Curious Cat Behavior: Why Does My Cat Lick Me? · The Wildest

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Curious Cat Behavior: Why Does My Cat Lick Me?

Hey, everybody’s got their thing.

by Jodi Helmer
Updated June 26, 2023
kittens licking woman's hand
Nabi Tang / Stocksy
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Your cat likes to keep it clean. They might not be clean in the sense that they don’t curse; your cat probably internally says at least five explicit things to you before you even get out of bed in the morning. They’re clean in the sense that all day they sit in their precious sun spot and give themselves a bath with their little sandpaper tongue.

Sometimes, you swear they’re just doing that so they can ignore you some more. And then...the tongue makes its way over to you. Your cat is giving you a sandpaper bath on your arm or leg or — if there’s anything interesting there — face. Regardless of whether you’re into this particular action from your feline, why do they do it? What does it mean when cats lick you?

Is it normal for cats to excessively lick their pet parents?

It’s totally normal for cats to lick their pet parents every once in a while — but it’s also possible for the behavior to become obsessive. Dr. Erin Katribe assures us that most of the time, licking is a sign of affection, so enjoy the sweet gesture. That said, before you let your cat lick you, consider that some sunscreens and topical medications, such as hormone or steroid creams, can be toxic to cats if ingested. Licking should be off limits if you use these products, at least until they are fully washed off.

If your cat’s licking behavior has gone from, “Aw, why is my cat licking me? to “Oh my gosh, my cat won’t stop licking me,” then there might be a problem. “I could envision a cat using the behavior similarly to how they might overgroom themselves,” Dr. Katribe says. “Any time licking seems excessive or is causing skin injuries, it could be problematic, and if the behavior continues after the stressor is removed, it should be cause for concern.”

What are the reasons behind my cat’s constant licking behavior?

Okay, so it’s normal for cats to lick, but why do cats lick you? Below are some of the most common reasons why your cat has turned their sandpaper-y tongue your direction.

1. They’re showing you some love by grooming you

“Grooming is a social activity for cats,” says Dr. Katribe. “It’s an expression of comfort and companionship.” So unless you just took your hand out a Cheetos bag, it usually means your cat is showing you some love.

2. They could be marking their territory

Licking is also a way in which cats mark their territories — each time your cat licks you, they leave their scent behind to let the rest of the feline kingdom know this is my human. “There is a scent component to saliva that cats can probably detect,” Dr. Katribe says.

3. They may be trying to get your attention

Your cat could also be trying to get your attention — their sandpaper-like tongues are not exactly designed for soft kisses. Dr. Katribe equates licking to other attention-getting behaviors like rubbing up against you or winding between your feet. It’s up to you to figure out whether your cat wants affection, dinner, or has a more pressing concern, like pain. That’s right, licking (you, themselves, or inanimate objects) can be a common sign of pain in cats, so if your cat is still going at it even after you offered them love and kibble, it’s worth calling your vet.

4. It could be a coping mechanism

Your cat might act like they’re the one in control, but change can really stress them out. Grooming is supposed to be a soothing behavior for cats so if it becomes excessive or obsessiveparticularly after a shift in their environment, diet, or living situation — this behavior could be a cortisol-fueled coping mechanism and should be addressed before it spirals into OCD.

Are there any strategies to discourage or redirect my cat's excessive licking?

Just like humans, cats can perform repetitive self-soothing motions excessively when they’re stressed — and, as discussed, grooming themselves and others is a way cats soothe themselves. It’s possible your cat is anxious, bored, or just wants more attention. Try spending more time with them doing enriching activities like playing and trick-training. Puzzle toys and feeders are a great way to keep your cat’s boredom at bay.

If they still seem a little lick-obsessed after some quality time, you can try calming treats or pheromone sprays. If that doesn’t work, you should visit your veterinarian to see how else you can ease your cat’s stress — it’s possible some cats need anxiety medication — and make sure there’s no other underlying problem at play.


Is it normal for cats to excessively lick their pet parent?

While it’s totally normal for cats to lick their pet parents, excessive licking can be a sign of boredom, stress, or even an underlying health problem.

What are the reasons behind my cat’s constant licking?

There are several reasons why your cat might be licking you. They could be showing you affection, marking their territory, trying to get your attention, or trying to cope with stress.

Does my cat’s excessive licking indicate affection or something else?

Your cat’s licking most likely indicates affection, but if they’re licking excessively, it could be because of stress, boredom, or a health problem.

Are there any health-related factors that could contribute to my cat’s excessive licking?

It’s possible that your cat’s excessive licking is due to an underlying health problem. Cats express pain in varied ways, and they may be trying to get your attention and help. If your cat is licking themself in the same place repeatedly, they might be feeling pain in that area.

Are there any strategies to discourage or redirect my cat’s excessive licking?

Try enrichment activities, such as playing and training, with your cat to prevent boredom. You can also try stress-relieving methods such as calming treats.

When should I be concerned about my cat’s excessive licking and seek veterinary advice?

If your cat’s licking seems compulsive — especially if they are licking parts of you or themself in a way that is painful — it’s important to address potential stress, boredom, or health problems in your cat. You know your cat best: An extreme change in behavior is almost always cause for concern.


Jodi Helmer

Jodi Helmer is a North Carolina-based freelance writer who shares her home with an embarrassing number of rescue dogs and relies on four feral cats to patrol the barn. When she isn’t refilling food and water dishes, Jodi writes about animals for Scientific American, Sierra, WebMD, AKC Family Dog, Living the Country Life, and Out Here.

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