Why does my cat lick me? The reasons why a cat tries to "clean" you

Considered sacred in ancient Egypt, and a symbol of bad luck in Asiatic countries, cats have always had a singular relationship with humans since ancient times. That has not changed with time; as today, many devote themselves to the meaningful work of studying cat’s behavior. One of the cat behaviors that we humans want to understand, is their constant liking, of themselves or anything else.

Here at Pet Comments, we’ll share with you the most common reasons for your cat to lick you.

kitten licking finger

Why does your cat lick you?


Your cat licking you is one of their ways of saying “mine”; they are warning any other cat that you belong to them. Cats usually piss as a manner of marking their territory; they can also rub themselves on something or someone while they use their pheromones to “mark”.

Although being possessive is unhealthy in a human relationship, your cat is showing you how incredibly important you are to him. You are important enough in his life that he needs others of his species to know it. Mmm… adorable?


To make you part of their family

If you've seen more than one cat interacting together, you may have noticed that they have very distinctive group behaviors. For example, cats lick other cats between their group. This behavior is known as “allogrooming” and is meant to strengthen the bonds among the members of a group.

Since your cat lives with you, you are a member of their group. This one of the ways your cat is telling you that they would want you to be closer and that you are a welcomed member of the group. Cute, isn’t it?

You taste delicious!

Sometimes there is nothing particularly deep behind your cat’s behavior, you just happen to taste nice! According to Mychelle Blake, an expert in pet behavior, cats do find appetizing the natural taste of human perspiration. This fact may sound disgusting, but it does absolutely no harm to your cat, so you can let it have at it.

If you do wear certain body lotion or creams of some kind, you must investigate its composition. If it's harmful to your cat and you can't dispose of the lotion or cream, don't let your cat lick it. To give you an idea, topical medications for the treatment of psoriasis and creams containing zinc are toxic to your cat. If you are unsure whether the composition of the medication or topical cream you use is toxic to your cat or not, consult your veterinarian.

kitten licking hand

“You incompetent human”

Your cat is telling you that you don’t know how to clean yourself. Sounds funny, but your cat remembers when momma-cat licked her kitty clean. This is how female cats keep her kittens clean and teach them how to clean themselves. Therefore, at times, your cat licking you is their very best way of teaching you how to groom yourself.


Is their way of showing affection

Once you crawl your way into your cat’s heart, is important for your cat to let you know how much he or she cares for you. Your cat licking you is its version of “petting” you. As cats participate in social grooming sessions as a way to strengthen their bonds, your cat is showing you how close to you it is by licking you. Think of it as their version of giving you kisses and hugs.

Your cat is also sensitive to your mood and emotions, so if the cat senses you are stressed out it will attempt to lick you as a way of comforting you.

They are stressed out

Excessive licking can be a problem with cats. If you notice your cat licking herself, your sofa, a piece of fabric or even you non-stop, it can be a symptom of intense anxiety. Some cats lick themselves as a method to calm their anxiety, if they are stressed or scared. In some cases, they lick themselves so excessively that they leave bald spots on their skin. If you notice your cat licking you excessively, examine her coat. If she has bald spots, your cat may be experiencing a health problem or an emotional problem.

If something at home or in the environment is stressing your cat, eliminate this stressful factor immediately. If that's not possible, then help your cat relieve her distress.

Occasionally the vet may indicate that the cat is completely healthy’ if so, the problem can be emotional. For these cases, request the help of experts in feline behavior.


Why does it hurt?

Unlike “common knowledge”, cats' tongues feels nothing like sandpaper. It’s more like a tiny hairbrush. Their tongue is covered by tiny spines they use to comb their fur. These spines are backward-facing and made out of keratin, which is the same material cat’s nails are made of, making these little spikes super-resistant.

Due to the position of the spines, they are especially useful for removing any dirt or debris from their coat. It also serves to untangle it; unfortunately, this can lead them to ingest the waste they remove with their tongue creating the famous hairball issues.

Of course, licking their coat is not painful at all for a cat, it is rather extremely pleasant and satisfying... but you may not enjoy it as much as your cat. It's reasonable, after all, since the texture of the cat's tongue doesn't caress our skin. So, what can you do about it?

How can you make it stop?

First, don't lose your patience. Remember that most of the time, licking you is a sign of affection on your cat's part. If you scold, shout, or hit your cat for licking you, it will take it negatively. Your cat doesn't understand that he's hurting you, he thinks he's just showing you affection and that you're enjoying it as much as he does.

A positive way to prevent your cat from licking you is to distract him positively. If you realize that your cat is about to lick you then start petting it, the kitten cannot lick you and delight in your petting at the same time. Therefore, it's a very positive distraction. Another thing you can do is to play with your cat, have a toy handy whenever you think your cat is going to start licking you.

If nothing reduces their compulsion to lick you or your cat compulsively licks itself and other things, consult your veterinarian or cat behavior specialist. You must do this if the compulsive licking is accompanied by body language that indicates nerves, anxiety, or fear.

Final Words

We hope this information has helped you understand your cat's behavior. They look like mystical beings with how elegant and beautiful they are, but when you have one at home and you live with them long enough you will realize that they just are love and attention-demanding kitties.

Further reading:

  1. Cornell Feline Health Center. Cats that Lick Too Much


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