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Open Mon - Fri: 7AM - 6PM Sat: 7AM - 3PM | 200 S Tustin St, Orange CA 92866 | (714) 633-3323 | Careers

I just fell, let me lick myself

This morning, my youngest cat, Tiger Lily, missed a jump, knocking down a bunch of books and falling to the floor. Then she immediately started to lick herself, like nothing happened. I know that you probably have seen your cat do the same and probably wondered why.

One very good reason is the wonderful properties of cat saliva. Cat saliva contains a substance called a pheromone. pheromones are special scents that when exposed to specific receptors in the nervous system, trigger a cascade of events that can change an emotional response. In this case, saliva makes a cat feel more secure, relieving anxiety and increasing happiness. These pheromones are why cats rub their cheeks on objects when happy. The licking/grooming spreads all of these happy smells, thusly reducing the horror and embarrassment of missing a simple jump.

Other behaviorists, like Dr. Nicolas Dobson who wrote The Cat Who Cried for Help, think of it as a “displacement behavior”, which is like a nervous habit which soothes an anxiety (like someone who bites nails, compulsively shops, stress-eater, etc.). The grooming, which is associated with calmer, happier, activities, make them feel better. This is because stereotypic behavior, like grooming, releases endorphins and enkephalins which are like self-induced narcotics that trigger good feelings in the brain and spine.

What the cat not doing is covering up embarrassment. Cats don’t get embarrassed. That’s a human emotion. When we think that, we are anthropomorphizing, or putting human traits onto an animal. This is in general a no-no in pets, especially cats. Cats do things for a reason, whether grooming after falling, spraying urine, head butting when happy, or attacking when being pet too long. We always should strive to understand the physiology of cat behavior, because cats aren’t evil (another human thing) and don’t do good or bad behaviors for typical human reasons. Understanding is key to changing cat behaviors that we don’t like and encouraging those we do.