Do cats know that hugs and kisses are a sign of affection?

Do cats know that hugs and kisses are a sign of affection? As both hugs and kisses are not part of the domestic cats natural range of behaviours they’ll have to be learned by the cat for them to be understood and liked. When we kiss or hug our cat we are demonstrating an interspecies friendship.

Kissing a cat!

Hugs

These types of human behavior are normally learned by domestic cats. I would state though that the true human hug is not typical cat behavior and will normally be disliked by a cat. I wouldn’t try it. At the best of times cats don’t like to be confined like that especially when it means the person is very close as well. I think we can say with some certainty that cats don’t particularly like genuine human hugs and therefore won’t regard it as a sign of affection. A cat may even see it as hostile. There will be exceptions. A visitor might say to herself, “My cat loves to be hugged” and that’s fine.

Note 1: placing your hand or hands on your cat while she is on your lap is something like a hug and will be very much liked by your cat. But I am referring to the hug that humans give each other when greeting for example. It is quite hard and vigorous.

Note 2: there are some photos on the internet of one cat apparently hugging another but these are not hugs in the classic sense.

Here is what looks like a cat-to-cat hug 🙂 Make of it what you like!

Cat hug

Kisses

Kisses are learned by cats to mean a sign of affection towards them by their human caretaker/guardian. The effectiveness of a human kiss as a sign of affection depends on the character of the cat. Some cats won’t like it because it means placing your head very close to your cat. The human head is a large object. Cats won’t inherently enjoy that but get used to it.

A kiss is a form of contact with your cat. It’ll be like a lick of affection i.e. feline allogrooming to use a technical word. Domestic cats won’t naturally or inherently understand that a kiss is a sign of affection because they don’t understand the meaning of the human kiss. But they quickly learn that it is a show of affection as it accompanies other nice things such as calming sounds and friendliness.

Belly and forehead

A lot of cat owners like to kiss their cat on the forehead. It is pleasant for the person. The belly is also popular. Your cat will accept this and like it provided he or she has learned that it is a sign of affection. The belly is a more sensitive area and might take more learning to accept.

No one knows the percentage of cats who have learned to like human kisses but it must be pretty high because it is done so often.

Stroking

I should be said though that when people kiss their cat they are engaging in human behavior towards another species of animal. It is a bit self-indulgent if we are honest (I do it). It would be ideal if we did to cats what cats do to each other when being affectionate: allogroom or lick each other. We can’t lick our cat so we gently stroke her instead. Stroking your cat with your hand is a sign of affection which a domestic cat will naturally understand as it mimics the feline, grooming lick.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • I think it depends on the cat, how long it stayed with the mummy cat and siblings, if hand reared, how humans have handled the cat, the personality of the cat and the human.

    I have had cats that hugged each other during allogrooming. I have seen kittens hugging, whilst sleeping, playing. The hug, can just as easily be overdone among cats as it can by humans hugging cats

    Cats will 'kiss' with a nose touch, a slow blink. The slow blink is not just a greeting, it is an expression of love and trust.

    Humans hugging and kissing cats, needs to be consensual, gentle and appropriate. Humans can gain real trust from cats by observing what the cat does, how it responds to humans and of course, other cats.

    Look to the cats, they tell us what to do and how to do it.

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