Love it or hate it, most cats lick their humans. Like warm, wet sandpaper being rubbed on your skin, a lick from a cat doesn’t feel soothing to most humans. But cats lick you because they love you.
Either that or because you taste good.
Of course, not all cats lick so don’t feel left out if yours has never laid a tongue on you. Licking can be more common in cats that were weaned too early from their mother, but this is not the only reason they lick.
I talked with several cat-owners and discovered that there is quite a range of licking behaviors. For example, Maezie has only licked her human once, and it was a mistake. She was in the middle of a grooming session and her tongue slipped. Oops! How embarrassing!
But apart from tongue slip mishaps, there are number of more common reasons why cats lick you…
Your cat is grooming you
Grooming is one of the first things a kitten learns. A mama cat will lick her kittens to keep them clean and show affection. When the kittens pick up the habit, they groom their siblings along with themselves, a way of social bonding.
Oreo licks his human to groom her. When your cat is licking you, he is treating you like one of the family – a major compliment.
Your cat is comfortable with you
You feed your cat. You play with him. You keep his litter box clean. Truth is, you do a whole lot for your furry friend and whether he shows it or not, he’s well aware that you’re his
And he is not only used to your presence in his life, but he feels safe with you. Licking is just one of his ways to express how comfortable and safe he feels around you. Here’s your cat’s logic: I love licking and being licked! It’s soothing and wonderfully comforting! Let’s do it to the human!
Your cat is marking you with his scent
Kitty may be jealous. Where did you go? Who were you with? Does he smell another cat’s scent on you? Your cat may be marking you with his scent, like he does when he rubs on your leg.
He could be reclaiming you or reestablishing your group odor, so that he smells a little like you and you smell a little like him.
Your cat is giving you a kiss
Ickus likes to welcome his humans home with “kitty kisses.” A welcome-home grooming after being away is exactly what he would like to come home to. Showering you with affection when you return is his way of saying “Welcome home. I’m glad you’re back.”
You taste good
Your cat may lick you because you taste or smell delicious. It could be the natural salt on your skin from sweating. Or after dishing up dinner for your cat or yourself, your cat may smell food on your hands and want to lick up any leftovers. Sister kitties Peach and Patch don’t like to waste even a drop of food.
My cat, Mr. Cool, loves coconut oil, and so do I. When I use coconut oil as a moisturizer, he smells it in the air. I see his little nose sniff, and I know what’s coming next. Often I will put a small dab on him so that he can lick it off of himself, instead of me. I don’t really enjoy wet sandpaper exfoliation.
Your cat wants your attention
All of it. And immediately. Especially if you have an attention-mongering cat breed like the Sphynx or the Siamese, they will not hesitate to do whatever it takes to make sure your focus is entirely on them. After all, what could possibly be more important?
If your cat’s licking is also accompanied by any of the other telltale pay-attention-to-me cat signs – meowing, rubbing against you, or just flat out sitting on top of your keyboard – he won’t be satisfied ’til he gets a good pampering session.
It can be a sign of a problem
Licking and grooming behavior is calming to cats. But excessive licking can be a sign of a problem. Any dramatic change in your cat’s behavior is worth mentioning to your vet. Especially since obsessive licking can be caused by anxiety, stress or boredom – none of which you want your kitty to be suffering from.
What if I don’t like it?
Many humans don’t enjoy the experience, which is a shame because it’s such a major compliment. The most effective way to avoid becoming a cat-lollipop is to not let your cat make a habit of it.
At first it can be cute, especially if you have a kitten. But think of the many years ahead for the two of you. Your cat will start licking you more and more. Soon it may grow annoying or disgusting – especially if your cat is a hunter.
A great way to curtail the behavior is to groom them instead. When your cat begins grooming you, you should grab the brush and groom them. Another option is to redirect their attention to a textured toy, something made of rawhide, terry cloth or even a simple feather.
What if I like it?
It’s generally safe to let your cat to lick you, but avoid letting him lick your face. Cat-scratch fever is not just a rock song from the 70s. It’s a bacterial infection that can be transmitted through your cat’s saliva. This bacteria is harmful if it gets in your eyes or on a cut or sore. If your cat is healthy, there’s nothing to worry about, but cats don’t often show symptoms if they carry this bacteria.
Like a white elephant gift at the office holiday party, it’s the thought that counts. It’s best to take these kitty kisses as a compliment from your cat, a way of saying we are on the same team, you smell good or I love you.
But considering your cat also licks his own butt and savors dead rodents with that same tongue, you may want to politely decline the gesture.