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Why Does My Cat Keep Licking Its Lips? 5 Reasons for this Behavior

grey cat licking lips after eating cat food from bowl inside on floor
Image Credit: mik ulyannikov, Shutterstock
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Ashley Bates

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

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

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Every time you look over at your cat, does it seem like they’re licking their lips? Maybe you wrote off the behavior as normal, but they just won’t seem to stop. So, if they didn’t just eat a tasty treat, what could cause this behavior? Is it a sign of concern? The good news is—not usually.

But several factors might cause it, so you need to know what you’re looking for. Let’s discuss some reasons your feline can’t stop smacking their chops. Plus, find out what you can do to help if the situation calls for it.

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The 5 Reasons Why Your Cat Is Licking Its Lips

1. Your Cat is Grooming or Cleaning Up

Anyone who owns a feline knows just how clean they want to be. It might surprise you that cats spend over 5 hours a day grooming their bodies. They prefer their fur to be clean, debris-free, and sleek. Some cats may exhibit more or less of this behavior.

If you notice that your cat is licking their lips excessively after eating, it could be that they are just trying to clean the outside of their mouth. Some cats might be more obsessive about cleaning than others, but you need to look for other signs to point you in the right direction.

Start to pay attention to when your cat is licking its lips. If you find that it is directly after mealtime or once they’ve had a drink, you might be able to conclude on your own that this is, in fact, the reason.

2. Your Cat Might Suffer from Oral Disease

If you have a cat, particularly one that is advancing in years, oral disease is one of the most common things that can happen. There are several specific dental conditions that your cat might have.

Some of these issues include the following:
  • Gingivitis – Gingivitis is a bacterial condition in the mouth that causes swelling and redness on the gum line.
  • Periodontitis – Periodontitis is the advancement of gingivitis into a more serious tooth condition. The bacteria gets deeper into the gum line, which can cause infection and an abscess.
  • Tooth Resorption – Tooth resorption happens inside of the tooth and works its way out. Thirty to 70% of house cats suffer from this condition, and there is no known cause.
  • Oral Tumors – Oral tumors can develop anywhere on the inside of the mouth and can cause significant discomfort. Your cats might be licking their lips because of pain in their mouth. They aren’t able to comfort the feeling, so licking might help compensate or at least attempt to curb the pain.

Your veterinarian can examine your cat’s mouth to determine if they have any dental or oral issues. Once they check things out, they can recommend how to move forward. It could be something as simple as starting a brushing routine or as complicated as dental surgery.

To get ahead of any of these developing issues, it is crucial to brush their teeth and keep them clean no matter how much your kitty resists. Sometimes wet food can contribute to plaque buildup on the teeth, which can decay over time.

Developing a routine with your cat where you brush their teeth might take some getting used to, but eventually, they will acclimate. Also, offering dry kibble is a great way to clean the plaque off of their teeth; the crunch helps to reduce the buildup of plaque on their enamel and gumline.

veterinarian checks teeth of the maine coon cat
Image Credit: Ermolaev Alexander, Shutterstock

3. Your Cat Ate Something Toxic

It’s no secret that our cats eat things that they are not supposed to sometimes. You might look over to see one of them nibbling on inedible items or your favorite house plant. Certain things can be very toxic to our felines that we might not realize.

Others can be mildly toxic, not enough to cause significant symptoms but enough to irritate. If your cat eats something that is not agreeing with them, it might lick its lips or salivate. If your cat presents any of these other symptoms that accompany lip licking, bring your cat to the veterinary clinic immediately.

Other symptoms to look out for:
  • Salivation
  • Vomiting
  • Breathing issues
  • Diarrhea
  • Coma
  • Lack of appetite
  • Not drinking

Because toxicity to certain things can be quite dangerous, you need to make sure you get ahead of the issue. If suddenly your cat starts licking their lips excessively along with displaying other symptoms, you must take them to their veterinarian right away. You never know just how toxic something is and how life-threatening it could be.

4. Your Cat is Nauseous

If your cat has an upset stomach, it might cause this behavior. Often, when a cat isn’t feeling the greatest, it might lick its lips as a sign of pain and irritation. If this is often happening due to nausea, there is most likely an underlying cause. Cats are not supposed to be nauseous all the time. It could be caused by anything from a scent that you use in your household to some food sensitivity.

In addition to lip-licking, you might notice the other symptoms that can point to nausea:

  • Drooling
  • Licking
  • Chewing
  • Dry heaving
  • Dehydration

While sometimes nausea can be a simple fix, it can point to more severe health issues.

Some additional causes for cat nausea include:
  • Kidney failure
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer

But if you do suspect that the nausea is ongoing, make an appointment with your veterinarian so they can examine your pet. They might have to run lab work testing to pinpoint exactly what’s off. In the event that it’s food-related, they might have you try food trials so they can pinpoint the ingredient that is giving the cat grief.

cat licking its lips
Image Credit: manfredrichter, Pixabay

5. Your Cat Might Have Allergies

If your cat is irritated with allergies, it might be licking its lips because they’re itchy. Allergies can be quite irritating, as anyone who suffers from them can contest to. Allergies might stem from environmental factors or food-related triggers. Other symptoms accompany allergies that could be apparent clues.

Look for different allergic reaction cues such as:
  • Watery eyes
  • Excessive itching
  • Labored breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Skin irritation

If you are concerned about the possibility of allergies, work alongside your veterinarian to determine the cause.

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There Might Be Other Explanations, But Ask a Vet

Unfortunately, it is hard to pinpoint the exact cause of lip-licking without a proper examination. To rule out anything severe or significant, you should always make sure to take your pet to see its own special doctor. You can work to get ahead of any conditions that might be developing.

There is no advice that is a substitute for a professional diagnosis. Mentally note any additional symptoms and work with your vet directly if necessary.

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Featured Image Credit: mik ulyannikov, Shutterstock

About the Author

Ashley Bates
Ashley Bates
Ashley Bates is a freelance dog writer and pet enthusiast who is currently studying the art of animal therapy. A mother to four human children— and 23 furry and feathery kids, too – Ashley volunteers at local shelters, advocates for animal well-being, and rescues every creature she finds. Her mission is to create awareness, education, and entertainment about pets to prevent homelessness. Her specialties are cats and dogs.

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