Why A Cat Licks You? 6 Reasons Your Cat Enjoys This

It’s nice when a cat shows you attention by licking you. You get this fluffy, warm feeling inside that, by instinct, tells you that your feline friend loves you.

But sometimes it gets annoying as it’s not exactly a pleasant feeling for human skin. It sometimes feels like your cat is punishing you rather than kissing you.

So what is it, exactly? Today, let’s learn more about this quirky feline behavior.

Ouch! El Lengua de Gato

It’s rough. We’re not talking about life (although sometimes it is) but your pet's tongue.

A cats tongue is made of backward-facing, tough, keratin papillae barbs. Thats because theyre designed to wick saliva into fur for grooming or move protective oils around efficiently. The cat also uses its tongue for efficient eating and drinking.

And the design is effective. Cats can groom themselves pretty well using their tongues as a brush to push saliva between fur, detangle it, and drag loose hair out.  They can drink effectively and strip the meat off of bones using the same.

So why do cats lick people? And is that acceptable behavior or not?

Elderly man is stroking his feline

Why Do Cats Lick You?

There are several reasons why cats lick people.

  1. Whats your name smell? Other than using their noses, cats can use their tongues to smell you. They have a specialized organ that detects pheromones and other chemical cues behind their front teeth. This behavior stems from the compulsion to identify friends from threats, especially if the cat just met you.
  2. Notice me, please.Pets learn behavior from their caregivers' reactions. If you give them attention whenever they lick you, they understand that this is a way to get you to notice them. There may also be times when kittens use licking to seek comfort from a carer in the absence of its mother. ⚠️But licking accompanied by anxious behavior (hiding, trying to escape, lack of appetite, destructive scratching) is a cry for help. This is more apparent if the poor cat licks itself bald in some spots or over-licks you. Its seeking comfort. If this happens, separate your cat from strangers, keep it away from loud noises, isolate it from other pets, and most importantly, consult a vet.
  3. I wuv you.The most common way cats show affection is by rubbing up on people or toys. But sometimes they may also gently lick their owners to bond with them. They do this where your scent is strongest, such as your hands, face, and hair. So if your little purr machine bundles up to you and begins to lick you tenderly, it’s expressing sincere gratitude and trust.
  4. Youre my hooman.Cats are territorial, marking you with their scent to show you and other cats that you’re theirs. They’re claiming you. Other behaviors in which cats do this are head bonking, rubbing, and making biscuits (or kneading).
  5. Imma take care of you.Cats are solitary creatures. So when they groom a fellow cat— or in this case, you— it shows their parental instinct to care for their family. It’s a reflection of how their mama cat groomed and cared for them. And they’re doing the same to you. Be warned, though, that just like what their mama did to them, licking may be accompanied by a soft bite. This is an enforcement of ownership and social hierarchy where the dominant species takes care of the subordinate (yes, you’re the underling in this relationship).
  6. Yum!Did you just prepare cat food? Or are you eating a tuna sandwich for dinner? Did you handle some catnip recently? Your cat may simply want some of that. They may also like the salty taste of your skin. You get it: wash your hands, people!

So you see, nothing's wrong with a cat licking you unless anxiety is involved.

The Dangers of Your Cat Licking You

Did we say that cats drag loose fur off with their tongues? The downside of this is that they can’t spit it out.

When cats lick their fur, they swallow loose hair and cough it out later as a hairball. This is why it’s dangerous for them to accidentally swallow a piece of string, ribbon, too many polyester fibers from your clothes, or even dental floss. These can cause choking or intestinal blockages.

Poisoning is also a concern. If you’ve been gardening or cooking human food, it may not be wise for your cat to lick you as some substances are toxic to them. Among these are onions, garlic, raw eggs, chocolate, coffee, alcohol, grapes, lilies, tulips, and daffodils.

There are also chemicals you need to keep away from them including insecticides, rat poison, bleach, or even something as subtle as toothpaste or the scented lotion on your hands. (Note: Toothpaste commonly contains xylitol, which is highly toxic to cats.)

On the flip side, a cat's tongue may contain bacteria that could harm you if you have an open wound. Although this rarely causes problems, it would be nice if both of you observed good hygiene.

How to Get Your Cat to Stop Licking You

There are ways to stop this cat behavior if you decide to.

The surest way to get your cat to stop licking you is to distract them. Theres no need to punish them as this will only result in breaking their trust and making them afraid of you.

  • You can try picking up your cat and then putting them down. Repeat this several times to break that pattern of licking you. Pull your hand away or apply a non-toxic deterrent such as lemon juice.
  • If it’s territorialism that’s causing the saliva dousing, try to turn their attention somewhere else by giving your cat a toy. You can rub your scent on it beforehand or add a little catnip to catch their interest. You can also buy a scratching postor an interactive toy.
  • Moreover, don’t encourage the behavior by talking to the cat while licking you. It might think you’re enjoying it!
  • Instead, reward your cat with a treat when it stops the licking and you’ll eventually wean them out of it.

If your cat’s licking persists despite all your efforts, consult with your trusted vet. There may be other behavior or health issues you’re not noticing that a professional would. Good luck!