Pet Wellness Guides > Why Do Cats Lick You? - Pet Insurance Review

Why Do Cats Lick You?

Posted: 04/22/2024 | BY: Jenna Bruce | Categories: Behavior , Cat , Pet care

Ever wake up to find your cat curled up in the laundry basket, judging you silently? Or witness them launch a full-on attack on a feathery toy, only to lose interest seconds later and stalk an imaginary dust bunny with laser focus? Cats, those furry enigmas, are a delightful paradox. They’re capable of both regal lounging and Olympic-level acrobatics, purring affection one minute and planning your demise the next. But why do cats lick you? What’s up with that?

Well, we did some digging to find out just why our feline companions like to give us a lick every once in a while.

why do cats lick you?

6 Reasons Why Our Cats Lick Us

Did you know cats spend up to 8% of their waking hours grooming? So you could say licking is a normal behavior for them. If you have multiple cats in your home, you’ve probably seen them lick and groom each other.

But why do our cats turn their attention, and their tongues, on us? It turns out there are a handful of interesting reasons why they do this!

They are Expressing Love and Affection

Have you ever watched a mamma cat groom her kittens/ Grooming in cats is often a sign of love and affection. Grooming strengthens the social bond and nurtures the relationship. When your cat licks you, she may just be saying, “I love you and want to feel closer.” Aw.

They Want Attention

There are those cats that seem to offer a little grooming simply because they want the attention and affection directed right back at them. So it could be that your cat is giving you a few licks, hoping you’ll return the gesture. Or at least, give them a few pets and scratches behind the ear.

They are Tapping into Their Inner Kitten

When nursing, kittens knead and suckle. It could be if your cat was weaned too early, they lick you as a way to seek the comfort that reminds them of those early days. 

Your Cat is Exploring You

Animals interact with their environment in ways that may seem strange to us. Often they will taste something in an effort to interact with it. Your cat may groom your hair to investigate the scent of your shampoo or styling products. They may lick your skin to investigate your lotion. Obviously many of these chemicals may be harmful to your cat, so never allow them to lick your hair or arm directly after you’ve applied  any self-care products that may be toxic.

Your own sweat may also appeal to your cat as human sweat contains tasty salts and sugars.

They’re Anxious

When some cars feel stressed or anxious, they try to self-soothe through repetitive licking. Stress in cats usually leads to over-grooming, but the licking may also be directed at the pet parent. 

If you think your cat may be stressed, try to identify any triggers in the environment and eliminate them. 

They May Have a Medical Issue

In addition to soothing stress or anxiety cats also lick when they are in pain or experiencing nausea. If your cat’s licking has only recently and quite suddenly started, take them in to see your vet.

Why is My Cat’s Tongue so Rough?

You’ve probably noticed it doesn’t feel good when your cat licks you. That’s because their tongue is not a nice soft sponge like a dog’s tongue, but more like a loofah sponge!

The roughness is thanks to the hundreds of tiny, firm spines on your cat’s tongue called papillae. These spines help remove loose fur, dirt and debris from your cat’s coat.

How To Stop Your Cat From Licking You

Whatever the reason for your cat licking you, you may find it annoying and painful. So what can you do to stop them from doing it?

Well first, we should mention that you should NEVER use punishment. Do not yell or scold them. Don’t use a water gun or apply anything bitter tasting. This may make your cat anxious and if they are already livking from anxiety, this is a bit cruel.

Instead, here are some tips to minimize the licking:

  • Be a moving target! If your cat gets licky, stand up and walk away. This discourages them from licking for attention. They’ll learn that playtime is more rewarding.
  • Distract with delights! Offer a food puzzle or toss a toy when your cat starts licking. This redirects their energy and keeps them mentally stimulated. When they’re focused on the toy, it’s playtime for you too!
  • Shower love for good behavior. When your cat interacts with you without licking, praise them, pet them, or initiate a fun play session. This reinforces positive behavior and strengthens your bond.
  • Create a cat wonderland! Provide a variety of toys, swap them out regularly, and give your cat climbing spots like cat trees. Dedicate 15 minutes, three times a day, for interactive play. A stimulated kitty is a less licky kitty!

If your cat’s licking persists, it may be an indicator of an underlying medical condition. You should make an appointment to have your cat evaluated by your vet. 

Final Thoughts

Why do cats lick you? It turns out there are multiple reasons why your cat may be giving you a tongue bath. Often they just want to show you a little affection and get some love in return. 

If you really want to show your cat some love, enroll them into a pet insurance plan so you can always get them the medical help they need. Plans start as low as $10 a month for cats and some will even reimburse you for up to 90% of medical costs.

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  1. Eckstein RA and Hart BJ. (2000). The organization and control of grooming in cats. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 68(2):131-140.
  2. Noel AC and Hu DL. (2018). Cats use hollow papillae to wick saliva into fur. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doi:10.1073/pnas.1809544115.




The information contained on this blog is intended for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. It is not a substitute for professional veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian before making any changes to your pet's health care or treatment plan.

The authors of this blog are not veterinarians and do not claim to be experts in pet health. The information provided here is based on our own experiences and research, as well as information from reputable sources. However, we cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this information.

We encourage you to do your own research and consult with your veterinarian before making any decisions about your pet's health.

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