Why do cats lick you? Well, as you’ve probably already figured out, cats are complex creatures, so there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. We tend to think that cats lick to show affection, but is that accurate, or is there more to those tongue lashings than we realize?
Cat communication can be tricky to decipher, and curling up on your lap and licking you is often their way of trying to ask for what they need. While every sandpapery lick probably feels the same to you, each one tells a tale, and learning the most common things your kitty is expressing to you through their tongue can help you understand them better.
Let’s take a look at five of the most likely answers to the question, 'why do cats lick you'...Why do cats meow?Why do cats sleep so much?1) I love you
Cats form bonds with each other just like humans do, so if you have more than one cat in your home and they get on well, you may have noticed them licking each other. Cats will lick anyone that they consider to be a part of their family or tribe, whether it’s another cat, a dog, or a human.
“To a cat, it doesn’t matter that you’re human,” says Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM. “once they have come to care for you, they will treat you the same way as any member of its group.”
Light licks are a way of showing love and affection and are often accompanied by other behaviors such as purring, nuzzling, or rubbing their head up against you. Cats love grooming those they care about, so if someone's asking, 'why do cats lick you?' consider yourself one of the gang.2) You’re all mine
Here's one not-so surprising answer to the question, 'why do cats lick you?' Licking is one of the ways a cat will mark their territory, and that extends to their humans. Your scent is strongest on your feet, hands, and face, and as a cat’s saliva carries their scent, your furkid may lick those spots as a way of mixing their scent with yours.
According to Dr Ochoa, cats are possessive of anything they consider to be their property, and licking you sends a warning to other cats to back off. “Licking is a way of letting other cats know that they care about you and that you belong to them.”3) Let’s get you cleaned up
When pondering, 'why do cats lick you?', here's another possible answer. Cats learn to clean themselves by being groomed by their mothers when they’re kittens, and this memory stays with them through adulthood. Cats associate being groomed with care and affection and will often lick their humans in an attempt to keep them clean and show that same love.
“Within a group of cats living together, there is typically a designated ‘allo-groomer,’ which is a cat that licks and grooms the other cats in the group,” explains feline behavior specialist Marci Koski. “Usually, the members of the group are related to each other, so licking a human may be the cat's attempt to include you as part of her group.”
While being covered in kitty saliva might make you feel more dirty than clean, for your cat it’s an important part of the bonding process.4) You taste so good
While you probably already know that dogs will do just about anything to get their paws on some human chow, it turns out our feline friends like our food as much as our canine companions do.
If there’s something tasty on your skin, your kitty will happily get to work licking it off you – even if you can’t visibly see signs of food. A cat's sense of smell is far more sensitive than ours, so they can sniff out the remnants of that steak juice that dropped on your hand long after you’ve wiped it away.
Cats are especially fond of anything salty, which is why they’ll often be drawn to licking you when you’ve been working up a sweat. The salt build-up on your skin contains sodium, chloride, and potassium, which leaves a sweet and salty residue when it evaporates – something that likely grosses you out, but your kitty finds rather tasty.5) I’ll comfort you, and you can comfort me
If you’ve noticed that your cat licks you more when you’re feeling down, there’s a good reason for it. Cats have a much deeper emotional connection to us than we might think, and are capable of being highly empathetic.
Studies have shown that cats form unique, complex, and deeply emotional relationships with their owners that causes them to feel distressed when their owners are in pain. “If your cat senses you are stressed or sick, it may lick to help calm you down or make you feel better, just like it would another cat in the wild," says Dr Ochoa.
The reverse is also true, with cats often licking members of their group as a way to calm themselves down when they’re feeling anxious. If your cat’s licking becomes compulsive, it could also be due to stress or boredom. Try distracting them by using some of the best cat toys to play games with them, and consult a vet if excessive licking continues to be an issue.
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