While dogs are known as man’s best friend, cats are something of an enigma – and they pride themselves on their air of mystery, often aloof nature, and curious habits – including licking their humans.
Underneath all the attitude, most cats are actually very affectionate animals.
They enjoy being close to us, and they also love to play, and may also lick us to demand our attention.
Sometimes, cats may also lick us to show their happiness or to express their love.
If you notice your cat licking you, don’t worry. It’s perfectly normal – at least, by cat standards – and there could be a number of reasons behind their action.
Wondering why cats lick you? Then read on!
Is It Normal For My Cat To Lick Me?
Cats spend around half of their time sleeping or napping and, of the other half, around 8% is made up of grooming.
For your cat, therefore, licking is a normal, everyday behavior, and very much an ingrained habit.
Unfortunately for owners, this tends to be more of a rough sandpaper experience than a soothing one, as your cat’s tongue is covered in “papillae” – these are hundreds of small, backward-facing spines that are firm to touch.
Papillae are important for your cat to keep themselves healthy, as they remove any loose fur or dirt from the coat, keeping them clean and comfortable.
Why Does My Cat Lick Me?
So, now that we have established that this is normal, it is time to take a closer look at the reasons that your cat may lick you – and there are plenty to choose from!
Because They Love You
In many cases, your cat will lick you simply to show affection and assert their love for you.
Mother cats will groom their kittens, and many cats groom other cats that they are fond of – this is known as allogrooming.
Allogrooming helps to strengthen and enhance the social bonds between felines, and so your cat may be trying to achieve this with you when they lick you – the goal is to nurture the relationship between you, and offers a chance for your furry friend to show their affection.
Remember, your kitty can’t hug or kiss you, or use words to express their love and affection – grooming you through licks is the only way that they can show their feelings.
Because They Want Attention
The chances are pretty high that you will have expressed some sort of reaction the first time that your cat licked you – and to our feline friends, all attention is good attention.
Whether you responded by petting them, kissing them back, or talking to them, this is a signal to your cat that licking you leads to attention.
Even being reprimanded is a form of attention, and will likely encourage them to keep up the habit.
Your cat may also lick you to let you know that they are bored and want fuss, cuddles or to play – this is your signal to stop whatever you are doing and focus 100% of your attention on the cat – they expect nothing less.
Because You Are Part Of Their Group
Cats are territorial animals, and tend to communicate with one another by marking their scent – this may be left on other cats and animals, or on objects around the home.
This is also a key motivation behind mother cats licking their kittens – they are making it clear that they are part of the group.
Cats also tend to only lick those that they trust as a form of social bonding, so you should really take it as a compliment if you are chosen.
By licking you, therefore, your cat is inducting you into the group, and accepting you as part of the pack – you then bear the group scent, and so can be easily identified.
Ok, so it’s a little cult-y, but cats are like that.
Because They Were Weaned Too Early
This is a common issue with cats and kittens who were weaned too early, or rescue kittens who lost their mother at a young age.
While kittens are nursing, they will knead, suckle and lick their mothers.
Those who were weaned too early will often develop an oral fixation, and attempt to replicate the comfort that they received from their mother, and so may lick their owners to achieve this – this is usually also accompanied by purring and kneading.
These kitties will need a lot of comfort, reassurance, and confidence-building, as they tend to be a little anxious and nervous.
The doctor orders multiple cuddles and snuggles a day – and are you really in a position to argue?
Because You Taste Nice
Don’t worry – this isn’t your cat weighing you up for a post-supper snack.
In many cases, cats will be curious about interesting scents that they encounter on your hair or skin; this could be a strongly-scented shampoo, an intriguing lotion, or even an unusual perfume.
Remember, licking is a major form of communication and exploration for cats, and so your feline friend may lick your hair and skin to discover more about the scent.
If they like the scent, you may never get rid of them.
Human perspiration and sweat is also appealing to both cats and dogs – this contains salts and sugars that taste great to furry friends, so don’t be alarmed if your cat approaches you after a workout for a lick of your skin – this may be gross, but it doesn’t mean that they want to eat you.
Because You Can’t Groom Yourself
For most cats, their owners are simply large, hairless cats, who are pretty much incapable of performing basic tasks such as catching birds, staring at the door for hours, and grooming themselves.
Many cats will lick their owners in an attempt to help them get clean – just as they do to themselves.
Cats also have a natural cleansing mechanism that uses saliva to remove toxins from their fur, and so your cat may be trying to remove a scent that they don’t like from you by licking you.
When a group of felines lives together, there will often be one cat chosen as the designated groomer, and they will take responsibility for licking and cleaning all the other cats in the group, helping everyone to stay hygienic and healthy.
In these situations, you are simply another member of the group to be washed and groomed – it is kind of like being part of a very bizarre spa day.
Because They Are Anxious, Stressed, Or Hurt
Sadly, sometimes our furry friends will be frightened or anxious, and they may lick you to help express their stress.
This is a form of comfort and may occur after a change in environment, such as moving house or the arrival of a new baby.
In most cases, this is nothing to worry about – just offer your pet plenty of love and reassurance to help rebuild their confidence.
In some cases, your cat may also lick you to help them cope with pain.
If you suspect that this is the case, or your cat is exhibiting excessive licking and causing hair loss – book an appointment with your vet as soon as possible to check things out, and rule out any medical issues.
Because They Are Curious And Excited
Contrary to their ‘don’t care’ attitude, most cats are actually very curious about the world around them – as anyone who has ever owned a cardboard box will attest.
Your cat may therefore decide to lick you as a way of exploring you, or because they are joyful and excited over your presence.
While it may be uncomfortable for you, it is also wonderful to see their little faces light up as they have fun – and with cats, you never know how long it will last, so make the most of every moment, and settle in for a petting session.
There are a number of reasons why your kitty may decide to treat you with a lick; they could be a sign of affection, kisses, cleaning, or a not-so-subtle form of domination.
In some cases, cats just love to lick people for absolutely no reason – we never said that feline behavior was normal.
While you can distract your furry friend with catnip or toys, this may not always be successful – in most cases, reprimanding or moving your cat will only increase their desire to lick you, so it is best to just remember your place in the household, go along with it, and enjoy your purring bundle of joy.