While quite a few things have changed from the time of the ancient Egyptians, one thing certainly hasn’t – humans are still obsessed with cats.1 Cat owners delight over every purr and pounce. They spend an inordinate amount of time scrolling through hilarious cat memes. And they also spent a lot of time trying to decode cryptic feline behavior and body language.
Case in point: All that licking. You’re probably wondering, “Why does my cat lick me?”
While it’s fascinating to watch your furry friend keeping clean, this habit could actually be a way for your kitty to communicate with you.
Licking As A Coping Mechanism
Any animal behaviorist can tell you that a cat or kitten (or dog) licking their own fur, especially in specific spots, could be their way of expressing or communicating:
- Discomfort from an underlying health condition or food allergy
- Itchiness, possibly due to another condition or flea infestation
- Boredom (from lack of stimulation or exercise)
- Stress or anxiety, possibly from sudden changes in environment and routine (displacement behavior)2
When To Worry: Physical Signs
A cat’s tongue is rough and covered in something called papillae. While handy for cleaning and smoothing over cat hair and eating textured food, excessive contact with the fur and skin could give rise to a number of issues.3 You might want to bring up your cat’s excessive licking habit with your veterinarian or a trusted veterinary behaviorist if you notice:
- A loss of fur from overgrooming the same spot
- More hairballs than usual
- Skin irritation
- Scabbing of skin4
When To Worry: Psychological Signs (Anxiety and Stress)
Stressed out or anxious cats might display erratic behavior, including excessive licking. With the help of your vet, figuring out the root cause of why your cat or kitten is stressed can greatly help you help your kitty cope.5
Some nervous cats may exhibit other signs of psychological stress, in addition to excessive licking, including:
- Biting themselves (including their tail or paws)
- Personality changes
- Excessive meowing
If this sounds like your pet, you may want to check in with your vet.6
Why Do Cats Lick Plastic?
This may seem like strange behavior, but if your cat licks plastic, it might just be a mild compulsive disorder. This can be problematic if your cat ingests any of the plastic. So, excessive licking of plastic is something to bring up with your vet.7
So, Why Does My Cat Lick My Face?
All this being said, you may still be wondering, “Why does my cat lick me?” Cats can lick your fingers and arms, even your hair and face. When it’s done sparingly, they could just be feeling affectionate. But if done excessively, it’s normal to be concerned.
Here are some additional reasons why your cat or kitten might have an excessive licking habit, specifically when it comes to licking the literal hands that feed them, or their most familiar face.
Normal Behavior: Showing Affection, Giving Attention, or Bonding With You
It’s validating to know your relationship with your cat might not be entirely one-sided. When a cat makes it a point to lick you, they may be:
- Asking for your time and attention
- Literally getting a “taste” of you (you might smell good to them)
- Displaying trust
- Trying to “clean” you
If your cat is licking you, they might also be extending normal feline behaviors of grooming and showing affection to you. Cats love to groom each other, and licking one another is often a form of bonding.8
Potentially Problematic Behavior: Signaling Something’s Wrong
As with other aspects of pet care, too much of one thing isn’t always good. Similar to overgrooming, if your cat is licking you too much, it could be a cry for help.
Your cat might be having trouble adjusting a stressful occurrence (like a vet visit) or a problematic situation like fighting with your other pets, feeling unsafe, or the arrival of a new human sibling.9
What To Do If Your Cat Licks You Too Much
It can be tough to extricate yourself from a lick-happy kitty, especially when you’re fully aware that cats can hold grudges. Some vets recommend diverting their attention away from you by:
- Petting, or giving their ears a good scratch
- Brushing them
- Playing with them
- Doling out a catnip treat
- Gently moving them to another room10
If you feel your cat is extra sensitive, you can also try resolving possible stressors to see if this alters the licking habit.
Make sure your kitty has:
- Access to clean water and good food away from other pets that could be threatening his supply
- A safe and quiet space or perch high up and away from noisy kids or unfamiliar people, with a blanket or toy with a familiar scent to help him settle in nicely
- Other sources of stimulation and exercise, like puzzle toys and cat trees
Be Mindful Of Your Feline Friend’s Behavior
Overall, your cat licking you is often their version of a validating pat on the head. If you catch yourself asking, “Why does my cat lick me,” remember that it’s usually a sign you’re doing a good job as your cat’s human. But, as any responsible pet owner knows, it pays to be mindful and observant of all “off” behaviors. Never hesitate to call a vet the moment you feel your cat needs one.
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