Cats are notoriously aloof little critters, so it’s hard not to feel like the chosen one when yours licks you. But what’s the real reason cats lick their humans? Is it a way to show affection, or is something more serious at play? Licking can be a normal behavior, but it may also indicate a medical issue. Read on to learn why you’re the lucky recipient of your cat’s tongue bath.
The 6 Reasons Why Do Cats Lick You
1. They’re Expressing Affection
Mother cats groom their kittens by licking them, and those same kittens may carry such behavior into adulthood, grooming other adult cats. This is known as “social grooming” or allogrooming. Grooming is a social activity cats may participate in to communicate and strengthen social bonds, so if your kitty is licking you, it may just be their way of expressing affection.
2. They’re Feeling Stressed or Anxious
Sometimes, when cats feel stressed or anxious, they lick things excessively. This can be objects, themselves, or, yes, even you. It’s best to reach out to your vet for advice if your kitty is exhibiting other signs of stress, such as:
- Inappropriate litter box behaviors
- Digestive issues (e.g., diarrhea, constipation)
- Excessive vocalization
- Decreased appetite
- Increased sleep
3. They’re Scent Marking You
Cats are territorial creatures and love to mark their territory and objects so others know what belongs to them. They also communicate with one another through their marked objects and their scent. They may be licking you to share scent and mark you as “theirs”, making you smell familiar and part of the family. While this behavior is normal, it can sometimes become problematic if you live in a multi-pet house. Keep your eyes peeled for other signs of territorial aggression, including:
- Urine marking
- Aggression (e.g., hissing, swatting, attacking)
- Blocking areas of the home
- Stalking behaviors
4. They’re Seeking Attention
Cats are intelligent, and they know exactly what they need to do to get attention from you when they want it. If you’ve had a big reaction to their licking behaviors in the past, they know all they need to do is lick you to elicit that same reaction. If it’s been a while since you’ve had a play session with your kitty, it might be time to pick up that feather wand and spend some one-on-one time with your pet.
5. They Like How You Taste
As disconcerting as it may be to hear your cat enjoys how you taste, this certainly could be the reason behind why they’re licking you. Cats explore their world with their tongues, so they could just be giving you a taste test. What’s more, our sweat contains salt that cats often find appealing, so your salty taste may bring your cat back for more.
6. They Have a Medical Issue
Cats may lick you or other objects in the home due to medical issues. Things like pain, discomfort, and nausea can cause excessive licking. If you notice your pet licking a lot more than usual, have them evaluated by your vet just to be sure.
How to Discourage Licking Behaviors
As sweet as it may be to be licked by your kitty, it sure can hurt. A cat’s tongue is full of back-facing barbs known as papillae. The papillae are made of the same material that’s in your kitty’s claws, explaining why excessive licking can hurt so much.
The best way to discourage licking behaviors is through distraction. Grab your kitty’s favorite toy and spend some time playing with them, or sprinkle some catnip on their favorite scratching post. We don’t recommend distracting them with treats as this may incentivize the behavior you’re trying to discourage.
You can also try redirecting their mouth away from you when they’re actively licking or just getting up and walking away. If your kitty is licking to get attention, ignoring them will usually cause them to stop. Of course, you don’t want to ignore them completely, but only when they’re licking you.
Cats lick their humans for many different reasons, but most of the time, it’s entirely harmless. As always, please pay close attention to the other behaviors your pet is exhibiting to gain some insight into why they’re licking so much. A stressed out or sick kitty will usually display other signs, while a cat licking you as a way to allogroom won’t.
Featured Image Credit: AJR_photo, Shutterstock