Many cats love being petted and gently scratched by the humans in their lives. It feels good to the cat, and they show their appreciation by cozily purring, kneading, and occasionally even dribbling from their mouths or meowing delightfully. A cat licks when scratched, as well. Felines typically adore being stroked everywhere, from the sides of their faces to their backs.
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Why your cat licks when scratched
Cats associate the concept of grooming with love and belonging. As little kittens, their mama cats meticulously groom kittens' coats, extracting every single miscellaneous thing that might be lingering around. As you scratch their back, your cat licks when scratched to nurture the connection you share. Your cat might be expressing to you that they feel secure and peaceful in your presence, essentially telling you that you're swell. It could even be their way of exchanging personal odors with you -- and therefore labeling you as being theirs and only theirs, in an effort to claim their territory -- you! Remember, as sweet as they are, felines can sometimes be highly territorial and possessive creatures.
Sign of respect
A cat licks when scratched as a means to convey to you that you're the head honcho around these parts, in charge of it all. Dogs frequently partake in this type of licking, too. Your cat might not only be expressing that they enjoy your company, but that they truly respect you, too.
Your cat thinks you're yummy
If your cat diligently licks your skin while you scratch his back, it could mean nothing more than that he has convenient access to you and that you happen to taste extremely good at the moment. It could be a remnant of sauce on your arms from a day in the kitchen or even the natural salty flavoring your sweat gives off. Either way, your cat's probably lapping it up because he thinks it tastes super — nothing much more complex than that.
An attitude of gratitude
When your cat licks when scratched instantly, it sometimes means that he likes that you're stroking him and kindly wants to reciprocate. Your cat is elated that you're taking the time to relax and scratch him, and he lovingly and considerately wants to do the same for you. Your kitty is showing how grateful they are to have you around.
Don't stop petting me, Mom
Sometimes if your cat licks when scratched, it could mean that they don't want you to stop petting them. Have you ever noticed a cat giving you head bumps or a gentle nudge on your hand when you stop petting them? Some cats might even bop you with a paw to ask you to keep petting. Other cats might go a little crazy if you scratch the base of their tail. This is ok, it just means they probably really like what you're doing, and might even get a little over-excited. All in all, a cat licks when scratched to show love and respect.
Be careful of excessive licking
Always be watchful of any potentially immoderate licking actions, whether they're directed toward you or another person or random objects in your home. Inordinate licking behavior can sometimes signify emotional issues in pets, including frustration and tedium due to insufficient social interaction. If you're worried in any way about your cat's licking behavior, take him to a veterinarian immediately. A veterinarian might recommend a variety of management options for your cutie, and might even recommend that your cat meet with a professional expert in animal behavior.