Cats are generally less affectionate to their human companions than dogs are, but sometimes cats lick their owners.
The main reasons a cat may lick you are:
- They are grooming you
- To show you affection
- They are feeling anxious
- To mark their territory
- As a result of premature weaning
- Because you taste nice
- To get your attention
Reasons Why Your Cat May Lick You:
The exact reason why your cat is licking you will vary depending on circumstances and your cat’s behaviour and character.
However, you can be certain that their reason for licking you will be related to at least one of the 7 reasons below:
1. Grooming You
Your cat may be licking you as a way of grooming you. A cat’s rough tongue is perfectly designed for grooming, allowing them to detangle and remove any particles that may be stuck in their fur. Just as they groom themselves, they may also be trying to groom you.
Don’t take offense though, this is simply one of the ways your cat bonds with you and shows you that they trust you.
2. Showing Affection
Cat’s may not be known for ‘kissing’ their owners (something that people often associate with dogs who have no problem licking their owners face in excitement), however your cat licking you could be a sign of their affection.
Familiar and friendly cats often lick each other as this helps to strengthen their bond and create a group scent.
As a kitten, your cats mother would lick them to show affection and this behaviour is now being replicated to show you affection.
Think of it like your cat’s way of petting you.
3. A Cat May Lick You Because They Are Anxious
If your cat is licking excessively it could be because they are feeling anxious or stressed.
Your cat may not just be licking you, they may be licking other things or themselves excessively too.
If you have noticed this behaviour it is best to take your cat to the vet so you can rule out any medical problems that could be causing the stress, and in turn, the excessive licking.
Cats can become quite easily stressed, for example they do not like the change to their routine or living space.
If there have been recent changes in your home such as a new human or animal companion, new furniture or even moving home, it can cause your cat to become stressed.
Even seasonal and temperature changes can have an impact on your cat’s stress levels.
4. To Mark Their Territory
Something many people are not aware of is that cats are actually able to mark their territory by licking things.
When your cat licks you, they may be marking you as theirs to warn off any other animals as well as letting you know that you are important to them.
If your cat has started to lick you when something new has been brought into the house (anything from a visitor, animal or even furniture) it could be a sign that your cat is feeling jealous or worried and feels that marking you as territory will help keep others away.
5. As a Result of Premature Weaning
Orphaned kittens, or cats who were taken away from their mother at a very young age, may excessively lick you as a result of the suckling they missed out on when they were young.
They are licking you as licking is the closest they can get to suckling and the comfort it gave them.
Other signs your cat was prematurely weaned are; suckling on fabrics and kneading when licking or suckling.
Kneading is when a cat pushes a soft surface with one paw at a time and is what kittens do to their mothers while suckling in order to encourage milk flow.
6. You Could Have an Appealing or Interesting Taste
If your cat has not shown much interest in licking you before but is doing so now it could be because your skin has an appealing smell or taste.
Maybe you spilt something, recently cooked a delicious meal or you used a certain product that interests your cat. In this case, your cat may simply be exploring the different scent and having a taste.
They may also like the taste of salt that is present on your skin too.
7. To Get Your Attention
Your cat may be licking you as a way to get your attention.
If your cat is licking or even biting you they might be trying to let you know they want to be stroked and made a fuss of.
When this is the reason, giving them attention will often make them stop licking you while they indulge in the cuddles instead.
The area where your cat licks you can signify different things:
Why Does My Cat Lick My Hair?
If your cat is licking your hair, beard or eyebrows they are most likely just grooming you.
Helping you to keep your ‘fur’ clean and free from tangles.
If your cat does this when you are resting they are trying to be affectionate towards you, if they do it when you are awake and busy they may be trying to be more playful.
Why Does My Cat Lick My Face?
Your cat could be licking your face as a sign of affection towards you.
If they are licking your eyebrows or beard they are most likely grooming you and it could also be because of the scent and taste of products you have been using too.
Why Does My Cat Lick My Hand?
Licking your hands may be your cat’s way of getting attention from you, they may want you to pet them and cuddle with them.
It could also be because you’ve recently handled foods that your cat thinks are tasty or you have lotion on your hands that smells interesting or pleasant.
Why Does My Cat Lick My Nose?
Your cat may be licking your nose as a way of socially bonding with you, licking your face and nose could be your cat’s way of showing you affection.
You may think it’s strange but cats will often lick, groom and rub their necks against each other.
Why Does It Hurt When My Cat Licks Me?
As you probably already know, a cat’s tongue is very rough and feels almost like sandpaper when they are licking you.
This is because a cat tongue is covered with papillae (these are tiny, backwards-facing barbs) which are what makes your cat such an effective groomer.
When cleaning and grooming, the barbs help to collect dirt and loose hair from your cat’s coat.
They also help to remove any tangles and knots, it’s kind of like have a miniature comb on hand at all times. Although, the downside to this is your cat often ends up swallowing whatever collects on their tongue and causes hairballs.
The barbs on a cat’s tongue are not just effective for grooming, they also help your cat to drink water as well as remove meat from the bones of prey.
It is the papillae that gives a cat’s tongue the roughness and this is why it can hurt when your cat licks you. It is more likely to hurt if your cat licks you excessively and has a tendency to lick you again and again in the same place.
How Can I Stop My Cat from Licking Me?
It can be quite pleasant for your cat to lick you, showing you affection and strengthening your bond, but when your cat does it a lot it or insists on licking your face, it can become too much.
In this case, you are probably wondering how you can discourage your cat from licking you without upsetting them, after all they are often just trying to be loving.
To avoid making your cat feeling unwanted or unappreciated, the best technique is often distraction.
Distracting your cat can be as simple as playing with them and showing them you want to interact with them but in a different way.
Many cats tend to respond to you wanting to play and will likely respond if you encourage them to play with their favourite wand toy or ball.
If your cat is not one for playing too much, there are other techniques you can try.
If toys are not stopping your cat from licking you, try to distract them with food instead.
A tasty treat is often difficult for a kitty to resist.
We have put this technique second because too many treats are not good for your cat’s health so playtime is a healthier approach, particularly if your cat licks you frequently.
Your cat could also associate the treats with a reward and may think that you are rewarding them for licking you which could actually encourage the behaviour.
You could also move out of reach when your cat starts licking you while still continuing to pet them and give them attention.
Then your cat may just enjoy the attention and stop trying to lick you.
Eventually, they will work out that you are not receptive to them licking you.
Another way you could discourage the behaviour is by applying something that your cat doesn’t like the taste of to your skin, after one lick they won’t like the taste and won’t keep trying to lick you. Whichever technique you decide to try, it is important that you do not punish your cat because the behaviour is normal and they are often just trying to be affectionate with you.
If you are worried that your cat is excessively licking it is best to take them to a vet to check there is no underlying reason for the licking, as it may be a symptom of something else.