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Why Do Cats Lick You? 6 Vet-Approved Possible Reasons

Written by: Chantelle Fowler

Last Updated on June 24, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

cat-licking-owners-face

Why Do Cats Lick You? 6 Vet-Approved Possible Reasons

VET APPROVED

Dr. Amanda Charles Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Amanda Charles

BVSc GPCert (Derm) MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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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.

3 cat face dividerThe 6 Reasons Why 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.

a tabby cat licking it's owner's head
Image Credit: Caterina Trimarchi, Shutterstock

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:

  • Hiding
  • Inappropriate litter box behaviors
  • Digestive issues (e.g., diarrhea, constipation)
  • Excessive vocalization
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased sleep
  • Aggression

3. They’re Scent Marking You

cat licking human arm
Image Credit: sophiecat, Shutterstock

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.

cute cat rearing up licking finger of the woman kneeling on the floor
Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

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.

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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.

Looking for toys that cater to the many needs of your cat? The Hepper Hi-lo Cat Scratcher is one of our favorite cat products. Its clever thee-angle design offers multiple ways for your cat to climb, stretch, and exercise. Made of a sturdy plywood base and a replacement cardboard insert, this scratcher is an option that can be enjoyed by cats for years to come. If your cat requires a little encouragement for self-play, the Hepper Plush Mouse Kicker is a fantastic choice. Equipped with bite and kick-resistant fabric, an enticing internal bell, and organic catnip, cats can satisfy their natural prey instincts while getting the physical activity they need to thrive. 

Hepper Mouse kicker toy white cat playing on a scratching postscratcher
Hepper Plush Mouse Kicker Toy Hepper Hi-Lo Scratcher
Multi-level play
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Multi-level play:
Interactive
Interactive :
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Self-play
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Promotes exercise
Promotes exercise:
Promotes exercise:
Replaceable parts
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Satisfies prey-instincts
Satisfies prey-instincts:
Satisfies prey-instincts:

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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.

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Final Thoughts

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

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