Cats do lots of things that often leave us wondering. Have you ever thought to yourself, “Why does my cat lick me?”
My cat, Tom, does this–and always to my feet. Kinda weird, right? As humans, we don’t run around licking those people that we like. We’ve uncovered why it is that your cat licks you.
You Are Mine, Honey!
As we all know, cats regularly “bathe” themselves as a way to keep nice and clean. Cats are the epitome of cleanliness and take their grooming routine rather seriously. Between their barbed tongue and their saliva, their self grooming method works to remove that unwanted debris from their fur. Fun fact: the typical feline will spend 15-20% of their day grooming themselves.
“It’s covered with tiny little barbs that act as both a comb for when she’s grooming herself and as a rasp for getting all those little meaty bits off bones or food bowls,” says Marci Koski, a certified feline behavior and training consultant and owner of Feline Behavior Solutions in Washington State.
Aside from the obvious cleanliness factor, many cats groom because it puts them at ease and relaxes their mind. When your cat was once a kitten, their mother would groom them as a term of endearment. What some people may not realize, it’s the protein (Fel d 1) found in your cat’s saliva that is actually what causes 5-10% of the population to be allergic to felines.
Just like your cat has scent glands at the top of their head that they “mark” you with during those friendly head bunt sessions, one of the reasons that your cat licks you is to mark their territory on you. If you plan to leave the house later that day and your cat has licked your hands or fingers, it’s probably best to wash off their “scent” as to be kind to those unlucky few who are allergic to cats.
Nevertheless, if your cat licks you, take it as a compliment! You just might not want to lick them back unless you want a mouth full of hair…
What is This Divine Scent, Human?!
Have you ever noticed that your cat will lick you immediately after you’ve applied lotion, or showered, or even prepared something in the kitchen? Your cat is doing this because they want a “taste” of whatever it is you’ve got on you!
Some cats may also lick you because they want a salty sample of your skin, as salt builds up naturally on our skin throughout the day.
Umm, Excuse me, Earth To Human!
Ah, so this explains A LOT! My cat, Tom, does this as a means to get my undivided attention! Cats can’t wave a banner at your or shoot you a text message to get your attention, so along with their meows, they may resort to licking you as a signal to get your attention.
If your cat is licking you playfully as a means to be pet or played with, this is fine. But if you notice that your cat becomes neurotic or starts resorting to this behavior more often, take this as a sign that they are stressed. Cats will display obsessive behaviors if they are experiencing stress or anxiety. It’s our job as their cat moms and dads to uncover what it is in their life that can be causing them worry.
Has there been a change in their routine recently? Cats are creatures of habit that thrive off routine. Keep this in mind if your cat is suddenly licking you obsessively and there’s been a change in their schedule. Examples of disruption could be: an addition to the family–both human or pet, as well as changes in food or feeding schedule, or perhaps you’ve moved recently.
You Are My Happy Place!
Cats often groom as a way to relax themselves. If you find that your cat often grooms in front of you, take this as a positive sign. Your cat feels calm and comfortable in your presence. When a cat is on their back, this is when they are most vulnerable. So if they do this in front of you, they do not see you as a threat and that’s ultimately the biggest sign of trust a cat can show you.
Now if kitty sometimes “grooms” you in a carefree and loving manner, this is because you bring them inner peace. But since some cats over-groom as a stress reliever and way to avoid what is actually bringing them stress, it’s imperative for you to keep a close eye on their behavior while doing so. For example, if your cat is purring or their eyes are closed when they lick you, they are simply happy.
A Few Factors to Consider…
If you find that there are times your cat licks you excessively, this may be as a result of them being orphaned or weaned too early. Many of us have rescued our cats and don’t always know their history, sadly, but if you do, consider this factor should you know for certain that your cat was taken from its mother at an early age.
If your cat’s licking behavior becomes obsessive and cannot be stopped when you try to redirect their actions, this could be a red flag to something more serious, such as stress, anxiety or illness.
Do you have a senior cat that has suddenly taken a liking to licking you? Time to head to the vet as this could be a sign of hyperthyroidism that can cause behavior changes in cats.