivalent of another cat grooming its face. So the cat is simply returning the favor by grooming your hand a little bit.

Our cats often return the favor by chewing our hair.
posted by ohio at 5:44 AM on March 9, 2011


Yes they do. My cats like being scratched on the chin so much, that if I hold the slicker brush at the right angle, they will brush their own face (with lots of pressure!) until I'm tired of holding it. Then, sometimes, after I set the brush down, they will continue brushing themselves.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 6:17 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


My cats like being scratched on the chin so much, that if I hold the slicker brush at the right angle, they will brush their own face (with lots of pressure!) until I'm tired of holding it. Then, sometimes, after I set the brush down, they will continue brushing themselves.

*wistful look* My cat used to do that...

yeah, what you're seeing is the feline equivalent of "yeaaaaaaah, right there, that feels great, thanks."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:05 AM on March 9, 2011


Yep, mutual grooming. I've had several cats who do this.

I also had one who liked to knead with her claws (gently) on my chin while I was holding her. I'd never gotten this behavior from a cat and it struck me as completely weird until I realized that she was probably trying to scratch me under the chin the way I did for her. (She was polydactyl and very "handsy," and I always wondered if that correlated to her choice to do this. She liked having her paws touched and manipulated more than any cat I ever had, also.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:10 AM on March 9, 2011


I presumed it was the cat thinking, "Since I lick my paw and clean my fur, how about this time I lick your paw and you clean my fur?"
posted by yeti at 7:13 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nthing the mutual grooming. I have three cats, two of which have have been with me since the very second they were born, and the third is their momma. They will often pile up and groom each other - and if i happen to be petting the kitteh pile, or be within paw range, they groom me too. It's freaking cute, and pretty much proof that they simply think of me as another giant cat, albeit one who controls the food and gets to go out the big door. They also absolutely insist on kneading my belly; I think they do this because they love their bellies rubbed so much themselves and are returning the favour. What can I say, my cats love me. And they're weird.
posted by cgg at 7:17 AM on March 9, 2011


Yes to mutual grooming - also, since cats are very scent-based monsters, and because the senses of smell and taste are more or less the same thing, your cat friends may be a) tasting you to see who you are, and b) sharing a bit of their scent with you to mark you as one of their buddies.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 8:19 AM on March 9, 2011


Hmm. Some of all of the above may be true, but I've observed cats closing their eyes and licking nothing while scratching their own ears. I think it's a physiological response. If I move my arm/hand over while they're doing that, then yeah, they'll lick that, too.
posted by empyrean at 8:20 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nthing mutual grooming. Two of my cats do this to each other all the time and it's sweet. Then the larger one bites into the neck of the smaller one and pretend humps him while the little cat howls. That's less sweet.
posted by Kurichina at 9:43 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


It seems to be a grooming reflex. When you scratch around the head, you're pressing the "time to groom now" button. Some cats start drooling (with dignity, of course), some repeatedly stick their tongue out even if there's nothing there to lick. There's plenty of affection involved, too, since the cat wouldn't let you get involved in all this unless it felt safe with you and enjoyed your presence.
posted by Corvid at 9:57 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cats are very social (and sociable) creatures. They have a lot of scent glands on their face, and use face rubbing to mark you with their scent, especially if you've been out of their territory. It's basically a way to invite you back and make you part of their group again. Licking is often used among cats to initiate play or as part of their greeting process. I'd interpret it this way if it's a single lick or two, rather than an extended grooming session.

Alternatively, the cat lacks patience and wants to find out exactly what you taste like before it goes through the bother of doing you in.
posted by Hylas at 10:02 AM on March 9, 2011


The cats in my house seem to be about 50/50 on licking me out in a social grooming sense and in a "you taste interesting" sense.

For instance after spending a day painting my bathroom, the cats were all over me. I think they like the latex taste/smell.

Other times, it's as you describe. We have a nice petting/snuggling/bonding session, and they will gently lick my hand (usually the hand that has been petting them close to the face) - this is obviously social. I've often wondered if it wasn't a dominance display, like, "thanks for the back rub, slave girl..."
posted by Sara C. at 10:12 AM on March 9, 2011


OH HOLY SHIT. Did I really just write "licking me out"????? THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID. I promise the cats never, ever go there. Jesus. I almost want to ask a mod to edit that, because it's so embarrassing...
posted by Sara C. at 10:15 AM on March 9, 2011 [12 favorites]


Because Kitty lubs yew. Just accept it and then go clean the litter box like a good kitty-owned human.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:33 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had a cat that loved cleaning people. She'd just walk over and start licking your arm or whatever. She also loved cleaning the other 2 cats in the household. I mean, a lot of cats do this, but it varies, and this cat absolutely loved cleaning/licking cats/people. (She was also kind of the bottom of the cat dominance hierarchy, which may be related).

But yeah, they do this to each other and they do it to you. With humans they're particularly comfortable with, you'll see all the cat-cat rituals performed.
posted by wildcrdj at 11:04 AM on March 9, 2011


Heck, my cat licks my FACE when she's feeling particularly magnanimous.

... which is usually right when I'm FINALLY tired enough to try and sleep...

But never after I've taken a bath. She DOES want to glom all over me though, probably because OMG HERETICAL HAS NO SMELL MUST MARK HUMAN AS MINE.

I'm convinced she considers me nothing more than the opposable thumbs required to open her cans of gooshyfood, and occasionally an overlarge, hairless, dumb kitten who can't even catch their own mice to eat. Honestly.
posted by Heretical at 1:39 PM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


b33j: I lick people, and it's at least partially because I like salt.
posted by madcaptenor at 4:15 PM on March 9, 2011


My cat will give me one lick during skritchy time, but when my husband holds out his hand to pet her, she starts in like his hand is an ice cream cone. Every time. Cats are weird. (And delightful!)
posted by Ruki at 7:23 PM on March 9, 2011


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