What Does It Mean When Cats Lick You?



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Cats are lovable creatures – from their purrfect little stares to their bristled tongues licking you as if you’re a tasty snack. However, many cat owners are perplexed by such behaviors and worry that they might be signs of something more serious.

What Does It Mean When Cats Lick You. A white and black striped cat holding and grooming a smaller white and black striped cat.

Cats have an instinctual drive to groom themselves and each other as part of their social behavior. They spend between 8 and 10 hours grooming themselves, so it’s normal for them to lick things while cleaning up.

Is It Normal for Cats To Lick You?

Yes, it is normal for cats to lick you. They do so for various reasons, and understanding these is essential to take better care of your pet.

Cats Showing Affection

Licking is a form of grooming and an expression of affection for cats. When your cat licks you, other cats, or even other pets, it is trying to build a social bond.

Part of this behavior stems from kittenhood. Mother cats groom their kittens, and this helps them bond and keep their young clean. Early on in life, cats learn from their mother that licking is a way to strengthen the bond between them.

Identifying You as Part of Their Cat Group

Cats instinctively understand the importance of being clean and licking another feline is often a sign that they belong to the same group. When your cat licks you, they may convey similar feelings: acceptance within your family unit and love for their owner.

Some theorize that cats use scent to identify other members of their species. This behavior may be one reason they lick you—so they can create a familiar “group” smell by removing yours and replacing it with their own. They’re making you a part of their safe group.

Your Cat Is Seeking Attention

Your cat may lick because you have unconsciously rewarded this behavior by talking to, petting, or interacting with it. Licking, in this case, is no different from other attention-seeking behaviors it might exhibit, like pawing or meowing.

Pacifier Substitute for Your Cat

A cat’s licking may also result from the instinctual need to suckle on something. If it has been weaned too soon, it may attempt to satisfy this need by licking whatever it can get its tongue on.

This is especially true of kittens, who are weaned very early. Licking can also substitute for more destructive behaviors, like chewing or biting.

Your Cat Likes Your Taste

A cat starts licking people, including their owners, because they enjoy the taste. Many animals enjoy licking salty skin and lotion—and even perfume!

This is because licking is a form of exploration for animals. It helps them learn about the world around them and how it tastes.

Your Cat Is Grooming You

Although your cat might not understand that licking you does not make you clean, this behavior is normal for it to exhibit. According to Marci Koski, a certified feline behavior and training consultant, a group of cats may designate an “allo-groomer”—or one cat that licks and grooms the others.

If you’re housing multiple cats and can’t stop one from licking, it’s likely because they’re the “allo-groomer” trying to fulfill their role.

Your Cat Is Anxious

Licking may be a displacement behavior, a kind of action that relieves cats from stress. Stress can trigger excessive licking and self-grooming, but some may also be directed toward you.

Identify if any external stimuli might be causing your pet to lick excessively. For example, it can experience this phenomenon when it moves to a new home or its environment changes significantly.

Typically, grooming is normal behavior in cats when undergoing stress. However, if your cat grooms itself to the point of causing raw or bald spots on the skin, you should talk with a veterinarian about it.

Your Cat Thinks You’re Stressed

Cats will lick each other if one seems distressed, just as a mother cat would clean her kitten. If the cat senses that you are stressed or upset, it may lick you as a form of affection. It’s a way of helping to calm and reassure you.

Your Cat Might Have A Medical Issue

A cat might lick you for attention, but that’s not the only motivation. It could also be trying to tell you something’s wrong. If your cat exhibits unusual licking behavior, contact your vet to determine if there might be a medical issue, such as an illness or injury.

Is It Safe To Let Your Cat Lick You?

A cat licking you is typically considered safe, but there are some potential risks.

Cat saliva can carry bacteria that cause potentially severe infections in people with weakened immune systems.

It is rare for a cat to pass on a disease to its owner, but it can happen. To reduce your chances of catching something that could be passed from feline saliva or skin, avoid letting the animal lick you, especially if you have cuts or open wounds.

Why Does It Hurt When My Cat Licks Me?

A cat’s tongue is covered with tiny spines called papillae, made of keratin—the same substance as human fingernails.

When a cat licks you repeatedly, the papillae scrape away at your skin, causing pain and irritation.

How To Discourage a Cat From Licking You

Let’s look at some ways to discourage your cat from licking you:

Cover Your Skin

Wear clothing that covers your arms, or use towels when petting your cats.

Walk Away

To encourage cats to stop licking, walk away when they start. Cats dislike being ignored and will often stop licking when they feel unappreciated.

Offer Interactive Toys

Get your interactive cat toys. Cats can become bored and frustrated when left alone for long periods and may seek your attention by licking you. Interactive toys will keep your furry friend from being lonely while you’re away.

Final Thoughts on Why Your Cat Is Licking You

The bottom line is that cat licking is a natural behavior. However, there are ways to reduce it, and knowing the reasons behind these licks is crucial. When you’re concerned about something, ask your veterinarian for advice.

Before you go, you might find these articles helpful:

Why Are Cats Tongues Rough

Why Do Cats Clean Themselves

Why Does My Cat Eat My Hair

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