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What Does it Mean When a Cat Licks You? 9 Reasons You Should Know

We all love our adorable felines – from their purrfect little stares to their rough, bristled tongues that lick us as though we’re a tasty snack. But what does it mean when a cat licks you? It’s a common question that many cat owners query.

Many assume kitties lick them as a sure sign of love – which isn’t that far off. While it’s difficult to determine whether cats feel complex emotions such as love, licking is a sign of affection.

Mother cats lick their kittens as part of the grooming process, which continues into adulthood. Cats also designate members to allogrooming – to lick each other.

Let’s take a further look below into why cats lick us.

ginger cat with green eyes and tongue out up close

What Does it Mean When a Cat Licks You? 9 Reasons Why

Oh, the feline tongue – it can be as cute as anything, when her small pink tongue peeks out a little from her mouth as she delicately grooms herself, or you. There are several different reasons and meanings behind why your cat licks you with its sandblasting tongue

Let’s take a look into your kitties licking habits.

1. She’s Displaying Affection

In the same way that you pet your cat to show affection; your feline may return the favor by giving you a lick – or ten.

woman with brown hair cuddling tabby cat

Social grooming by licking is an influential behavior in our kitties and can signify affection. Your cat could be trying to create a social bond between the two of you. Just as how your sweet kitty was licked and groomed by her loving mother, your cat could be replicating this behavior, too.

2. Cats Lick to Mark You as Their Territory

Cats use pheromones to mark their territory. While many assume cats mark their property by urinating on what’s ‘theirs,’ they can claim you as theirs in other ways too.

Licking, headbutting, and kneading are some of the other ways your feline is claiming you as part of their territory – affectionately.

teen pretty girl kiss black cat close up portrait

When your kitty licks or headbutts against you, it’s reaffirming that you are important to them. They’re also leaving their scent for other cats to know that you’re spoken for.

So, next time your kitty licks you, think of it as if you’ve been accepted into her inner circle.

3. She’s Grooming You

Felines are notorious bathers. They love to lounge around, bathing and napping throughout the day. Cats are clean animals, as you can tell by their well-maintained, neat appearance.

grey cat licks grey kitten

⇒ Keen to get your cat out and about? Check out my posts on Is Cat Walking Possible?, 7 Best Escape Proof Cat Harness Options, 5 Best Carrier for Cats choices, 14 Best Cat Carrier for Car Travel options and 4 Top Travel Litter Box options.

Even though your kitty may not be aware that grooming won’t actually help you ‘get clean,’ this behavior is natural for them. As previously mentioned,  Mommy cats lick their kittens to teach them how to groom, as well as show affection and establish bonds.   

While the idea of us being covered in cat saliva may not align with your human hygiene standards.  However, it’s an important behavior for your feline that promotes bonding.

large grey cat licks ginger kitten

A group of cats living together, for example, will have a designated fellow cat for allogrooming’ to do the job of licking. Allogrooming creates bonds between members in a group of species – in this case, when a cat licks and grooms other cats – or us.

Similarly, when cats lick their humans, it may be the kitty is attempting to include you as a member of her group.

4. She Tastes Something Interesting

Spill something tasty on your arm? Don’t get a shock to find your furry friend sliding up next to you to get a lick of it.

tabby kitten licks human finger what does it mean when a cat licks you

Although cats’ tongues are made for grooming, they have a much more muted sense of taste in correlation to humans. In fact, felines are one of the only mammals that lack the ability to taste sweets – oh my!

Your kitty may be licking you because they taste something interesting on your skin. Cats may also lick you simply because they enjoy the salt that builds up on your skin.

The salty residue on your skin from the day’s heat or if you’ve been exercising may appeal to taste interesting to your feline.

5. Your Kitty is Feeling Anxious

Licking humans and other cats can be a sign that your cat is feeling calm. Contrary to this, anxiety can also be a cause for licking. Maybe another way to see it is how we humans need hugs when anxious or stressed; our cats find the need to lick.

grey kitten licks human finger

Although excessive licking can indicate a medical issue, most of the time, when your kitty licks you, it’s a coping mechanism for dealing with anxiety.

You may find if your feline is grooming you after experiencing a change in their environment, such as after moving to a new home or if you receive a new pet. Typically, this kind of licking is not anything you should worry about. 

You should pay attention to the context surrounding your kitties behavior and other notable things in your cat’s environment.

grey cat eating woman's fingers

If you speculate your fur baby is suffering from stress or has feline psychogenic alopecia, you should take her to the vet.

6. They’re Seeking Attention

Depending on your cat, their licking could be a request for playtime, or for cuddles and pets. If your cat is more food-orientated, they may be asking for food or a tasty snack

Grooming (or allogrooming) is a common social activity among cats. It’s their way to bond with each other – besides running through the house together while threatening your breakables.

Kitten licking finger

⇒ Getting a new kitty? Check out my guide to How to Look after a Kitten, 6 Best Kitten Wet Food Options and 8 Best Kitten Dry Food Options

If your cat licks you after you’ve been away for a while, they may be looking for your attention.

Licking can be the same as any other attention-seeking behavior of your kitty, such as pawing, meowing, kneading, headbutting, sitting on you. If this is the case, grab a cat toy or a grooming brush and give your kitty some attention.

7. It’s a Survival Strategy

Cats are accustomed to bathing themselves and each other after eating in order to eliminate food evidence. This is a cat’s survival strategy in nature to protect themselves from predators that may find them by following a lingering scent

cat tongue licking up close

Your cat pal may be licking you to de-scent you from your day’s snacks to keep you (and her) ‘safe.’

8. They think you are stressed

A cat will lick another cat if it thinks it needs to calm down. This is, of course, what mother cats do to their kittens. Your cat is probably far more aware of your moods than you might realise. If your cat thinks you are stressed or upset it may well be licking you to help you to calm down and therefore to feel better.

9. To Pay You the Ultimate Compliment

When a cat licks you it is telling you that it feels completely safe in your presence. Your cat is saying that you are truly a member of its family because it is treating you as its mother treated it.

Why Does It Hurt When My Cat Licks Me?

Once your kitties licked away at you, another question is, ‘why does it hurt when my cat licks me?’

A cat’s tongue is covered in tiny spines called papillae. This papilla is made of keratin, the same matter that makes up our fingernails or your cat’s claws.

grey cat with yellow eyes and tongue up

These backward-facing, barb-looking taste buds are essential for getting knots and debris out of your cat’s fur.

In addition to grooming, cats’ tongues serve many practical functions:

  • Supports coat health.
  • It removes the flesh from bones.
  • Licking can remove the scent of prey after a meal.
  • To help remove food and debris from their coats.
  • It promotes the redistribution of oils.

So, when your sweet feline licks you – rubbing their spine-covered tongues on your skin – it’s likely to feel a little uncomfortable. Especially if your cat does this excessively in the same place, it could feel like sandpaper rubbing against you; however, they do mean well.

Scottish Fold Tabby Cat with tongue out
Scottish Fold Cat

How do I discourage my cat from licking me?

Whilst the occasional lick from your kitty can be a pleasant experience, if your cat really enjoys licking you frequently it may become a bit more than you would like. However, most owners don’t want to push their cats away when they exhibit these behaviours as they are concerned that their cat might feel rejected.

The best way to reduce the amount that your cat is licking you without offending it is to distract it. A great way to do this is with cat toys. Start playing with your cat while it is licking you and it will soon be more focussed on its favourite feather toy rather than you.

If play doesn’t work you can try food as a distraction – start with treats. However, do be careful with this path as if your cat starts to associate excessive licking with more food your problem may get worse rather than better.

A Footnote: Why Do Cats Lick Me?

There are many different answers as to ‘why does my cat lick me?’ It’s predominantly a means of social bonding and paying you a compliment.

It can also be a way for your cat to de-stress when they’re feeling anxious, and mark you as their territory. It’s up to you to determine which one best suits your feline’s personality.

While our cats lick us for several reasons, it’s mostly affectionate. So, next time your kitty starts to lick away at you, give them a gentle pet and feel honored to be considered a part of their family.

black and white tabby kitten licks another

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