Your feline friend may lick you for a number of reasons, but it may be best not to give them free rein. Cats have many seemingly bizarre behaviors, including chasing imaginary prey and following you to the bathroom, but licking you tops it all. Let’s look into why cats lick people in the first place and why you may want to put a limit on it.
Why Do Cats Lick People?
A cat’s tongue is truly a universal tool. It is covered with tiny barbs that grab onto loose hair and debris in their haircoat. Tongues allow cats to taste and drink. It also works to glean every tasty morsel from their food bowl. With such a useful body part as this, it’s no wonder that cats love to lick so much, but why do they like to lick you?
Here Are Some of the Reasons Why:
- They’re Cleaning You: Cats are fastidious animals. They spend most of their waking hours grooming themselves into pristine condition. Cats love to groom so much that they will also groom their fellow furry friends. This can sometimes be extended to you. Whether or not they think you’re dirty, them licking you may be their way of cleaning you and making you feel part of their clan.
- They Want Attention: Nothing says pet me like a rough, sandpaper lick on the hand. When meowing and rubbing against your leg doesn’t get your attention, licking or even biting might. Your cat may be trying to get your attention for something as simple as an early dinner or something more serious like an illness.
- They’re Feeling Stressed: The act of licking releases endorphins in a cat’s brain. That’s partly why a mother cat seems so content when she’s cleaning up her babies. Licking you may be a way for your cat to calm their nerves if they’re stressed about something in their environment.
- They’re Showing You Affection: Similar to how you show your cat love by petting them, licking you may be their way of reciprocating that love. Again, groups of cats, including mothers and their kittens, lick each other as a form of bonding. When your cat licks you, it may be their way of saying, “Welcome home, I missed you.”
- They Like the Taste: We’ve all heard the saying “Curiosity killed the cat,” which came about because cats are so investigatory of their surroundings. They can’t keep their noses or tongues out of things. Licking you may be another way to explore the world around them. They can taste where you’ve been and what you’ve done that day. They may also just like the salty taste.
Should I Let My Cat Lick Me?
Most of the time, your cat’s licks are pretty harmless, especially if just a lick or tow here and there. However, your cat licking you isn’t without a couple of potential risks.
First of all, a cat’s obsessive licking can lead to actual wounds on your skin.
That’s because their rough tongue can damage your skin like sandpaper if they lick the same area enough times. Now, it’s unlikely that your cat means to hurt you, but it is a potential side effect.
Another reason you might want to limit your cat’s licking is that it can spread bacteria.
Even though a cat works very hard at maintaining a clean and put-together appearance, the inside of their mouth is quite dirty. Cat mouths harbor quite a lot of bacteria, and while a cat bite is usually the cause of most problems, licking an open wound or near your mouth or eyes can cause an infection. We’ve all witnessed the amazing acrobatics that a cat goes through to clean themselves after using the litter box, and nobody should want a lick after that.
How Can I Stop a Cat From Licking Me?
If you’ve decided to try to curb your cat’s licking behavior, be careful how you go about it. First of all, many of the reasons why your cat licks you are done with affection and showing you that you’re part of their circle. You don’t want to offend them or make them associate you with any negative behavior.
Rather than punishment or spreading yucky tasting products on your skin, try to redirect your cat’s behavior when the licking gets to be too much. You may try to play with them or pet them instead of allowing them to lick you. If your cat licks you while you’re snuggling, try moving your face or hand away from them and offer them a clothed body part instead.
If redirecting doesn’t work, just get out of there. If you leave every time your cat starts their licking game, sooner or later, they’ll get the idea that licking equals you leaving. They will hopefully decide to cut out the licking so that you’ll stick around.
If you can’t get your cat’s licking under control or if they’re starting to lick other things besides just you, see your veterinarian. Your cat may be trying to tell you something about their health, and your veterinarian will be able to rule out medical causes of excessive licking.
Your cat may lick you for a number of reasons. Most of the time, they see it as a way of conveying their positive feelings towards you. However, your cat’s licking may cause you some problems, especially if they’re doing it excessively. If your cat’s licking has gotten out of control, try some of the above tips or speak to your veterinarian.
Dr. Chyrle Bonk has been practicing veterinary medicine since 2010. She lives in Idaho with her husband and two sons, where they spend their free time exploring the great outdoors that is right in their backyard.