Does your cat have a habit of licking you for no apparent reason? Then you are not alone. Many cat owners are familiar with a pet that seems to like the taste of their human and while it can be endearing, it’s a behavior you can’t easily ignore. It’s easy to assume that licking is purely down to affection but there are other feline behavior traits at play. Here are the main reasons why your cat likes to lick you and what you can do about it.
What Function does Licking Serve?
Before we look at answering the question, ‘why does my cat lick me?’ it’s important to understand the main reasons a cat feels the need to lick. For a cat, the act of licking serves many social as well as practical functions in their day-to-day life. Licking is essential for grooming and maintaining their coat and also helps them to remove the scent of their prey after a meal. Licking is an important way a mother cleans her kittens and helps them to eliminate waste while in a colony of cats, it creates a familiar group smell for easy identification. Cats also cool themselves as well as destress through the simple act of licking. In short, licking is natural, and something they need to do.
Why it Feels Rough When Your cat Licks you
OK, let’s cut to the chase, when your kit licks you, it doesn’t always feel that nice. That rough, sanding paper-like feel on your skin when your cat licks you is down to the make-up of the surface of their tongue. The tongue is covered in special back-facing barbs called papillae, which are made from the same material as your cat’s claws. The rough texture of the papillae is important for when your feline grooms, as the barbs help to remove dirt and debris from their coat. So, they get a nice clean coat, but when it comes to cat licking, you don’t always get such a smooth time.
What does it Mean When a Cat Licks you?
As well as licking themselves or other cats, it’s common for your feline to try to lick their human. Here are the main reasons why:
- To strengthen their social bonds
In the cat world, cats who are friendly towards each other will often perform mutual licking. They use licking as a way to strengthen their bond and create a familiar group scent. With a pet cat, the licking of their human is for the same reason and is a way of strengthening your bond as well as showing affection, just in the same way you pet your cat. For a loved and contented cat that feels safe in their human home, licking is a natural way of them showing their affection and to bring you closer.
However, one word to the wise: your pet may also lick you repeatedly if they like the taste of your skin as the components of human sweat can actually be appetizing to some cats. They can also be attracted to the taste of your skin lotion or any topical creams you may have on, so just be aware if you are using any medicated treatments on your skin.
- Stress and anxiety
Stress and anxiety can lead to your cat licking you and themselves excessively, as a way to calm and comfort. This behavior can be likened to you nervously biting nails. Stress licking is usually accompanied by a tense body posture and can go on for some time – if your cat is exhibiting these behaviors then she is most likely trying to calm herself down. If so, look for the source of her stress and anxiety so you can help her to fix the stress problem. But if she doesn’t stop licking, or you notice signs of excessive licking, such as thinning hair or bald spots, it would be a good idea to take your cat to the vets for a precautionary check-up as there could be underlying medical reasons behind her stress.
- Marking their territory
You may think you own your cat, but it is in fact the other way around and your cat’s licking behavior is all part of the feline territory marking process! Cats mark their territory so other cats and animals know the boundaries. And it’s not just space but ‘things’ inside their territory that cats like to claim as theirs. So, by licking you, your cat is marking you out as their property, in a loving and affectionate way of course! If your cat also rubs against you, they are doing the same thing. Licking and rubbing are clear signs that you are important to them and they want other cats to stay clear. If you have ever noticed another cat shy away from you, it could well be that you hold the scent that tells them you belong to another.
- It’s a family thing
Licking their human can also indicate a feline parental response or even behavior that’s a throw-back to when your cat was a kitten. Either way, it’s a clear sign you are part of their family.
If your adult cat licks you while kneading their paws against you and purring, this is a mirror of kitten behavior when a tiny kit would nurse. If your cat is displaying this cute behavior, it is a sign they feel, safe and secure.
Licking their human can also be a form of feline parental care, as a cat would do for their own kitten. When a female cat licks you, they could be trying to show you how to groom yourself, and this is a sign of love and affection, and linked to their own memories of how their mothers cared for them. Licking is also a way for a cat to soothe you, as they would their own kit and is a sure sign that you are an important part of their feline family.
When it Gets too Much
For the majority of reasons, your cat licking you is borne out of affection and security and is a natural response to their favorite human. However, if you feel the licking is linked to stress or anxiety, you must take the necessary steps to find out why and resolve any underlying issues that are causing your kit to lick.
Occasional licking is a lovely way to strengthen the bond with your cat, but it can become too much if it’s happening all the time. If this is the case, you need to gently discourage your cat without making them feel they are not wanted or loved.
The best way to stop licking in its tracks is by positively distracting your cat and instigate some human/cat play. By transferring their attention to playtime, this not only stops the licking but also ensures your cat feels special and has some fun quality time with his human. A tasty cat treat can also work; however, you can run the risk of associative behavior, with your cat linking licking with a food treat and so doing it even more!
The lowdown on cats licking their humans is that it is entirely natural, but as a pet owner understanding the reasons behind the licking and also preventing it from becomes a habit means a happy human/cat family all round.
- Cats that Lick Too Much – Cornell Feline Health Center