Why Does My Cat Lick My Face When I Am Sleeping?

By Ameera Mills. Updated: March 4, 2019
Why Does My Cat Lick My Face When I Am Sleeping?

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There is the widespread idea that cats are independent animals and are not sociable or affectionate. This description, however, does not define the majority of cats with whom we live. Thus, there are still people who are surprised at the demands of affection from their feline companions.

Cats show affection through many different ways, including: licking, cheek rubbing and purring. Licking for cats is considered a form of grooming and affection. In this AnimalWised article we will explain to you why your cat licks your face when you are sleeping.

You may also be interested in: Why Does My Cat Smell My Face?

Why do cats lick?

Although, as we said, cats do not have a reputation for being affectionate animals, we do know them to be incredibly clean. Cats groom themselves through licking. They clean their mantles starting with the face, moving to the legs, the body and ending at the tail.

The texture of a cat’s tongue resembles that of sandpaper. Their tongue’s are covered in papillae, which are backward facing hooks made of keratin. This texture facilitates cleaning by removing dirt and keeping their fur in optimal condition. This thus ensures that it fulfill its functions of protecting and isolating itself from high and low temperatures. If for whatever reason its tongue doesn’t manage to clean its fur fully,it will use its teeth to nibble and extract leftover residue.

This feline ritual is typically known as self-grooming. This self-grooming is also known as ‘preening’.

Why Does My Cat Lick My Face When I Am Sleeping? - Why do cats lick?

The preening of cats

Cats are instinctively self-cleaning/grooming animals. These cleaning behaviors root from its time of birth. Kittens, for example, are cleaned by their mothers from the day they are born. They are in fact cleaned until approximately three weeks of age until they can start defecating themselves.

The hygiene maintained by a mother with her young, reinforces the social and family bond between these animals. This is a behavior which is maintained throughout their lives. We will also notice this behavior in cats that live together, regardless of age.

This preening explains why our cat licks our face when we sleep, it is a habitual act for these animals. This behavior signifies that our cat considers us family and that, as such, it will takes care of us by maintaining our hygiene and reinforcing our bond.

Preening of humans

Now that we understand the idea of preening we can elaborate on this concept. First of all, we must remember that for cats, humans are a kind of ‘big cat’ that gives them the care that their mother offered them when they were kittens.

However old or independent a cat may seem, due to the domestication process on which our relationship with our feline is based, in our presence our cat will take on the role of its kitten-self. When our cat wants to groom us, they will find a problem of height difference. That is why cats often rub against our legs or jump towards us, they are trying to get closer to our face. If we are asleep, cats will take the opportunity and feel incited to lick our face as we are experiencing a moment of relaxation, which is what cats are accustomed to during grooming.

In addition, this behavior allows for the exchange of odors, which plays a very important role in the lives of our cats. The mixture between its body odor and ours will reinforce a familiar and comfortable sensation for our animal. It is important to mention that during the preening, it is possible that our cat might bite us, because, as mentioned before, the cat will use its teeth when its tongue can’t seem to remove ‘‘dirt’’.

Why Does My Cat Lick My Face When I Am Sleeping? - Preening of humans

Psychogenic Alopecia- Excessive grooming

Cats licking us when we sleep is a normal behavior and a sign of affection and confidence. If, however, you notice that your cat is grooming itself excessively, this might be a sign of psychogenic alopecia, which when a cat over-licks as a response to anxiety or stress. If for example you notice that your cat is grooming itself to the point of baldness or rashes, we recommend consulting your veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian will be able to consult the situation at hand and treat the case accordingly. A veterinary examination can also rule out a physical pathology and if it is a behavioral disorder, you can also seek help from an ethologist or feline behavior specialist.

If you want to read similar articles to Why Does My Cat Lick My Face When I Am Sleeping?, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

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