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You have probably seen your furry friend lick their fur and groom each other several times during the day. But what does it mean when a cat licks you?
Is this behavior just normal or are you reading too much? What we can assure you is that the behavior is not unusual in cats, so you should not be worried when it happens occasionally.
Keep reading this post to discover the reasons why your cat may lick you and find out the solution that you can try to solve the behavior if you feel bothered.
Why Do Cats Lick?
Licking is completely normal in cats and can be attributed to their instincts to hunt and their fussy grooming habits.
The cat’s tongue is made up of a thorn-like tissue on the upper surface which is useful in tearing meat from bones and drinking water.
They also lick because of their refined grooming habits. The rough tongue surface helps them to keep their fur clean by taking off all dirt and debris from the coat. Licking is also useful in regulating the cat’s body temperature.
But cats do not only lick themselves, they also extend their tongue to our skins.
What Does It Mean When a Cat Licks You?
We have seen that cats use their tongue to build their primary association with each other. But why do cats lick their owners? Let’s find out:
1. They are showing their affection
Cats will always groom each other in their pack to show happiness and affection the same way mothers would groom their kittens.
The simple and light tongue baths from your cat might be a sign of passing their affection towards you. They usually do this in a friendly and generous manner that soothes your skin without too much rubbing.
2. They’re creating a social connection
During their tender years, lactating kittens will lick their mothers’ bellies to create that social bond between them.
They now do this to you because you are one of the special persons in their lives during adulthood.
3. They want to salt-lick
Your cat may hoover their tongue over you because they are interested in licking the salt and sugar that is present in sweat.
They might enjoy doing this especially when they lack salt and water in their daily diet. So, make sure to provide them with a healthy diet with a balanced proportion of all nutrients and minerals.
A good way to discourage your cat from licking sweat is to wipe it from your skin and cool down before hanging out with the cat.
4. They are stressed or anxious
Stress and anxiety are possible reasons why your cat may be licking you excessively to alleviate their condition.
Excessive self-grooming is a common behavior in stressed cats but they could also redirect the grooming to you.
If you see your cat licking you while being twitchy, it is important that you find out what’s disturbing their minds and remove the triggers to calm them down. You can also speak to your vet for a medical diagnosis if their situation doesn’t seem to improve.
5. Marking territory
Cats being highly territorial animals may lick you in order to leave a scent trail on your body in a bid to claim you.
They do this to inform other pets that ‘they own you’. You may have noticed that other cats would sometimes run away from you whenever you approach them. This is because they can smell from afar that you have been claimed by another kitty.
If you have multiple cats at home, watch out for excessive licking since it could breed territoriality issues amongst them leading to behavioral problems.
6. They are grooming you
Sometimes the cat might lick your body in an effort to extend their grooming habits to you.
At this point, they have considered you as part of their family and can spend some time licking off some dirt from your skin.
7. You taste good
What else would make a cat lick you that much? Of course, your skin has a good taste.
They may have been attracted by the shampoo you used on your hair or your skin’s perspiration, and so they lick to investigate the appealing scents and odor.
The other reason could be that you have handled their favorite foods with bare hands. Foods such as fish, beef, chicken, etc. would leave a scent trail on your skin hence making the cat lick your hand for some taste of satisfaction.
8. They were weaned too early
When the kitten has been weaned too early from their mother, they would transition into adulthood with a leftover behavior to lick on their guardian for stimulation.
If your cat gives you a lengthy lick accompanied by pressing down their paws on your body, then it could be that they were weaned too soon from nursing.
That is what they did when lactating their moms, and now it feels so relaxing when they do it on you.
What Does It Mean When a Kitten Licks You?
Right from a young age, kittens learned how to lick as a way of interacting with their mom and stimulating the production of milk.
When they start teething and with a little brain growth, they would start exploring their immediate environment which includes you. And the best way they know to do that is by using their tongue.
Your kitten would give you a lick as a way of interacting with you, passing affection, showing what they like & don’t like, and forming a bond with their human guardian.
Should I Let My Cat Lick Me?
While it can be soothing to accept that rounded-up groom from your cat, you should beware of the possible risks you’re exposed to.
Letting your cat lick you excessively will encourage them to continue with this behavior which could be hard to break in the future.
If you decide to let your furbaby lick you, make sure your skin is clean and without any lotion, perfume, or essential oils.
Some of these deodorants are toxic to cats when ingested and this could lead to serious damage.
Are Cat Licks Dangerous?
For the most part, cat licks are not dangerous but they could turn out to be if you’re not keen about where they lick you and how vigorously they do so.
Some cats have the habit of biting the skin after licking for quite a while. These bites can cut into the skin to draw blood and cause abrasions, which are not only painful but also dangerous.
If your furry friend licks an open wound on your skin, they can transmit the bacteria Pasteurella multocida which causes infections in humans.
You should wash your hands and clean the areas where your cat licked you to get rid of the saliva and reduce the chances of acquiring an infection.
How To Stop a Cat from Licking You
If you don’t want your cat to lick you, then you should say No by drawing your hand away from them every time they take their tongue out for a lick.
Don’t give your cat the satisfaction they are looking for by allowing them to lick you since that will encourage the behavior.
You should not leave them like that but rather make sure to provide a substitute to capture their interest and energy.
This will attract your cat’s attention since it ‘smells like you’ and they will continue to hold, play, and lick on the items.
Do this every time your cat comes over to offer you a bath and let them learn how interesting it can be to engage with the swapped item.
Furthermore, you can cover your arms by wearing a long-sleeved shirt when interacting with your cat. This will help to reduce the exposed areas on your arm while playing and cuddling with your feline friend.
Never use harsh methods to stop your cat from licking you. Do not punish, scold, shout, or use bitter sprays to discourage them from grooming you.
Such methods would not only hurt the cat but would also compromise your bond and make them afraid of you.
Some cats would also develop behavioral issues when they feel isolated and punished by their owners, and this will only lead to more problems.
How To Get a Cat to Lick You
Sometimes you may just want your cat to give you a lick for the soothing and bonding experience. But this is something you cannot force them to do, it has to come naturally.
These are some of the things you can do to induce your cat to lay their tongue on you:
1. Pet your cat
Start by petting your cat gently while giving them those soft touches they need to feel relaxed. Allow them to feel the strokes with your hand and be cautious not to pet them vigorously since it may lead to overstimulation.
This will excite your cat and they may get motivated to reciprocate by licking you.
2. Groom your cat
Cats lick each other when cleaning themselves. So, when you groom them, they might feel obliged to extend their tongue and clean you too.
Make use of a soft brush to groom their fur and give them a soft massage as you work down their back.
3. Offer your hand
Perhaps the other thing you need to try is extending your arm to the cat and waiting for their response. They may welcome the hand by licking and rubbing against it or they could as well ignore it. Don’t put your fingers in your cat’s mouth to force them to respond.
4. Reward your cat
Once your cat licks you in return, you can reward them by giving them some soft treats to eat. You can also hand-feed them during this time to see whether they will pull the treat from your hand using their tongue.
If your cat is not induced into licking you, you should know that every cat is unique. Not all of them enjoy licking humans in the manner they do so to themselves. You should therefore never force your cat to do as you wish.
1. Why does my cat lick me so much all of a sudden?
If your cat is suddenly licking you excessively, then it could be a sign that they are stressed or anxious.
You should watch out for the conditions that might have subjected your cat to mental instability such as moving to a new house or bringing a new cat into the house.
Another reason might be that your cat is suffering from an underlying medical condition such as dental problems and hyperthyroidism. You can visit the vet to rule out any health problems.
2. Why does it hurt when my cat licks me?
You will occasionally feel some pain when your cat licks you because of the structure of their tongue.
It is layered with backward-facing barbs, known as papillae, which are useful in cleaning the cat’s coat to remove dirt and debris.
These spines are made of keratin which is the same material making up the cat’s nail, and this explains why you might feel some tickle when your cat licks you.
3. Why does my cat lick my face?
Cats may be motivated to lick your face as a way of seeking your attention. It’s a way they can use to draw your focus to them.
They must have learned that whenever they focus on your face, you will immediately respond by picking them up gently and attending to them.
4. Why does my cat lick my hand?
Cats may lick your hand as a sign to invite you for play or when they need petting. It could also mean that your hand is traced with scents of your cat’s favorite meals making it hard for them to resist swiping their tongue across.
5. Why does my cat lick my nose?
A cat would lick your nose as a sign of expressing their genuine love and affection towards you. They feel more secure being around you to the extent of making contact with one of your sensitive areas on the face.
6. Why does my cat lick my lips?
Your furry friend may lick your lips lightly as a gentle way of expressing their affection and ties to you. However, you need to be watchful not to contact the cat’s saliva since it contains bacteria that can cause various infections in your body.
Conclusion – What does it mean when a cat licks you?
A cat lick could indicate several things, ranging from expressing affection to calling for your attention. It is therefore not unusual to see your feline friend giving you a light bath using their tongue.
But you also need to be careful not to allow the kitty to lick you for extended periods. If you feel that it’s becoming too much, you can stop them and redirect the behavior to a toy.
Remember that every cat is unique in how they express themselves and in their licking habits. You can upscale your bond and connections with the cat by knowing their intricate behavior.
Laura is the founder of Furs'n'Paws. She is a also a pet writer and expert with more than 20 years of experience of working with dogs and cats. She developed a very strong love for animals at a young age. Her passion led her to establish a thriving pet sitting and dog walking business in Dubai. As an expert in pet training, behavior, and nutrition, Laura is committed to helping pet owners and pet lovers by offering high-quality information on a wide range of topics.