Some experts out there say that a cat licks you because they love you, they feel ownership over you or they are grooming and cleaning you. They’re marking you as one of them, you’re now family.
Let’s set the scene, because I think it’s all about the love.
Your cat blinks at you lazily, winding his way across the room toward you.
He rubs against your ankles and loops his tail around them – you have to sit still or you’ll trip.
You can feel the rumble of his contented purring, and then you’re blessed with the heavy thud of his paws landing in your lap.
Your aloof cat has deigned to show you affection and you couldn’t be more pleased until he starts… licking you?
Don’t freak out, your cat isn’t any weirder than the rest of the world’s felines.
5 Reasons Why Your Cat Is Licking You
- He Thinks You’re His Pet
Cats may seem aloof, but they are social-grooming animals and do know how to show interest and affection.
Cats will spend hours sitting around bathing themselves and their buddies, and if they like you maybe they’ll do the same to you.
Treating you like his mother treated him shows that he trusts you and sees you as part of his family group.
In a cat “family” there is usually one who grooms all of the rest like it’s their job, so your cat feels affectionately responsible for you – he thinks you’re his pet, rather than the other way around.
- He Wants Your Attention (Or More Of It)
Cleaning/licking can be a sign that your cat is lonely or missing you – it may just be your cat’s way of biding for your attention.
You can tell if this is the case if your cat licks you less when you begin to play with them more.
Similar to the way they would lick their litter-mates when they were kittens, it could be that your cat is just looking for some sign that you love them.
- He Likes the Way You Taste
Why does my cat always lick my hand?
Maybe you taste good!
Cats are very curious by nature – we all know the famous saying – and they will often lick and taste things for the sensory experience and educating themselves about their surroundings.
Your cat may smell or taste something interesting on you, be it soap, perfume, a food spill, blood from a forgotten cut or scratch, or stray hair from a strange animal or person.
Maybe you just have a super distinct smell that marks you as his own special human – or he enjoys the taste of plain old salt on your skin.
- He’s Relieving His Anxieties
If you have any experience with anxiety, you can understand and relate to finding a little ritual or repeated action that distracts you from your cares.
While for us humans that might look like biting our nails, tapping our toes, or twirling our hair, for our furry friends it could mean an oral fixation that involves licking excessively.
Feline anxiety is often discovered when the cat starts shredding things or comforting themselves by sucking on fabric objects.
If your cat is fearful, anxious, or was separated early from his mother, he could be manifesting his feelings through licking you, his human companion.
One way to treat this anxiety in your feline friend is by using a pheromone-based calming spray in your home.
- He’s Cleaning You
While we may find the idea of being covered in our cat’s saliva to be a less than ideal way to shower ourselves, your cat doesn’t agree.
While cats aren’t generally pack-mentality animals, when they are surrounded by their young and/or other cats they consider part of their “group”, cleaning another cat is a symbol of compassion and care.
So – it’s not that your cat thinks you’re dirty…they just consider you part of their group.
Why does my cat lick me and then bite me?
Cats who lick and then bite their owners consider this as a form of affectionate play-fighting (similar to the way your brothers put each other in a headlock).
This play-fighting can get out of hand and your cat may start to become a little aggressive with you.
This is likely due to them leaving their litter (and their mother) a little too soon.
Because the mom and rest of their litter would squeal and stop playing with them once they got too rough, staying with their family for longer usually means a kitten will know not to play too rough.
If your adult cat is biting and licking too much, usually taking your attention away from them completely will teach them that he needs to be more gentle.
Why Does My Cat Lick My Hair?
They have so much of their own fur, why are they licking yours?
While it’s kind of funny to see your cat struggle with your hair, which is perhaps quite a bit longer than the hair they are used to cleaning on their own body – it’s quite an interesting behavior.
This video by eHow explains it best:
Why Cats Lick Their Human After Time Apart
A common time your cat could lick you is right after you’ve been gone for a while (or if they have been outside, right after they come back inside to be with you.)
Another common reason cats lick their humans is to share their scent and/or mark their territory.
While I am sure you would rather take this marking of territory behavior over your cat spraying you, it’s still strange how your cat needs to coat your hands with their saliva when you return to them.
Why is this?
By marking you with their scent, they are reassuring themselves that although you may have different smells attached to you (maybe even smells from different animals, depending on where you have been that day) – you’re still safe for them to be around because you smell like they do.
My Cat’s Licking Is Becoming Excessive…What Does It Mean When My Cat Licks Too Much?
Okay, so even if you consider this a form of flattery, you don’t mind the licking and/or you’re convinced your cat has accepted you into their sacred pack… sometimes licking can get out of control.
If your cat’s licking begins to get excessive or they are suckling on your clothing or fingers – this is a behavioral change you need to take notice of.
Suckling and/or excessive licking (whether it’s you or themselves) can be a sign of distress or illness.
This is when you should consult a veterinarian to have your cat checked for medical issues.
Below Dr. Becker Discusses Excessive Grooming in Cats: Mercola Healthy Pets
If your vet has checked your feline friend and there are no signs of medical illness, the excessive licking could be due to boredom, separation anxiety while you’re gone and/or common cat problems like fleas/ticks.
How Can I Get My Cat to Stop Licking Me?
I personally love when my cat gives me those little cat-kisses and maybe you do too, but even for the humans who like this show of affection… it can become a little too much and we want to find a way to encourage our cat to tone it down a little.
After all, a cat’s tongue is rough and covered with little barbs – a lot of licking could be painful!
In getting your cat to tone down the licking, you need to be careful in how you redirect them because you don’t want them to think they have done something wrong.
- Put a bad smelling/tasting lotion on your hands
- Spray your cat with water
- Discipline or yell at your cat
- Shove your cat away
- Redirect their attention to something else
- Give them nice petting time and show your affection to them
- Start a game with them playing with a toy
- Move their cat tree into a patch of sunlight or near a window so they can be occupied
Some ideas like putting a bad tasting lotion (or something) on your skin, or spraying your cat with water spray can have quite the opposite effect, to an extent you won’t like…
Your cat could potentially associate YOU with these punishments and start avoiding you completely.
The best way to get your cat to stop licking you is to offer a distraction (such as a treat, giving them a friendly pet or a getting out a rattling toy to play with.)
Gentle massage, brushing, and cuddling can also help relieve your cat’s stress and discourage licking.
If all else fails, ask your veterinarian if they can recommend an animal behaviorist who may be able to help you and your cat work through the deeper issues.
My Cat Doesn’t Lick Me… Does That Mean They Are Unhappy With Me?
Some cats just don’t lick their humans, it’s nothing you have done right or wrong in this case.
It could be that they weren’t groomed much by their own mother as a kitten or simply that they like to show their affection in other ways.
If you’re worried that your cat is unhappy with you due to their lack of this behavior, don’t be – every cat is different!
Here is a great video on how to decode your cat’s strange behavior (including licking or lack thereof);
Whether you love or hate your cat’s declaration of love through licking your skin or clothes, now you know the reasons behind it and can feel assured that your pet feels safe and calm around you!