What Does It Mean When a Cat Licks You?

You’re sitting on your favorite easy chair, relaxing, when you suddenly feel a wet, rough tongue licking your skin and you realize that the perpetrator is not your boyfriend or your girlfriend but it’s none other than your ever lovin’ cat! Is your cat licking you because of her love for you or is she acquiring a taste of you before dinner? Just kidding with the latter remark but the question remains – what does it mean when your cat licks you?

The Refined Cat

Cats aren’t like dogs who love licking (which are commonly known as doggie kisses in our household). Cats are of a more refined nature and they usually keep their public displays of affection in check.

Mum’s Cleaning Ritual

What does the mother cat do during the early weeks of her kittens’ life? She is constantly cleaning and licking her kittens. As a matter of fact, mum cleans her babies immediately after their birth to remove the after birth fluids, stimulate their breathing, and establish their scent (which is reestablished every time her kittens return back to mum). This cleaning also conveys to her kittens that she cares for them and that they belong. So being licked is what the cat first remembers when coming into this world.

The Social Licks

Cleanliness is one reason for licking but for both male and female cats licking is a social exchange. Cats are “grooming” animals. Cleanliness is next to “cat-li-ness” as far as they’re concerned. They groom themselves and each other in order to share their scent and remove debris from themselves and their friends. This action comes in handy for hard to reach places like inside their ears and the top of their head. So when your cat licks you, you might say you’re being cleaned up and claimed by that cat because you are a friend, just like her littermates!

The Senior Licker

An older cat that suddenly begins a lot of licking could point to an illness or infestation. This behavioral change, upon close inspection, may tell you your cat is suffering from an insect bite, a skin irritation, fleas, or infection. Closely check kitty’s skin for any of these signs so if you spot something you can immediately take a trip to the vet!

The Stressed Cat

Anxiety can stress out your feline friend where they’ll begin to lick compulsively and not stop even when their skin is raw and bleeding! The condition, feline hyperesthesia, is brought about by stress. Cats will often try calming themselves by licking but other kitties may even resort to sucking on fabric or plastic or even your skin! Try de-stressing your cat with interactive play which will not only help your cat relax by releasing chemicals during play but also strengthen the bond between you and your kitty!

Licking Not to Your Liking?

Never punish your cat for a normal behavior. You can gently discourage her by moving away from her if you cannot tolerate her licking you but please do not throw her across the room or hit her! If you spritz your arms with lemon juice, your cat will cringe with every lick (at least in theory) then you can offer her a toy instead or simply pet her. Love just may be the answer to overcome a compulsive licker but you should remember that your cat is paying you a huge compliment with each lick saying she feels totally safe in your presence and you are a member of her family.

Differentiating between the normal licker, the compulsive licker, and the stressed or ill driven licker is key in order to decide what treatment path to take. If you’re still unsure, the path to the vet is always open.

By Tom Matteo


Animal Planet

About the Author
Tom Matteo has been a freelance writer since 1992. He has written hardware and software reviews for computers and gaming systems, and now writes about animal behavior and care. Tom resides in Bethlehem, PA with his wife, Tina, and their beloved cockapoo, Angel.