Why Does My Cat Lick Me?

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Cats love to lick, spending much of their day grooming themselves. However, cats also lick other things, including their owners. Cats lick their owners for many reasons, including to show affection and groom you, because they think you taste good, and as a result of underlying stress. However, if your cat licks you too much, it can cause pain and irritation. Cats have barbs on their tongues that give them their sandpaper-like feel. A few licks aren't likely to hurt you, but if your cat excessively licks you, it could indicate a behavioral problem like stress. 

If you're wondering, "Why does my cat lick me?" you've come to the right place. This article will discuss what it means when your cat licks you and how you can prevent it in the future. 

Is It Normal For Your Cat To Lick You?

It's completely normal for cats to lick their owners, whether they're indoor or outdoor cats. Licking is normal behavior for cats, and they spend most of the day licking and grooming themselves. However, licking is also a form of communication and how cats learn about the world through taste.1 There are many reasons why a cat might lick their pet parent, and most are because they're trying to tell you something. Licking can indicate health concerns and behavioral issues like stress, but it can also be how your cat shows you they love you. 

Reasons Why Your Cat Might Lick You

So, why do cats lick you? In most cases, cats lick their owners as a form of social bonding. When cats are young, their only contact is with their mother, who grooms and licks them to demonstrate affection. Cats learn this behavior from their mothers and continue it through their adult lives. Cats may lick other cats and animals to show affection, including dogs and other pets they enjoy spending time with at home. However, you may also notice your cat licking you occasionally. Wondering, "What does it mean when your cat licks you?"? Here are a few common reasons why cats lick their pet parents. 

Your Cat Likes You

Have you ever wondered, "Why does my cat bite me then lick me?" You'll be glad to know they perform these behaviors to show affection. You pet your cat to tell them you love them, but they have different methods of communication. Cats often lick their pet parents because they like you and are showing you affection the best way they know how. Cats learn how to show affection from their mothers, and licking is just one way they do it.1 Other ways cats show affection include rubbing up against you, kneading you, and mixing their scent with yours. 

Grooming is a way of demonstrating affection for cats, so if your cat begins grooming your other pets or you, it likely indicates that they're trying to care for them like they were cared for when they were kittens. Unfortunately, cats' tongues aren't designed for human skin; they have barbs called papillae that hook into fur to detangle and clean it. Therefore, when cats lick you, it might feel slightly uncomfortable or even painful if they lick in the same place. 

Since kittens were taught from a young age that grooming was a sign of affection, they may emulate their mother's behavior with their owners, licking them to groom them and show affection. 

Your Cat Wants Attention 

Cats may lick for attention because you've inadvertently trained them that they'll get attention when they lick you. Unfortunately, most pet parents enable this type of behavior without knowing it.1 Every time you react to your cat's licking, they learn that you'll pay attention to them when they exhibit the behavior. 

Even negative attention can reinforce the behavior. For example, if your cat licks you and you look at them and say anything, they're getting the attention they want. Meanwhile, positive reinforcements, such as petting your cat or picking them up and moving them when they lick you, can make them believe that you approve of and even enjoy the behavior. 

Your Cat Is Marking Their Territory 

Cats mark their territory through scent. For example, when your cat rubs against you, they mix their scent with yours to mark their territory. Saliva also has a scent, so cats may lick their pet parents and other pets to combine their scents, which forms a familiar bond.1

If you have multiple cats in the home, they both might lick you to claim you as theirs. Cats have powerful senses of smells, so you likely won't be able to smell their scents (unless they try to mark you with urine). However, cats can smell the scent they leave behind. 

List of reasons your cat might lick you

Your Cat Is Stressed

When your cat licks you, it's not an immediate indicator that they're stressed. However, excessive licking is a sign of stress and anxiety in cats. Licking is often a displacement behavior that cats do to self-soothe.1 Aggressive grooming may occur when cats are anxious or stressed, and unfortunately, when cats lick themselves too much, it can cause skin lesions and fur loss.2 However, cats may also lick you to alleviate their stress because they're displacing their nervous energy. 

Cats may also lick you to communicate that they're feeling stressed rather than using the behavior to distract themselves. In addition, if your cat is pacing, licking excessively, and meowing, it could indicate anxiety or a panic attack. Since cats can't talk, they may excessively meow, hide, or lick you to inform you that something is upsetting them. Of course, it can be difficult to identify what's causing your cat stress, especially if there haven't been any changes to their environment. 

Everything from moving to a new pet or baby can cause stress in cats, but so can minor changes. For example, if your indoor cat sees an outdoor cat from the window, they can become stressed. Therefore, it's not always possible to identify the cause behind your cat's anxiety. However, you can comfort them during times of stress and give them another activity to engage in to distract them from a situation that might be causing anxiety. 

Your Cat Is Tasting Something On You 

Cats lick things that smell good to them, so if you have food on your hands, they might try to lick you.1 Cats may also be drawn to certain scents you use in lotions and shampoo, causing them to lick you since they want to taste what smells so good. 

Your skin also tastes salty, so cats might find it appealing.1 Unfortunately, if you taste good, there's really no way to stop your cat from licking you. However, if you notice they only lick you after putting on certain lotions, you can stop using the products to prevent the issue. 

Your Cat Has A Medical Problem 

Cats with medical problems may lick you because they're in pain or distress. In most cases, cats will lick themselves when they're in pain. For example, if your cat steps on something sharp, they'll lick their paw to help it feel better. However, since licking is a displacement behavior, they may lick their owners to self-soothe and keep their minds off any discomfort. 

Additionally, licking may help alleviate some symptoms of illness, including nausea.1 Therefore, if your cat suddenly starts displaying this behavior, it could indicate a health concern. Since behavioral issues are commonly associated with stress or medical problems, you should always have medical concerns ruled out before trying to prevent your cat's licking at home. Once your cat has a clean bill of health, you can start to find ways to prevent licking. Since everything from what cats eat to their genetics can affect their health, you should visit a vet for a yearly evaluation to prevent medical conditions. 

How to stop your cat from licking you

How You Can Keep Your Cat From Licking You 

The first step to preventing your cat from licking you is to determine why they're licking you. Always talk to your vet to rule out potential health issues that could cause a change in your cat's behavior. Since cat tongues feel like sandpaper, they can cause skin irritation. Not to mention, sometimes you don't want your cat to lick you.

Of course, you must identify the cause of their licking (if you can). Since excessive licking is often caused by stress, consider any changes you've had in the household. For example, if you recently brought home a new kitten, you should learn how to introduce cats properly to prevent anxiety. Unfortunately, even little things like changing your cat's cat tree can cause stress, so it's not always easy to identify the cause of their licking. 

Luckily, if your cat isn't excessively licking you, they may simply be trying to communicate with you. In most cases, they may be licking you because you taste good or as a sign of affection. This behavior is usually nothing to worry about, but if you don't want your cat licking you, here are a few ways to prevent it:

  • Focus on enrichment: Bored cats may lick you more often because they have nothing else to do. In addition, not giving your cat enough physical and mental stimulation can result in cat anxiety. Providing your cat with enrichment can help them burn all their excess energy to prevent behavioral issues like excessive licking. 
  • Divert their attention to toys or food: Instead of inadvertently rewarding your cat's behavior by petting them or picking them up when they lick you, try giving them cat toys or food so they'll stop licking you. Unfortunately, this may also reward their behavior, but it will at least stop the behavior in the short term. 
  • Move away when they start licking: If you want to train your cat to stop licking you, you can't reinforce their behavior. Moving away from your cat without looking at them when they start licking you can help them understand that you don't like the behavior. 
  • Physically block your skin with high-coverage clothing: Even if your cat doesn't lick due to stress, they may still lick you if you put on scented products like lotions. Therefore, if you want to prevent your cat's tongue from coming into contact with your skin, you can wear long sleeves and pants around them. 
  • Reward them when they're not licking you: Training your cat not to lick takes time, but it can prevent them from licking in the long term. When your cat is not licking you, reward them with treats, toys, and attention. When they lick you, don't pay any attention to them and reward them with treats when they stop licking. 

FAQs

Is it okay for your cat to lick you?

Usually, it's not dangerous for your cat to lick you. However, there is a risk of germ transfer on your skin, and cat tongues can cause irritation. Additionally, if you're allergic to cats, you should never let them lick you. 

Do cat licks mean kisses?

Sometimes. Cat licks can be a sign of affection, but they can also mean a number of other things. Licking is your cat's way of communicating, and you know your cat better than anyone. Therefore, you'll likely know when they're trying to show you affection versus begging for affection. 

Are cats happy if they lick you?

Cats can lick you when they're happy or stressed. Therefore, you should never assume your cat's licking behavior is because they're happy. If you want to understand your cat's licking, consider other signs of affection. For example, if your cat gently bites your hand and licks you or purrs while licking you, it likely indicates happiness. 

Cat licking the air

Final Notes

If you've ever wondered, "Why does my cat lick me so much?" we're hoping you've found your answer. Licking is a form of communication, but you must determine what your cat is trying to tell you. Licking can indicate happiness, affection, the need for affection, or stress. However, cats may lick you when there's something tasty on your skin. 

Unfortunately, excessive licking likely indicates a behavioral problem due to anxiety or a medical problem. Dutch can help you uncover the cause of your cat's licking to find the best ways to prevent it in the future. 

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Dutch is an online veterinary pet telehealth service, created by pet parents and board-certified veterinary specialists. We use a science-backed approach to provide pets relief for their everyday physical and behavioral health issues. Dutch connects you with licensed veterinarians over video chat and messaging to help you get care for your dog or cat quickly wherever you are — without the stress or expense of a vet visit. We also partner with pharmacies who can deliver prescription medication (in applicable states only) and over-the-counter treatments directly to your door. Dutch isn’t a veterinary practice or pharmacy, but a company that helps facilitate these services for pet parents to make veterinary care more accessible to all.

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