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 parents think about.
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 emotions such as love, licking can be a sign of affection.
Mother cats lick their kittens as part of the grooming process, which continues into adulthood. The practice whereby the same species of animals groom each other has a special name allogrooming.
In this article, we’ll explain some possible reasons behind your kitty’s licking habits.
What Does it Mean When a Cat Licks You a Lot? 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.
1. It’s Displaying Affection
You probably find yourself wondering, “is my cat licking me a sign of 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.
These rough and warm sentiments can mean the same as a simple kiss. Chances are, your cat is just expressing their love for you in one of the best ways they know how. Just as how your sweet kitty was licked and groomed by her loving mother, your cat could be replicating this behavior, too.
Mother cats lick their kittens for the following reasons:
- To develop a bond
- To help keep them clean
- To encourage them to drink her milk
- To encourage them to urinate and defecate
- To teach kittens how to take care of their fur
The above reasons show that grooming behavior often comes from a kind place.
2. Cats Lick to Mark You as Their Territory
Cats use pheromones to mark their territory. While male cats mark their property by “spraying” on what’s ‘theirs,’ cats can claim you as theirs in other ways too.
Licking, headbutting, and kneading their owners are some of the other ways felines claim humans as part of their territory – affectionately.
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 their inner circle.
3. They’re Grooming You
Felines are notorious for keeping clean. They love to lounge around, licking themselves pristine and napping throughout the day. A healthy cat has a well-maintained, neat appearance.
So, what does it mean if a cat licks you? Even though your kitty may not be aware that grooming won’t actually help you ‘get clean,’ this behavior is natural for them. As we already mentioned, Mommy cats lick their kittens to teach them how to groom, as well as show affection and establish bonds.
Studies have shown that allogrooming is most often performed between members of the same family.
While the idea of us being covered in cat saliva may not align with human hygiene standards, it’s an important behavior for your feline that promotes bonding and could even show that your cat wants to include you in their social group.
4. When a Cat Licks You, She Tastes Something Interesting
Spilled 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.
Although cats’ tongues are made for grooming, they have a much more muted sense of taste in comparison to humans. In fact, felines are one of the only mammals that aren’t able to taste something sweet. Poor them!
Your kitty may be licking you because they taste something interesting on your skin.
The salty residue on your skin from the day’s heat or workout can taste interesting to your feline.
5. Your Kitty is Feeling Anxious
What does it mean when a kitten licks you? Licking humans and other cats can be a sign that your cat is feeling calm. Confusingly, anxiety can also be a reason 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.
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 their anxiety.
You may find your feline grooming you after experiencing a change in their environment, such as moving to a new home or the arrival of a new pet. Typically, this kind of licking is not anything you should worry about.
You should pay attention to the context surrounding any changes in your kitty’s behavior. Long-term environmental stress can lead to conditions such as feline psychogenic alopecia.
If you have a suspicion that your fur baby is suffering from stress, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible for advice.
6. They’re Seeking Attention
Cats licking could be an invitation to join playtime or for cuddles. If your cat is more food-orientated, they may be asking for delicious cat food or a tasty snack.
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, or sitting on you. If that is the case, grab a cat toy or a grooming brush and give your kitty some attention.
7. It’s a Survival Strategy
What does it mean if your cat licks you? Cats are accustomed to washing themselves and each other after eating in order to eliminate food-associated evidence. This is a cat’s survival strategy in nature to protect themselves from predators that may find them by following a lingering scent.
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 realize. If your cat thinks you are stressed or upset, it may well be licking you to help you to calm down and, therefore, help you to feel better.
Cats are actually fantastic companions for people who have anxiety. Petting and cuddling your kitty is proven to reduce stress. In fact, cats are able to tell when you’re anxious, and you’ll notice that they are especially cuddly when you’re not feeling your best. Allowing your cat to sit on your lap while they purr away is another great way to reduce stress.
9. Cats Lick You to Pay You the Ultimate Compliment
When a cat licks you, it could be 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.
Cats can be particular about who they trust. Most cats don’t take to new people as quickly as dogs do. In fact, felines are likely to test you out for a little while before they’ve fully accepted your presence. So if a cat gives you a few wet, sandpapery kisses, know that it’s one of the highest compliments in cat language.
Why Does It Hurt When My Cat Licks Me?
Now that you know all the answers to “what does it mean when cats lick you?” there are probably a few follow-up questions in mind.
You might be wondering, “why does it hurt when my cat licks me?” The truth is that a cat’s tongue is covered in tiny spines called papillae. These papillae are made from keratin which can also be found in our fingernails or your cat’s claws.
These backward-facing, barb-looking taste buds are essential for getting knots and debris out of your cat’s fur. When you don’t have the appropriate limbs to use a comb, you have to get inventive.
In addition to grooming, cats’ tongues serve many practical functions:
- It helps remove flesh from bones.
- Licking can remove the scent of prey after a meal.
- Supports coat health by removing food and debris from their coats and promoting oil distribution
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. And it’s not their fault that you aren’t covered in a thick layer of fur.
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, as cat parents, we know they mean well. Most owners don’t want to push their cats away when they exhibit these behaviors as they are concerned that their cats might feel rejected.
The best way to reduce the amount that your cat is licking you without offending them is to provide a distraction. A great way to do this is with cat toys. Get a few stimulating cat toys that they can chase and roll around with. Start playing with your cat while it is licking you, and it will soon be more focused on its favorite feather toy rather than you.
If play doesn’t work, you can try treats as a distraction. 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.
FAQs: What Does It Mean When Cats Lick You?
So you know the ins and outs of why cats lick their owners. Here are a few more answers to some burning questions you may have.
Are Cats Happy if They Lick You?
More often than not, cats are happy when they lick you. When a cat licks you, it’s often a sign of affection. However, excessive licking can be a sign of stress for either you or your feline friend. In that case, you should contact a vet.
What Does It Mean When a Cat Licks and Then Bites You?
If it’s a gentle little bite, it’s most probably out of love. However, if your cat really latches on, this might be a display of aggressive behavior. If you don’t enjoy being chomped on by your cat, you might want to practice some corrective techniques.
Read more about why cats lick and bite their owners.
Why Does My Cat Lay on My Chest?
Cats might lay on your chest to protect you or to feel protected by you. They may also be absorbing the warmth from your body. No matter the reason, this is a display of love and trust.
Read more about why cats lay on your chest.
A Footnote: What Does It Mean if a Cat Licks You?
There are many different answers to ‘why does my cat lick me?’ Overall, it’s a sign 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.
Do you have a funny situation, story, or photo that involves your cat licking you? Share it with us using the comments below!
Meet the Veterinary Expert
Charlotte recently became a doctor and studied at the University of Zagreb, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. She’s volunteered in her university’s obstetrical clinic, and equine clinic, and is dog mum to 14-year-old Chiki. Charlotte loves to travel and has completed externships in Austria, Spain, and Belgium.