We know the scenario. You’ve just woken up and you’re chilling out with a cup of tea in bed. Before you know it, your hair, your arm or your face is all slobbery and feels like it’s been sanded down. It can only mean one thing - the cat’s licking you!
So, if you constantly finding yourself asking “why does my cat lick me?”, then you’ve come to the right place. In fact, there are a number of reasons as to why your kitty might be grooming you - and if you don’t like it, there are also a few things you can do to discourage the behaviour. Let’s go!
Why does it hurt when my cat licks me?
“My cat licks me… and it feels like sandpaper!” - well, that will be the papillae! It can be a little bit of a shock to feel the harsh, rough texture of your kitty’s tongue considering ours are so smooth. But, it’s totally normal and actually serves an important purpose!
“A cat’s tongue has a roughness caused by rasping, pointing backward papillae (sharp spines or hooks) in the middle of the tongue. Papillae are used to groom, absorb liquid, hold prey, and scrape meat and fat from a kill,” explains Peter Scottsdale in 365 Fascinating Facts You Didn’t Know About Your Cat.
“The cat’s rough tongue helps to grip and break up food and push it back to be swallowed. The tongue spikes also function to pick up softer food.”
Pretty cool, hey?! So, there’s no need to worry about your kitty’s strange-textured tongue. The papillae are actually doing them a lot of favours!
Why does my cat lick me?
They love you!
If your cat licks you, it might just be because they adore you. Yep, it’s true - cat licking is actually a sign of affection and endearment.
“Cats lick each other to groom each other and to bond together; this grooming is usually done between cats that know each other very well,” says Nancy Robbins in Domestic Cats: Their History, Breeds and Other Facts.
“They will also sometimes lick people, especially their owner, for similar reasons. These reasons include wanting to ‘groom’ people and to show them care and affection.”
This is called ‘allogrooming’ and is a natural behaviour of animals to strengthen social bonds, reduce conflict within a group and to demonstrate affiliative behaviour. So if your kitty is licking you, it’s a good indication that they like you and consider you their family. Cute!
On the flipside, if you’re wondering “why does my cat lick me?” and have also noticed other changes in behaviour, it could be a sign of stress, fear or anxiety.
Grooming helps cats to feel calm and content, therefore, excessive grooming and/or grooming you constantly is a good indication of stress - especially if they’ve suddenly started doing it more. This behaviour is also common in cats who were weaned too early from their mothers.
Other behavioural signs of stress and anxiety in cats include:
- Any noticeable change in routine or behaviour
- Going to the toilet outside of the litter tray
- Peeing around the house or on furniture
- Excessive scratching or damaging furniture
- Excessive or increased meowing
- Becoming increasingly needy
- Social withdrawal and hiding away
- Jumping at or acting scared of every sound or movement
If you think your cat might be stressed or anxious, you should head to the vet for a full check-up. Another health condition may be causing the stress. If not, you’ll need to implement a stress reduction routine which your vet should be able to help with.
They’re trying to mark their territory
You probably know that dogs mark their territory, but cats also use pheromones to mark theirs. In this case, it’s you! Yes, cats can be a little possessive - by licking your hair, face or body, they might be trying to claim you as theirs. This isn’t anything to worry about - it’s actually pretty sweet, right?
If you’re a cat lover, you probably approach any cat you come across to give them a friendly pat. But if you notice they get quickly shy away from you, your cat’s territorial behaviour is working. The other cat can smell your possessive little feline friend and runs like the wind!
They’re teaching you how to groom yourself
It sometimes seems that cats think we, as humans, are pretty stupid. In fact, some people believe that when cats lick you, they’re trying to teach you to groom yourself. They’re basically saying “Hey Mum/Dad… don’t you think it’s time for a wash? Let me help you out!”.
This comes from when your cat was a kitty, being cared for by her mother. Their mother taught your kitty to groom themselves by licking them - so that could be what your cat is trying to do to you. Bless their little hearts!
Or maybe you just taste nice!
Last but not least, you might just taste nice. If you do a lot of cooking or just ate a super tasty meal and haven’t got round to washing your hands, your kitty probably just wants in on the action!
How to stop your cat from licking you
We often receive questions from people along the lines of “My cat licks me all the time and it’s getting on my nerves. How do I get him/her to stop?”.
Firstly, it’s important to remember that you should never get angry at your feline buddy for licking you. They’re not doing it to hurt you. As we’ve already said, they might just be showing affection or they could be feeling anxious.
The best thing to do to stop your cat from licking you is to provide a distraction. Does your kitty enjoy being brushed? As soon as they begin to lick you, pull out their favourite brush and give them a long, relaxing groom. They’ll find it hard to lick you and be pampered simultaneously!
Alternatively, keep a few toys by your bed, the sofa or wherever your cat normally starts licking you. As soon as the dreaded tongue appears, encourage them to play with the toys and have some fun with them.
If it’s clear that your kitty just craves affection, simply try upping the affection you give them. As soon as they begin licking you, start to give them a loving fuss and provide the attention they desire. Make cuddles more of a regular occurrence - hopefully, your kitty won’t feel the need to lick you so much!
As a last resort, you can try walking away every time they begin to lick you. Your kitty should soon start to associate licking with your absence - so although it feels a little mean, it might be necessary if the licking is excessive.