Cats, as we know and love them, are fickle creatures that love to exude strange and perplexing behavior to anyone who will watch them. Some things a cat does are simply cute or charming to get our attention. Other times, they are meowing or rummaging through the kitchen to tell us it’s time to feed them. Out of all the things our finicky partners do, their licking is one of the most distinct feline traits people jump too. Cats are always cleaning themselves everywhere we go and at times each other, but what about when they lick us? Are they trying to win our affection or are they just asking for more food in the weirdest way possible?
Cracking The Code
First, let’s examine why cats lick other things. Cats generally lick themselves to move dirt, hair, and other debris from their coats. They commonly do this to make sure their fur stays clean and to keep irritants from building up and weighing them down. Generally, if you have a cat that doesn’t lick themselves, it’s usually a sign of stress or pain. If a cat licks another cat like its offspring, it’s often seen as a motherly type of cleaning. Kittens don’t really learn to clean themselves until they're older so the mom takes charge to help them out.
Cat’s tongues are made up of numerous tiny barbs that feel rough to the touch. These barbs are made specifically to attract and remove any oddities the cat may encounter while cleaning itself up. You may even see a cat lick a random surface to try and unhook a larger piece of fur or other debris from their tongues. Unlike dogs, their tongues aren’t noticeably wet either and if you get licked, it can feel like sandpaper against your skin. A weird note to make as well is that the barbs are positioned backward causing the cat to sometimes swallow almost anything they pick up in their cleaning sprees which can lead to your cat having a hairball problem.
Why Do Cats Lick?
Now you're probably wondering if your cat is obsessed with cleaning you. Well, this could possibly be the case if you fall under some of these circumstances. Do you mess with a lot of meats or foods when cooking? If you find yourself preparing meals, a lot you may find that you have a certain smell to your hands that attracts your cat to you. Even if you can’t smell any food on yourself, your cat might still be able to due to their nose having an incredibly strong sense of picking up scents we could never even dream of. This could mean your cat still smells that tuna you had for lunch coming off of you and wants a taste of it too. If you think this may be the reason as to why your cat is licking, then try washing your hands thoroughly with strong soap or dish detergents to get rid of or cover up any smells you think your cat might be able to pick up off of your hands. This also can apply to a cat licking you after you get out of the shower as your cat may be trying to get water off of your body because their supply has run low. Regularly check your cat's water and food levels to avoid any pestering that may occur.
Secondly, you should make sure you don’t have a nervous cat on your hands. Cats that tend to be nervous might compulsively lick things to try and calm themselves down. To watch out for this, try to watch if your cat licks strange objects all the time like plushies or fabrics. If you have just brought a new cat home and they are adjusting, this could definitely be the case as to why. Watch for other signs like extensive hiding or your cat being overly wary of objects in your house. If you find this to be the case, then you may want to invest in calming agents to put around your home. There are several different ways to calm a nervous cat such as agents you can add to their drinking water and adding cat grass to your home for them to chew on at their leisure. If the cat is new you may want to try adjusting them to one room at a time until they seem more comfortable in their new space.
Lastly, we are going to take a look at the possibility your cat is just doing it because they love you. In the wild, you will see many cats licking or cleaning each other and is usually done in hard to reach places for the other cats like their ears. This is regularly shown as a sign of affection in the cat kingdom. This could very well mean they are just trying to clean you up where they believe you’re not able to reach well. Another possibility is that licking can be a sign of reassurance that they trust you. Think of it like a kitty kiss that says “I’m here for you and I appreciate everything you do for me”. If you find that your cat shows a little too much affection, simply pull your hand away when the licking begins. This will eventually teach your cat that licking is not an appropriate form of affection for you.
Reaffirming The Reason
The above reasons will hopefully give you a little more insight into your cat's weird behavior. Be sure to always pay attention to any word, actions, or moods your animal seems to be into better tip you off as to what their actions truly mean. A nervous cat could be hard to spot at first to a first-time owner but with a little vigilance, anyone can learn how to best read what their animal’s tongue is saying. If you have a cat that obsessively licks and there seems to be no reason as to why try talking to your vet as your pet may have developed a compulsive disorder. As always, enjoy the time you spend with your pets, whether it’s them giving you a bath or trying to play with things they shouldn’t.