Cats have a fantastic reputation when it comes to cleanliness. Their special tongues with a texture that resembles sandpaper helps them to remove dirt as it has backward-facing papillae (hooks) made of keratin. It’s pretty cool, but it doesn’t answer the question ‘Why does my cat lick my nose?’
Not only does grooming help keep their coat in tip-top condition, but it also helps cats regulate their temperature. Cats can also use their teeth to finish their preening session if their tongue doesn’t do the job.
Kittens are cleaned by their mothers from the day they are born and then come to learn how to clean themselves. This behavior reinforces the family and social bonds between mother, kitten, and siblings.
As your kitty’s human, you are now included in their family. This means that no matter how old your cat is it will practice some kitten behaviors in your presence. This is generally why your cat will rub itself against or jump up on you – it is trying to get to your face.
One of the reasons that cats like their owners asleep or lying down is that it is their perfect setting (eg everyone is relaxed) for grooming. Your cat will also be looking to exchange odors with us as our smells comfort your cat.
Now that you understand why cats practice licking behavior, let’s get into the key reasons why your cat is licking your nose.
Why Does My Cat Lick My Nose? 13 Reasons
1. For Social Bonding
Why do cats lick your nose? Licking is a type of social bonding for cats. Mothers and kittens bond through licking, kittens bond with their siblings and other cats through licking, and older cats can spend time licking each other.
In addition to the bonding power of the grooming, this is also a way for cats to transfer smells onto each other thus saying that you find each other “safe” and acceptable eg you are now bonded and friends.
This is exactly what your cat does with you when it licks your face – it is bonding with you.
2. To Show You That It Cares
What does it mean when a cat licks your nose? As kittens, cats learn from their mother licking them that this is what you do with those you care about. Therefore, when your cat is licking your nose it is telling you that it cares about you.
If you have a kitten, it may be particularly interested in licking you if it is still recovering from being weaned or if it was weaned too early. If this is the case your cat will try to nurse something.
Mother cats spend a lot of time licking their kitten’s faces. While cleaning is most likely the primary purpose, licking also helps mother and kitten bond, learn and exchange scents, and get the kitten ready for nursing.
If this process ended a bit too early for your kitten or if it was orphaned and loves to lick your nose it may be that it is trying to re-create that connection it had with its mother.
3. To Clean
In a group of cats, there will always be one that does the licking and grooming of all the cats – especially in those hard-to-reach spots. Your cat may well be taking on the role of the groomer in your relationship.
Mother cats lick their kittens to groom and clean them. In some cases, cats may lick their owners for the same reason. A cat’s rough tongue helps straighten out and clean its fur. According to some theories, cat’s don’t like the human scent, so they may lick to exchange scents with family members to create a stronger social bond by masking the scent.
The rough tongues of the cats straight out their fur and take out the shedding fur. According to some theories, cats don’t like human scent, so they lick to exchange scents with family members to create a strong social bond.
4. To Taste your Salty Skin
Humans excrete salt through their sweat. Human noses, in particular, can get sweaty and produce a sheen. This can be very tasty to your cat – and remember, your cat has a much stronger sense of smell than you do, so the aroma may be particularly enticing.
This can be even more appealing if you have just cooked a delicious meal, and the aroma is still on your skin. Often this can happen with a new smell which may make your cat curious, so they will want to explore.
5. To Show Affection
When cats love someone – a human, another cat, or even a dog – they may demonstrate their love through licking. Humans can hug, kiss or pat someone to show affection. For a cat, their primary means of establishing affection is through their tongue.
Cats only lick the faces of those with whom they share a genuinely close connection. Your cat licking your nose is a sure sign that your kitty loves you and feels safe and secure. If you have a kitten, this may be a way to relieve feelings of anxiety.
A mother cat licking her kitten means simple affection. In the same way, when your cat starts licking you, they try to express how much they love and care about you. Cats typically only lick people who they are very close to and who they feel comfortable around.
Generally, if your cat licks you on the nose for affection, it would most likely want some affection back. So when your cat is in a nose-licking mood, stroke or cuddle your cat back to demonstrate your love and to make your cat feel safe and secure.
6. To Mark Its Territory
Licking transfers a cat’s scent onto objects, humans, and other animals. When they transfer the smell, they are effectively making their territories. Their mother will have licked them when they were born – marking them as belonging to her.
A cat may also lick you to let you know that you are their territory – particularly if another animal has entered your household and your kitty is feeling jealous. By marking their humans with their saliva, cats essentially say that these people belong to them.
7. To Stroke
I love stroking and cuddling my cat. Licking is my cat’s way of doing the same thing back. Cats enjoy it when other cats lick them, as the rough little tongue feels good on their fur. So they probably assume that humans also want that sensation – whether true or not.
8. To Indicate That You Are Part of Its Family
As I have mentioned several times in this article, your cat will have developed its licking behavior from its mother. When it displays those behaviors towards you, it communicates that you are their family.
9. To Gain Your Attention
If your cat starts licking your nose whenever they see you occupied, it’s likely because they want your attention and hope you’ll stop your work and focus on them instead. This behavior can be frustrating, but it’s also a testament to your cat’s intelligence.
10. To Convey Anxiety or Stress
The first nine reasons which answer the question “Why does it mean when your cat licks your nose?” are all quite sweet. It is only this final reason that is less positive. When cats have anxiety or are in pain, they may humans, objects, other animals, or themselves compulsively.
Heading to your nose is a great way to get your attention to communicate their concerns or pain. You may see this behavior if there is a change in your cat’s life, such as moving house.
When a cat is a kitten, its mother can continuously lick its body and face, so cats find this continuous behavior soothing. If you feel stressed or upset, your cat may also begin licking you continuously. This is its way of trying to soothe someone it loves.
11. To Show Submission
In some cases, cats may lick a human nose to show submission. Some cats lick their owner, who is higher in the hierarchy, and it can be a way of saying that they respect and defer to that person. This is often seen in cases where there is more than one pet in a household, and the cats start pecking to overcome their insecurity.
12. To Sense Your Emotions
Cats have an incredibly powerful sense of smell, which they use to communicate and understand their environment. If your cat licks your nose, it may be trying to pick up on your emotions and figure out how you feel.
13. To Taste Your Tears
Cats have taste buds (receptors) in their mouths that allow them to enjoy the salty taste of our tears. This means they may lick your tears if you’re crying.
How do I stop my cat from Licking My Nose?
If you have a cat, chances are you’ve been at the receiving end of a wet cat’s tongue swipe across your nose. While it may be amusing the first few times, after some time, it becomes quite annoying. So what can you do to stop your cat from licking your nose?
It is best to seek veterinary guidance if you think your cat might be unwell or anxious. However, if this isn’t the case there are a few things you can try. One is to simply discourage the behavior whenever it happens. Gently push your cat away and say “no” in a firm voice. With time and patience, your cat should get the message that this is not something you appreciate.
Another option is to provide your cat with an alternate target for its licking behavior. Try giving it a small plush toy or a piece of string to play with. If your cat licks your nose, redirect its attention quickly to the toy or string. With some practice, your cat should start associating licking with other positive experiences and may eventually give up on trying to lick your nose.
Commercial products can also help deter your cat from licking if all else fails. These typically contain unpleasant tastes or smells that will dissuade your cat from continuing the behavior. Be sure to read the label and seek veterinary advice before using any of these products, as some may not be safe for cats if ingested in large quantities.
What if my cat is grooming itself excessively?
Your cat licking your nose and itself is normal behavior. However, if you notice your cat is getting bald patches or rashes due to grooming, it may have Psychogenic Alopecia. Consult your vet quickly if you think this may be the case.
We have discussed a few reasons to answer your question about why my cat is licking my nose. Some of them are pretty adorable like they try to show you some love. Others may be a little more puzzling. Sometimes, it may be annoying for you, but luckily, we have covered the ways to stop your cat from licking your nose.
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.