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Why Does My Cat Lick Me?

Why Does My Cat Lick Me?

One of the most enchanting things my cat does is lick me. If you’re a cat owner, you know that doesn’t happen all that often, certainly not as much as your dog licks you. It’s a rare treat, but why does he do it? Why does my cat lick me?

Let’s take a look at the reasons why you might be getting treated to your furry feline’s sandpaper-like tongue.

Why Do Cats Lick?

You’ve probably noticed that your cat spends a lot of time licking himself. In fact, your feline friend spends some 30-50% of his waking hours licking himself.

The surface of your cat’s tongue is covered in these tiny spikes known as papillae. This is what gives his tongue its sandpaper-like feel. But it’s also what your cat uses to detangle his fur and help redistribute oils throughout his hair.

Well, that makes sense because he’s self-grooming, but when he’s licking you, he’s not doing that, so what gives with the kitty kisses?

But Why Does My Cat Lick Me?

Of course, you’re a big part of your cat’s life, and so much of their natural cat behavior is directed toward you, their human. Why he would lick you, however, is difficult to answer exactly.

Janet Cutler, Ph.D., and Certified Cat Behaviorist at Cat World, says, “Cats can lick for many different reasons, and scientists have begun to research interactions between people and cats; however, we still don’t have many answers.” 

Still, there are several possible reasons suggested by scientific studies. for why your cat licks you. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular hypotheses.

Your Cat Cares About You

This is my favorite theory; one I genuinely want to believe. Maybe it’s a sign of affection. Your cat is showing you that he cares. This is something we see with mother cats when they’re showing affection to their kittens. In fact, the mother cat spends a lot of her time grooming her babies.

But that’s not all. You might also notice adult cats who have bonded with one another licking each other. This type of licking behavior is called allogrooming, and it is a sign they trust one another and have a social bond.

Interestingly, it is often the dominant cat that grooms the others, and this happens in any group of cats that live together. Grooming is a way of acknowledging their social bond and their place in the pecking order.

Therefore, when your cat licks you, he’s showing that he cares and he’s bonded to you. You’re part of the group.

It’s Territorial and You’re Their Property

Your feline friend has scent glands on his face that are part of the way cats communicate. This is how they mark what they consider to be their territory.

In much the same way other animals do, they establish the boundaries of their territory, and that makes them feel more secure. In this case, you’re the territory he’s claiming. He’ll purr and rub his face against you, your leg, and your (his) possessions. He might even groom his favorite cat toy.

Each time he rubs on you or certain possessions, he’s releasing pheromones that are similar to hormones. You won’t be able to smell them or taste them, but other cats get the message that you belong to him.

You’re Tasty

In scientific circles, this is known as the biochemical theory. Your cat has extremely sensitive taste buds that are able to pick up scents on your skin. These might come from some food you just ate, moisturizing you used, or, gasp, other cats you’ve been petting! Worse yet, you might have been petting dogs.

In any case, when your cat licks you, it could simply be that he’s tasting you to get information about what you’ve been eating and where you’ve been.

He Wants Your Attention

The answer to the question, “Why is my cat licking me?” might simply be that your kitty is craving a little attention. He might want food, and he needs your opposable thumbs to open that cat food.

This happens a lot when cat owners are focused on something else, like their computer. Your cat knows, however, that it’s time for you to pay attention to him. It could be time to pull out his favorite cat toy and have a little game of cat and tender fingertip, I mean mouse.

It might be feeding time. Cats have amazingly accurate watches, and they know when it’s that time. This might explain why your cat is licking you.

It Might Be a Sign of Stress

Your cat might also be licking you when he’s feeling stressed. Licking is a form of self-soothing, and if you have a new pet or you have a new kitty who’s adjusting to his new home, they might feel a little anxious.

Hopefully, your new kitty will settle into their new home or the stressor will go away, but if the licking continues or becomes obsessive, it might be time to talk to the veterinarian.

It Could Be an Illness

It’s also possible your cat has a medical issue like parasites or neurological disease. This is particularly true if the cat is what is called a fur mower.

Cats with some illnesses have even been known to lick a bald spot. That’s why you want to watch out for excessive licking in your furry friend. It’s something you’ll want to talk to the veterinarian about to make sure he doesn’t have a medical condition.

What Does It Mean When a Cat Licks You and Then Bites You?

As every cat parent has experienced, sometimes you’re cuddling, purring, and loving on your cat, and he’s responding in kind, but then suddenly he whips around and bites you. What’s that about?

Well, this could also be due to several possible reasons. Let’s take a look.

It’s a Love Bite

Maybe your cat just likes his love a little rough. It can be part of his sign of affection for you. He’s licking you and the bite is just another way he shows his love and marks his territory. He usually won’t bite hard enough to break the skin or cause you any real pain, however.

It’s a Pet Correction

He might not like the way you’re petting him. He might be trying to tell you to go a little softer, a little harder, or move to a different place. It might just be his way of saying, “I’m done, thank you.”

Some cats are very particular about how they like to be touched, and they won’t hesitate to let you know it.

It Could Be Overstimulation

It might also be that your feline friend has become overstimulated by your loving. This is actually very common, and it’s usually associated with a few other signs:

  • Twitching
  • Fidgeting
  • Swishing the tail
  • Ears turned back or to the side

It Could Be He Wants Some Playtime

One other reason your cat might accept petting and then suddenly bite you is that he’s signaling he wants to play now. If you’ve ever watched two cats grooming each other, this happens commonly between them too.

At this point, it’s time to break out his favorite cat toy so you don’t get your hands ripped up! When your kitty wants to play, he really wants to play at hunting. He’s honing his skills for those real-life games of cat and mouse.

Is It Okay to Let My Cat Lick Me?

If you understand that your furry friend is licking you as a form of endearment, it’s a tender moment you’re sharing. You’re part of his family, he’s part of your family, so why not?

Of course, it’s a good idea to wash your hands after he’s done licking you. Cats do have bacteria in their mouths, and particularly if you have an open wound, you could end up with an infection. But if you practice good hygiene, there’s no real problem with letting him lick you.

Why Are Cats‘ Tongues So Rough? 

That’s because of the papillae on the surface of their tongues. Those are the spike-like projections you can see on your cat‘s tongue. 

They‘re made of keratin just like your fingernails are, and they’re actually hollow like a backward-shaped spoon. That’s by design because they help your cat separate his fur and prevent matting.

Not only that, when your cat separates his fur like that, his saliva can reach his skin to clean it. That moisture combined with the pressure from his licking helps release dirt and detangle his fur.

What If I Don’t Want My Cat to Lick Me?

If you really don’t like your cat to lick you, there are some things you can do. Some cat owners don’t like it because they have sensitive skin. They might find it somewhat painful or irritating. Here’s what you can do to stop the behavior.

Distraction

When your cat starts licking you, you might offer him his favorite cat toy as a means of distraction. This is a way to get his attention onto something else he likes without having to discourage his display of affection.

Use Perfume or Lotion

You can also use some kind of perfume or lotion that you like but your feline friend doesn‘t. That will discourage him from trying to lick you.

Stand Up and Pay No Mind

Another thing you can do is refuse to reward your furry friend by standing up and walking away. That’s another way to give him the message you prefer not to be licked.

Final Thoughts

Your feline friend will often show his love by licking you. It’s an odd sensation and very different from when your dog licks you. But it’s one way he has to say he loves you. Of course, he might also simply be claiming his territory, or if the licking is obsessive, it could be a sign of illness.

Watch your kitty’s licking behavior closely and consult your DVM if you think he might have a medical issue. If all is well, let yourself enjoy a little kitty-loving once in a while!

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