Why Does My Cat Lick Me? 9 Things You Should Consider

Reviewed By Julie •  Updated: 03/08/22 •  11 min read
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Do you have a cat that likes to lick you? Do you wonder “Why does my cat lick me?” Then you’ve come to the right place! Today we’re going to explore the different reasons cats like to lick their humans, and what you can do if your kitty’s licking you too much!

What Does It Mean When a Cat Licks You?

Well, first you should ask yourself if you’ve had a bath recently! Maybe your cat’s trying to tell you something by cleaning you off! No—just kidding! There are many other reasons a cat likes to lick her human companion. You may assume that she’s being affectionate, which could well be the case. But there are several reasons cats like to lick us.

1. Being affectionate: cats will show their affection this way. Your feline companion can’t say she loves you, so she shows her affection by licking, rubbing on you, etc.

2. Wants attention: this is one method cats sometimes use to get your attention. Nothing is more distracting than being licked by a cat’s rough tongue. Maybe she wants to go out, be fed, play or snuggle. One thing’s for sure—she’s trying to grab your attention and spend some time with you.

3. Anxious: licking can be a sign your fur baby’s feeling stressed or maybe she’s afraid. Cats do sometimes use licking as a way to self-soothe and calm themselves. Or your fur baby could sense that you’re feeling anxious and stressed, and she licks you to help calm you down. Cats are usually very in tune with their cat parents’ moods. If your kitty is licking you a lot, it could be that you’re going through some tough times and she’s just doing what she can to help out.

4. Showing possession: your cat may be saying you belong to her! Licking is another method cats use to mark their territory, along with rubbing and spraying. If she’s marking you as hers, be thankful she’s licking you and not spraying you!

5. Petting: you pet your cat, but she can’t pet you back—so, licking may be her way of petting you in return.

6. Boredom: licking you could also be a sign that your cat or kitten’s feeling bored and/or that she’s alone too much. This behavior can become a way to self-soothe and relieve the anxiety that may come with boredom and loneliness.

7. Socializing and bonding: your fur baby may be showing that you’re a part of her family by licking you. When several cats live together or in a colony, they tend to groom one another. This act solidifies the bond of the group, along with showing everyone belongs.

8. You taste good: your feline friend may lick because you taste good. That’s no joke! Some cats enjoy the flavor of lotions, medicated creams, etc. used on their human’s skin. They’ll lick and lick until the lotion or cream is gone. This could be dangerous if something in the lotion or cream is harmful to your cat. Be especially careful of lotions containing zinc, topical hormones, or corticosteroids, as each of these can be harmful to your cat.

There are some cats who just like the taste of their human—it could be salty skin, etc. that causes a kitty to lick.

9. She’s teaching you to groom: your kitten or cat may be teaching you how to groom, just like her mother taught her! Does this mean she thinks you’re dirty? It’s hard to tell, but at least she cares enough to try to help teach you how to clean yourself.

Why Does My Cat Lick my Face?

If you wear makeup or lotion, your cat may just like the taste. Or if you have a beard, your kitty could be enjoying the texture against her tongue—you may also give her the feeling she’s grooming another cat!

Why Does My Kitten Like Licking Me?

Your kitten may be feeling separation anxiety and/or was taken away from her before she was weaned. Kittens and cats may use this as a method to self-soothe—they develop an oral fixation. The kitten doesn’t get to nurse or receive her mother’s attention, and this can cause a her to lick too much. You could think of yourself as a pacifier in this instance!

Mother cats will lick their kittens to help calm them and keep them warm. This is another common cat behavior. If you want to help your kitten, try rubbing her belly and scratching her head. Attention-seeking behavior is a common cause of your kitten’s excessive licking. Sometimes, they will also meow and cry when they need attention.

If your kitten is licked excessively, the licking may be part of a cat’s “love language.” Kittens and cats often use this behavior to express their love for you, or it could be a form of non-verbal communication. The social bond that kittens develop with their mothers is essential for healthy social development.

Why Does My Cat Lick My Hand?

Your cat could be enjoying the lotion you just put on your hands—or maybe you were cooking, and the food scents smell really good to her. Again, it could be a sign of affection and possession—she loves you and you belong to her. Doesn’t that make you feel good? Kittie’s can be so sweet and affectionate when they choose!

Cat Behavior and the Science Behind It

A cat’s way of communicating with you is through their movements. For example, when your cat feels threatened, they will often do what’s called a “threat posture.” This is where they lower their body and raise their fur. When your cat’s anxiety is high, they will also have a “tense” look on their face. When your cat is feeling affectionate, they will often use a “submissive posture.” This is where they are low to the ground, purr, and arch their back. There are many other ways that cats communicate with you, such as by kneading, nuzzling, and licking. This last one is particularly interesting.

Mother cats have been known to lick their kittens, and when they do, it’s often in a very loving way. The pheromone from the mother’s saliva acts as a kind of “marker” for the kitten. This is why when kittens get to adulthood, they often like to return the gesture. If you are living with a group of cats, you might notice that one cat likes to do this a lot more than the others. This is because the social status of the cat is indicated by the frequency with which they do this. If a cat is of high social status, they will often do this a lot more often to the others. This is called allogrooming or social grooming.

When Cat Licking is a Problem

Can your cat lick you so much that it causes a problem? Yes! Cat tongues are used for grooming, separating fur from meat (when eating prey animals), removing bugs and parasites from their fur. Your kitty’s tongue also works to spread protective oils over her coat, to keep it smooth, clean and detangled. Your fur baby uses her tongue to lap up water, too! What a wonderful tool cats have!

A cat’s tongue feels a bit like sand-paper when she’s licking you—it’s very rough and sometimes catches on hair, clothing, etc. If you look at a microscopic photo of a cat’s tongue, you’ll see it’s covered in sharp spines or barbs. These barbs are made of keratin—the same substance that makes up our finger and toe nails. These spines are sharp and resemble cat claws–no wonder it can be painful when if your cat’s licking the same spots too often.

The papillae (that’s the plural of papilla) on a cat’s tongue are filled with taste buds. When a cat licks you, her tongue stimulates these taste buds. The taste buds then send messages to the brain and to the brain’s nerves that stimulate feelings of pleasure.

Some cat parents have cat allergies that can act up when licked by their cat. Their skin may break out in small hives, or their cat’s licking can even set off a full-blown anaphylactic reaction in those who are extremely sensitive to cat allergens. Other times, your kitty’s tongue may irritate your skin if she’s licking the same area all the time.

What If My Cat’s Licking Herself Too Much?

Cats spend a large part of their day licking and grooming themselves, but sometimes it’s too much. According to VetStreet, cats generally spend about 15 to 50 percent of their day grooming themselves. This is quite normal. However, excessive grooming can be a sign that something’s not quite right with your fur baby. What causes a cat to lick herself too much?

It could be a sign that your cat has allergies, fleas, a skin infection, is in pain, etc. Too much grooming for these reasons can cause your kitty’s fur to fall out, irritated skin and more. If you notice your cat or kitten grooming excessively, and you can’t determine the cause, then it’s time to make an appointment with the vet. She could have a medical problem that needs treatment.

How to Handle Too Much Licking

There are some things you can do to if your cat’s licking you too much. If she’s licking you because of stress and anxiety, then you’ll need to figure out what’s causing her to feel this way. Look at your daily routine, your family, and any other pets that may be in the house. It could be she’s anxious because alone too much of the time. Or someone in the family (even another pet) could be harassing her in some way.

Once you find the problem, then you’ll have to solve it to relieve your fur baby’s stress. For instance, if she’s alone too much, you might provide her with a more enriching environment. You could invest in some cat trees, create an activity corner for her, etc. Anything that will keep her occupied while you’re away. She might even enjoy puzzle toys—some of them can be filled with treats. She has to solve the puzzle in order to get the treat as a reward. Keeping her occupied may help relieve her stress and anxiety. If another human or pet are causing her to feel anxious, this will also need to be addressed.

It might also be a matter of spending more time with her when you are home. Give her some extra cuddle time, feed her some favorite treats—whatever gets her to feel loved and wanted. Who doesn’t enjoy some TLC once in a while?

Another option to try when your kitten’s licking too much is to distract her. You might keep one of her favorite cat toys near you—near your favorite chair or bedside (if she likes to lick you when you’re lying down), etc. This way, you can use the toy to gain her attention. Toss it away from you and she may just go after it. She’ll be too busy chasing her toy to lick your skin off.

You might also try grooming kitty if she’s over-licking. Most cats (and kittens) love the attention and the feel of being groomed.

She may just lick you more, but you might be able to distract her by brushing and petting her.

Don’t Punish Your Cat for Licking You

Avoid punishing your kitten or cat if they’re licking you too much. You don’t want to damage the bond you share with her by yelling, hitting or shoving her away from you. This is negative reinforcement and could even cause your cat or kitten to avoid you—or even to become afraid of you.

Instead, be patient and loving with her. Use these positive methods to maintain the bond between the two of you and distract her in some way.

Kittens and cats love to show you how they feel. Rubbing, licking, laying on you or across your computer keyboard—these are all ways cats use to get your attention and show you their love. They can be darned independent, but they also need our care and attention. Treasure this sweet bond with your kitty—you won’t be sorry!

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Julie is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, where she studied Animal science. Though contrary to the opinion of her parents she was meant to study pharmacy, but she was in love with animals especially cats. Julie currently works in an animal research institute (NGO) in California and loves spending quality time with her little cat. She has the passion for making research about animals, how they survive, their way of life among others and publishes it. Julie is also happily married with two kids.

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