Cat Questions
why does my cat lick me

Why Does My Cat Lick Me? The Love Behind Licks

Written by Steph McCulloch


From bonding to communication, discover the secrets behind the common cat behaviour of licking and deepen your understanding of the unique connection you share with your furry companion. Uncover the fascinating world of feline communication and affection in our latest blog post.
a cat in his garden licking the air


If you're a proud cat parent, you've likely experienced the gentle rasp of a sandpaper-like tongue against your skin, accompanied by the soothing purr of your furry companion. This peculiar display of affection often leaves cat owners pondering a simple yet captivating question: "Why does my cat lick me?"

While this behaviour might seem straightforward, it unveils a world of mystery and connection between humans and our feline friends. Join us as we embark on a journey to unravel the enigma of why cats engage in this seemingly instinctive act, exploring the various reasons behind this charming and curious behaviour.

As we delve into the intricacies of the feline-human bond, be prepared to discover the hidden meanings behind those tender licks and the unique ways in which cats express their love and devotion.

a woman holding her cat

Understanding cat licks as grooming behaviour

ginger cat licking owners thumb

Cats, known for their meticulous habits, engage in a grooming ritual that extends not only to themselves but also to their beloved human family members.

This behaviour, often characterised by rhythmic licking and attention to the fur and skin, serves as a profound expression of affection and social bonding.

Cats are equipped with special barbed tongues that function like a perfect comb. Their tongues are not only efficient in removing dirt and loose fur but also stimulate the production of natural oils, promoting a healthy and glossy coat.

This self-grooming routine is a testament to a cat's dedication to personal hygiene, ensuring their fur remains clean and their skin stays healthy.

When cats extend their grooming ritual to their human companions, it goes beyond simple cleanliness. This act is a display of trust and love, signifying that they consider you part of their feline family.

The rhythmic licking is not just a form of physical care; it is a way for cats to mark their territory, transferring their scent to you as a bonding mechanism.

The health of a cat's skin plays a pivotal role in their grooming habits. A well-balanced diet is crucial to maintain optimal skin health, as certain nutrients, such as fatty acids and vitamins, contribute to a lustrous coat and supple skin.

If a cat's diet lacks these essential elements, it may manifest in dry skin, dandruff, or excessive shedding, affecting both their self-grooming and interactions with their human family members.

To address potential dietary concerns, we recommend consulting with your veterinarian. They can provide guidance on selecting a nutritionally balanced
cat food that supports skin health, ultimately enhancing the overall well-being of your feline friend and fostering a healthier and more enjoyable grooming experience for both cat and owner alike.

All Waggel members get access to free online vet care 24/7 with
Joii. Simply log in to your account to find out more.

Licks as a bonding ritual

Cats are known for their discerning social behaviour and licking serves as a means to strengthen the bonds within their social unit, aka you.

When a cat licks their owner, they are engaging in a ritualistic act that extends beyond mere grooming; it's a symbolic gesture of trust, affection, and belonging.

Licking your skin not only conveys a sense of care but also marks you as an essential part of their territory, creating a shared identity that solidifies the bond between the two of you.

The act of licking also triggers the release of endorphins in cats, contributing to a sense of pleasure and contentment. As they groom and lick, cats participate in a mutual exchange of comfort and companionship.

This tactile communication fosters a unique language between humans and their feline companions, deepening the emotional connection and reinforcing the sense of security within the relationship.

Marking territory with a lick

a british shorthair licking owners hand

Beyond the conventional purpose of grooming, a cat's act of licking unfolds as a sophisticated form of communication, driven by the desire to establish a collective scent identity within their social circle.

When a cat licks its human family members, it's not just a hygiene ritual; it's a deliberate process of leaving behind a subtle signature, indicating a profound familial connection.

Cats possess scent glands, notably on their faces and tongues, and as they lick, these glands release pheromones. Cats create a distinctive scent profile through this olfactory exchange, effectively marking their chosen companions as integral members of their social unit.

The scent transfer during licking serves as a powerful form of territorial marking, designating their humans as part of the family.

This bond reinforces the sense of belonging and kinship, as cats strategically intertwine their scent with that of their human counterparts, weaving a fragrant connection that signifies love and loyalty.

Smell and taste: a sensory experience

an owner booping their cat on the nose

Complementing their sense of taste, cats boast a remarkable olfactory structure known as the vomeronasal organ or Jacobson's organ.

Located on the roof of the mouth, this organ enhances a cat's ability to detect pheromones - chemical signals crucial for communication.

When a cat licks an object or another creature, they transfer saliva containing these scent molecules to the vomeronasal organ, allowing them to analyse and interpret complex information about their environment.

This sophisticated combination of taste and smell not only aids in identifying potential mates but also serves as a vital tool for territorial marking and social interaction within their feline community.

While licking is a natural and instinctive behaviour in cats, changes in their grooming habits can be indicative of underlying health issues. For instance,
the presence of worms in a cat's digestive system may disrupt their usual behaviour.

Lethargy, changes in appetite, and an increase or decrease in grooming, including excessive licking or neglecting personal hygiene, can be potential signs of parasitic infestation.

Maintaining a vigilant eye on a cat's grooming habits can provide valuable insights into their well-being, prompting timely intervention to address health concerns and ensure the continued exploration of their environment with the same vigour and curiosity.

Attention-seeking licks

Cats are clever at figuring out what gets them attention from their owners, which we're sure you already know if you're a cat parent. Licking, which they usually do for grooming or to form a social bond, can become something they learn to do when they want your attention.

If a cat notices that licking leads to good things, like being petted or getting more time together, they might start doing it more. It becomes a way for them to tell you they want to interact and be close to you.

So, when a cat licks to get your attention, it roughly translates to, "Hey, I like being around you, and I want us to spend time together." Simply put, it's their way of making sure they stay connected with their human family.

Comfort seeking through licking

For cats, licking isn't just about getting attention; it's also their way of finding comfort, especially if they were weaned away from their mothers too early.

When kittens are taken away too soon, they might miss out on some of the comforting behaviours they would have learned from their mum, like nursing and grooming.

So, they often turn to licking themselves as a way to recreate that soothing feeling. It's like a self-hug for them, a way to feel secure and calm in a big and sometimes overwhelming world.

This behaviour can stick with them into adulthood, becoming a lifelong strategy for finding solace and reassurance.

For pet owners, understanding this aspect of cat behaviour is crucial, especially if you have a cat that has been weaned too early. Being patient and offering gentle affection can help them feel more secure.

In terms of being secure, it's always a good idea to consider
microchipping your pets. Cats, known for their curious nature, may sometimes wander, and a microchip provides a way for them to be identified and reunited with you if they get lost. It's a small but vital step in ensuring the safety and well-being of your feline friend in the unpredictable world outside their cosy home.

The flavour factor: licking because you taste good

a long haired cat licking

Sometimes, when cats lick their owners, it's as straightforward as enjoying the taste. Cats have a keen sense of taste, and the saltiness on human skin can be appealing to them.
It's like a cat-friendly flavour that they find interesting or pleasant.

So, in these moments, your cat might be expressing their taste preferences, making the act of licking a simple, enjoyable interaction based on the flavours they discover on your skin.

Cats often lick due to simple reasons like this, but it could indicate deeper meanings as well. For instance, a cat may lick you as a way of showing affection or even to mark their territory, suggesting you're part of their family.

This behaviour isn't just limited to one cat; it's common in felines in general as they use licking to communicate various messages.

Licking as an indicator of anxiety

a british shorthair licking owners thumb

Licking in cats can also serve as a sign of anxiety and a way to cope with stress. When a cat is feeling anxious or stressed, they may resort to excessive licking as a self-soothing mechanism.

The rhythmic motion and repetitive nature of licking have a calming effect on cats, releasing endorphins that act as natural stress relievers.

In stressful situations, such as changes in the environment, new additions to the family, or unfamiliar noises, cats may lick as a form of emotional outlet. This behaviour is akin to a human habit like nail-biting or hair-twirling during times of tension. Consequently, if you notice your cat engaging in persistent or compulsive licking, it might be worth investigating potential stressors in their environment.

Creating spaces for retreat, offering familiar scents, and maintaining a predictable routine can help alleviate stress and reduce the need for excessive licking as a coping mechanism. If stress persists, consulting with your vet can offer insights into tailored solutions to ensure your cat's emotional well-being.

When licking leads to biting

white and ginger cat licking finger

Licking that transitions into biting in cats may stem from natural grooming behaviour or be a sign of discomfort, overstimulation, or a desire to play. When you notice this behaviour, observe your cat's body language for signs of overstimulation, like a twitching tail or flattened ears.

If your cat exhibits these signs, it's crucial to give them space and let them calm down. Respect their boundaries and avoid interaction until they seem more at ease.
To address this behaviour, offer suitable outlets for play and mental stimulation, directing their biting tendencies toward appropriate toys.

If the issue persists or you're uncertain about the cause, seeking guidance from a veterinarian or an animal behaviourist can help to provide insights to enhance your understanding of your cat's unique needs and foster a more harmonious relationship.

Reading your cat's body language

Understanding a cat's licking behaviour requires paying attention to their overall body language. When a cat licks gently, it's often a sign of positive affection, indicating a happy and trusting relationship.

Look for accompanying cues such as a relaxed body, content expression, purring, and kneading to confirm this positive interaction.

On the contrary, if the licking becomes intense or is coupled with signs of stress like dilated pupils, flattened ears, or a swishing tail, it may suggest discomfort or overstimulation. In such cases, giving your cat space to calm down is crucial to avoid potential escalation to biting.

Excessive self-licking can be a form of self-soothing, especially in stressful situations. If your cat is grooming excessively and seems anxious, addressing the underlying stressors and creating a calm environment can help alleviate their distress.

We recommend being attentive to any changes in behaviour, as increased licking could also signal potential health issues. Consulting with a veterinarian is advisable to ensure your cat's overall well-being.

Health considerations: when is licking not safe?

a ginger and white cat licking their owners face

Allowing a cat to lick you, particularly if you have open wounds, poses potential health risks. While licking is often a sign of affection, a cat's mouth contains bacteria that can be problematic for humans, potentially leading to infection when introduced into open skin.

It's crucial to exercise caution and, when necessary, avoid allowing your cat to lick areas with cuts or wounds.

Moreover, beyond personal health considerations, a
cat's licking behaviour may provide insights into their own well-being and any potential medical issues.

Cats may ingest fur and debris during grooming, and if transferred through licking, these particles can reveal themselves in the litter box.

Vigilant owners who observe changes in their cat's stool, such as the
presence of blood, should take note, as it could signify underlying health issues such as infections, parasites, or gastrointestinal problems.

How to manage excessive licking

a furry cat licking a laptop dongle

To minimise excessive licking, provide your cat with toys and activities that promote mental stimulation. Establishing a regular grooming routine to reduce the need for self-grooming can also offer a positive bonding experience along with an enriched environment of scratching posts and interactive play to alleviate stress and discourage compulsive licking.

If the behaviour persists, consult with a veterinarian to rule out underlying health issues or anxiety.

Spaying or neutering your cat can positively impact behaviour, reducing undesirable habits such as excessive grooming or territorial marking. While not a universal solution, these procedures contribute to a calmer cat.

Discuss the decision to spay or neuter with your veterinarian, considering factors like age, health, and individual behaviour traits for a healthier and more harmonious relationship with your feline companion.

Conclusion: the love behind licks

In summary, a cat's licks go beyond mere grooming; they are a language of love and communication. When a cat licks, they're expressing affection, trust, and a sense of belonging. This rhythmic act is a silent dialogue, a way for cats to mark their territory and strengthen their bond with their human family.

Whether it's a gentle grooming session, a self-soothing behaviour, or a plea for attention, each lick carries a nuanced message that contributes to the intricate feline-human relationship.

Understanding the significance of these licks allows us to reciprocate the love and develop a relationship built on mutual understanding, trust, and the simple joy of companionship.

If you're interested in learning more about cat behaviours why not take a look at our other articles exploring
why cats snore and information on cats in heat?

Waggel Pet Insurance

Need more help? You're in luck if you're a Waggel Pet Insurance member. Along with our excellent coverage, we offer access to a 24/7 online vet to answer all your sticky questions, especially if you need grooming assistance.

Not a member? Why not get a quote now and cover your furry friend for a range of illnesses, all while enjoying our amazing perks and rewards.

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