Why Does My Cat Lick Me? Lingual Pleasures

Like any morning ritual, I have a cat that lovingly crawls onto my chest and begins to lick any part of my face. Basically, any part of my bare skin that’s available.  I’m not sure why they do this, so I did some research and dug into this phenomenon to get an idea.

So, why does my cat lick me?  Cats lick humans as a display of affection, they trust you, to groom you, ask you for food or possibly to warn you of danger. It’s generally thought of as a positive behavior.  

Just so you know you’re not the boss of the house. Your cats own you and they show you by licking you.

Their tongues aren’t just for butt licking, spreading those pesky FEL-d4 allergens or creating hairballs of horror.

Cat mouth open showing tongue

They’re used for bonding and survival.

A Cat Tongue: Mini Claw Made of Sandpaper?

Anything dealing with a cat is always mysterious.  With grooming, their efficient little tongue is a versatile part of their body so staying clean can mean life or death.  

It’s instinctive. They’re so meticulous because they need to hide their smell from prey.

Plus how else would they get water into their bodies? A cats tongue is very important.

Ok, back to licking you.

Why does it hurt when a cat licks you?  It hurts when a cat licks you because of their sandpaper feeling tongue.  

No, their tongues aren’t made of sandpaper. Those small even shaped barbs or hooks are called Papillae.

Your cat’s tongue is covered in them.

They are made from keratin much like our fingernails, says Alexis Noel from Georgia Tech

He also states that those spines on your cat’s tongue point in the same direction.  The direction that takes anything they are licking head back towards their throat.  

Those tongues are able to detangle all sorts of knots and break (tease) it apart.

What Does It Mean When A Cat Licks You?

Your cat is returning the favor by licking you in the same way you give them affection with petting.  

The same way we give hugs, kittens will use licking to make a connection with us and to claim us as theirs.  

They were borning into being cleaned by licking from their mothers.

So, washing is caring.

While we all love to be “kissed” by our cats, licking can get tiresome and excessive.  

grey cat licking human hand laying on pink blanket

It’s best to understand this feline behavior so we can properly divert them when it happens.

Here are the most common reasons why your cat licks you:

  • They are taking ownership of you
  • Returning the favor from you petting them
  • You taste good – salty skin
  • They want attention
  • They are cleaning (washing) you
  • They’re giving affection
  • Stress or feel anxious
  • Relaxing – they feel calmer around their own scent

How To Stop Your Cat From Licking You?

If you want your cat to stop licking you, please don’t punish them, simply distract them or train them with repetition.  

Pay attention to their behavior when it’s about to start.

You can redirect the licking with a food dispensing toy, catnip filled toy or some cat grass that you have nearby.

If your cats are licking you too much, could be from insufficient nursing as a kitten.

They may have developed some kind of oral fixation as a result.  I’ve read that this is the culprit of many compulsive biters and lickers.

outdoor calico cat licking their paw

You could try getting another cat, giving them a stuffed animal or fuzzy type blanket.

Basically, redirect their actions.

If nothing works and your cats are persistent, then try getting up and walking away.  

Maybe your cat will associate licking you with leaving and disappearing. They’ll learn eventually that you are a lick free human.

Why do cats lick your face?

I think cats lick our faces for affection, grooming and to tell us something.  

It’s preening. Cats extremely fastidious by nature and preen to remove hair and dirt. They learn these behaviors from birth when momma is licking them to “life”.

So, while you’re laying down and it’s feeding time, I’m sure your call will either yell at you or climb up to lick your face.

Why does my cat lick my nose?  When your cat specifically licks your nose, they’re showing a sign of a strong bond. It’s a claim of ownership over you by transferring their scent. Nose licks from cats are like kisses between humans on the cheek or forehead.

Why does my cat lick my hand? My cats lick my hands when they want to be pet or they smell something on them that they like.  Especially green olives!

 

Why does my cat lick my feet?  Cats may lick or rub on your feet because your scent might most pungent there or it’s just easily accessible.  

Your cat might be attracted to shoes. I have 1 cat, Tanta, that loves to hide my toddler’s shoes all around the house.  

It’s mostly specific to my youngest and it’s the shoes she wears every day. Strange behavior but I take it as she misses her.

Why does my cat lick my hair?

Your cat licks your hair as a way of showing love or making you their territory by grooming.  

It’s a social behavior where they want to clean your “fur” and smother it with their scent. I’ve gotten this strange behavior a time or two, but it doesn’t last long as my hair is too long.

They start doing that flicking motion with their mouth and sometimes gag.  Works better on short haired humans making a nice sticky cowlick.

“Some cats may also just enjoy the taste of hair products or even the natural oils found in human hair.” If this starts to bother you… “You should not look at, talk to or touch a cat who is licking hair, unless you are comfortable having the behavior increase in frequency. If you want to stop the behavior in progress, get up and leave,” says Dr. Christensen Bell, DVM, of Veterinary Behavior Consultations of NYC

Just be sure your cat isn’t eating your hair or becoming sick after licking it.

Why does my cat lick me after I shower?  

Your cat could be licking you after a shower because you might smell different, they’re thirsty or they need you to be dry.  

While cats are fascinated with water, they don’t (not all) like to be wet. Since you are part of their pride and own you, you can’t be wet either.

They will lick you after a shower in an attempt to get you dry.  

Same goes with your scent. You washed them off you, so now they need to “reapply” their love on you again.

Whenever I got out of the shower, my Tanta girl would immediately begin to lick all the water drops from my legs.  

When I gently would nudge her away, she’d go for my feet!

Below is a video from CatsandPats where his kitty is licking his hair!

 

Why does my cat lick me after biting? Or bite me after licking?

Some cats may bite after licking or lick then bite us as a warning sign so that we stop petting or playing with them, a sign of affection or signs of grooming.  

We really need to get a clear picture here of what’s going on at the moment.

Your cat could mean one thing or it could be in their behavior:

  • Over stimulation – Your cat could be telling you they’re done with the playing. This bite might be a gentle way of saying enough and the lick is saying I still love you.
  • Love Bites – In this case, your cat is showing affection to you.  If your cat isn’t bothered by anything that’s happening, petting or sitting close, the message of love is being communicated here.
  • They want to play or be loved – Cats aren’t the best communicators.  

It’s hard to tell if they want to play or not. So, they need to come up with a way (non-verbal) to tell you.  My cat often whines, paws at me or simply stares at me until I go to her.

So, the combo of the bite-lick / lick-bite can be one of them.

Related Questions:

Why does my cat headbutt me?  A cat will headbutt (or bunting) you as a sign of affection or love.  Indoor cats and outdoor cats will headbutt and do face rubbing to mark each other as a family or with cats they know. 

What if my cat is licking too much?  Excessive cat licking.  These are known as “fur mowers”.  Your cat can be licking too much from having parasites, has a skin infection, being bored, stressed, having anxiety, they’ll have bald patches or could be a compulsive disorder.  

These reasons seem to be more prevalent with indoor cats because it’s less exciting and less exercise.

Cat licking concrete floor?  Your cat is licking the concrete for minerals that she is lacking in her body for possible anemia, including calcium and other minerals. 

Why do cats lick rocks?  Some cats may lick rock out of a craving for dirt or earthly matter (geophagia).  It’s instinctive due to a compensation for a deficiency they may have.

Why does my cat lick furniture?  When cats start licking items that aren’t food, like furniture or walls, they can be showing signs of a form of Pica. Pica is a behavior in cats eating things that aren’t food.  Definitely, see your vet for a consult about your cat’s current diet.

Sources:

http://www.aspca.org/Pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/cat-articles/cats-who-suckle-and-lick-people

http://www.felinecrf.org/symptoms_treatments_index.htm#L

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