If you’ve ever lived with a cat, then almost certainly, you’ll be familiar with the feeling of their fine course, sandpaper-like tongues being scraped over your skin. Cats have been known to exhibit licking behavior ranging from just a lick now and then, right the way through to all-out suckling on their humans which can result in a rather astounding amount of drool on your clothing!
Now, you may wonder and ask, “What does it mean when a cat licks you?” You’re not alone in asking that question and to better understand why your cat might be licking you, we’ve compiled a brief guide into the commonly known reasons they lick, how their licks can be identified, and how you can try to reduce it.
What Does It Mean When a Cat Licks You?
Cats really like to lick since it’s in their nature. They like to lick so much that apparently, 50% of adult cats waking life is spent grooming themselves and each other. But when cats lick others, they can have several motives beyond grooming, and here are the most common ones:
Your cat is most likely to be licking you out of love. They are trusting you and caring for you and as such, feel like you are part of their family.
Cats will often be seen grooming each other but only if they are very close, such as being born in the same litter, or if they have been brought up together. You should cherish these licks as they are just a way of your cat showing affection.
Bonding licks will often be accompanied with longer periods of eye contact and a slow blink which is commonly thought to indicate a cat saying “I love you.” Other ways cats show that they trust you is by exposing their belly to you when you’re stroking them.
While the most common reason for a cat to be licking you is out of love, sometimes though, they just like the way you taste! You may have just leaned on a spill of tonight’s dessert, and your cat is a big fan of chocolate ice cream. In this case, they will just lick a small patch and then soon lose interest.
Your cat may also be attracted to a scent or taste from shower gel or lotion that you’ve just applied, and they’ll lick that too! So, good luck with keeping them away from you if you have it all over!
If a cat is suckling or licking excessively then, unfortunately, this may be due to anxiety. Suckling (like a small kitten would on their mother) on your clothes or bed sheets can be a sign that your cat was taken away from their mother too early. This may eventually change to displays of excessive licking in later years that they refuse to be distracted from. It is more than likely a compulsion they have developed due to anxiety in their early years.
If your cat has only recently started licking excessively then, it might be worth taking them to the vet to have their thyroid checked. In older cats, an overactive thyroid is quite common, and while being quite a serious condition, it is also easily and successfully treated.
Cats have a few different ways of marking their territory. Tomcats will spray which is a prevalent way of marking territory for many animals. They also scratch (generally your brand-new sofa or walls) and surprisingly, they lick.
By licking you, they are claiming you or “labeling” you as “This is my human.” These licks will be thorough but not as slow and gentle as the bonding ones.
How Can You Stop It?
If your cat’s licking is making you feel uncomfortable, then there are a couple of things you can do to try to lessen the amount and frequency of licking. Based on your new-found knowledge or a better idea of why your cat is licking you, you would notice that licking can almost always be dealt with by distraction.
Cats enjoy playing as well as fussing. Not all cats will like all cat toys but it’s just a case of trial and error to see what kind of toy your cat reacts to. Some cats love toys that dangle in front of them and will roll around on their backs trying to get hold of it while others love to chase balls or toy mice around the room.
Often, a piece of string or wool or a screwed-up ball of paper will also entice them into playing. If your cat starts to lick you, then let them do it for just a few seconds and then distract them with their favorite toy.
If you think your cat is licking you due to anxiety, then you need to think about ways to reduce your pet’s anxiety which isn’t always easy. If you have an increased number of visitors to your home, then you could make them a comfy and safe place to hide away. If you have lost another pet recently, then they are most likely missing the extra attention, so you will have to pay them extra attention yourself and then try to distract them with toys if they start licking.
Finding out the answer to “What does it mean when a cat licks you?” isn’t as straightforward as one might think. Cat licking is very common behavior and more often than not, a form of bonding with you, as well as a way for them to show their affection towards you.
If your cat has recently started licking you more, then you’ll need to consider if there have been any changes to their routine that may have instigated this behavior. Have you recently introduced someone new into your life?
They probably just want to make sure that this new person knows that you are indeed, their pet human. If you feel that your cat’s licking is excessive or worrying, then the best thing to do would be to get them to the vet for a checkup and further advice.