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Why Does My Cat Lick My Hand & Fingers So Much? 7 Vet-Reviewed Reasons

Written by: Kristin Hitchcock

Last Updated on May 8, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team


Why Does My Cat Lick My Hand & Fingers So Much? 7 Vet-Reviewed Reasons


Dr. Maja Platisa Photo


Dr. Maja Platisa

DVM MRCVS (Veterinarian)

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

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A dog licking your hand is normal, and it’s how they show affection. However, a cat is a different story. Felines aren’t widely known for their licking behavior toward humans, and it’s strange when they begin licking our hands and fingers excessively.

Luckily, it is often a reasonably benign behavior. Usually, it’s an indication of affection, though it can also mean other things. So, what does it mean when a cat licks your hand and fingers? Let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons this behavior occurs, as well as what you might want to do about it.

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The 7 Reasons Why Your Cat Licks Your Hand & Fingers

1. A Social Bond

When two cats like each other, it isn’t uncommon for licks to be exchanged. This is usually done through grooming, but that isn’t always true. For example, mother cats lick their kittens, which helps create a social bond. 

It may also be a cat’s natural response to establishing a hierarchy as well as showing affection, and it has been suggested that cats groom each other, also called allogrooming, particularly on the head and neck area, as a way to redirect potential social aggression.1 However, we know that this type of grooming behavior is common among cats who live together and share a strong social bond.

This licking isn’t just confined to other felines in the home that the cats like but also to humans, for which cats feel affection. If your cat has been doing this since a young age, they may have been weaned earlier or have developed behavioral traits due to a lack of socialization from their mother.

Some cats seem to like licking more than others. Just because your cat isn’t licking doesn’t mean they don’t like you. It depends on the cat’s personality, with some cats licking a lot and others never licking at all. But if your cat licks your hand, or anywhere for that matter, it is usually a sign of affection.

cat licking human arm
Image Credit: sophiecat, Shutterstock

2. Stress

Some cats also lick objects when they’re stressed. It’s like a nervous tick. Your cat may begin to lick excessively, which can include licking you. This behavior can also lead to your cat overgrooming themselves, where they lick a body part so much that their hair begins to fall out. They can also lick the floor or their sleeping spot.

Stress can lead to serious health issues if not recognized and managed. Cats get stressed for all sorts of reasons. Perhaps your routine has changed, and it has your feline on edge. However, some cats can become stressed because of an illness. They are usually very good at hiding their signs, so you probably won’t even know something is wrong.

Cats will sometimes lick themselves and you to deal with their stress, and the release of endorphins when licking and grooming makes them feel better and gives them reassurance. If you notice that your kitty is licking a bit too much, keep your eye out for other strange behaviors, and seek help from your veterinarian. They could indicate that something more serious is going on.

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3. Your Hands Taste Like Food

If you’ve just eaten, it’s possible that the cat can still taste the food on your hands. This can cause your cat to lick your hands simply because it tastes good. Usually, you can tell if this is the why behind your cat’s behavior based on the circumstances.

Even if they don’t seem to participate in social licking, most cats will lick your fingers if they taste good.

Tabby pet cat sniffing human hand palm
Image Credit: Anna Kraynova, Shutterstock

4. …Or They Taste Like Something Else

Even if you haven’t eaten anything tasty, your feline may still like the taste of something on your hands. This can include lotion and soap, which some cats find tasty. Soap and lotion are usually made with at least some animal fats. Those with higher amounts may be more prone to being licked.

Of course, cats usually only seem to like some soaps and lotions. Therefore, it isn’t uncommon for your cat to only lick your hands after you’ve used a particular lotion or soap. They happen to like that one and not the others. Of course, this should never be encouraged, as some of the products may harm cats and cause oral irritation if licked.

5. Attention

Some cats lick your hand for attention. Usually, this involves a few licks combined with other signs of them clearly expecting something from you, such as following you around eagerly and meowing. Then, your cat may sit back and stare at you intently. This usually means that they want to be petted or held. However, it can also mean they need you for something else, like opening a door or refilling their food dish.

This licking is obviously different from other types. In most other cases, your cat will lick you multiple times. However, licking when they want attention is only a means to an end, so they’ll stop licking when they get what they want.

Image Credit: Nitiphonphat, Shutterstock

6. Scent Marking

There are many ways a cat can mark something, but their tongue is one of them. Typically, when two cats groom each other, their scents mix. They “mark” each other during the process, and then they both smell like each other and are familiar.

Your cat could be trying to leave their scent on you by grooming you. It is difficult to distinguish this from affection because scent-marking usually comes from a place of affection as well. Your cat may also knead on you or head butt you, leaving a scent from the scent glands located on their face and pads, which helps mix your scents further. That way, they mark you as a member of their group so that they can easily identify you.

7. Illness

Besides stress, there are some other underlying health reasons that can cause excessive licking in cats. This may be anything that causes pain or discomfort, nausea, or even gastrointestinal upset. If your cat has suddenly started licking themselves or you more than usual, or they haven’t done it before, it’s important to get them checked out by a vet.

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Your cat’s behavior is difficult to decipher at times, but if your pet licks you frequently, most of the time, it’s a sign of affection. However, stressed cats can also resort to licking their owners or other objects excessively, and in that case, they should be taken to the veterinarian for an examination to ensure the anxiety is not caused by pain or a health issue. You can keep your hands away from your cat to prevent licking, and although they may seem upset by the rejection, they can rely on other methods, such as purring and head-butting, to show how much they care about you.

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Featured Image Credit: congerdesign, Pixabay

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