Cat Behaviour

What Does It Mean When a Cat Licks You: A Brief Guide

What Does It Mean When a Cat Licks You 1

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?

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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:

1. Bonding

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.

2. Taste

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!

3. Anxiety

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.

4. Marking

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.

Conclusion

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.

10 thoughts on “What Does It Mean When a Cat Licks You: A Brief Guide

  1. I have a cat and I love when he licks me! Now that I know the meaning, I LOVE IT EVEN MORE!

    Thank you for sharing such a detailed post for cat owners like me. I don’t live with my cat anymore because I left it at my mom’s before I bought my house. The reason why I left him there is because he lives in a little house with the family dogs. I go see him at least once a week, and he licks me every single time! I guess he misses me 🙂 I love so much my Pipo!!

    Great article!!!

    1. Hey Victor!

      I see that you have a really good relationship with your cat. It is a bit sad that both of you can’t live together, but as long as you keep each other in your hearts and have frequent meet-ups, its better than nothing.

      I wish you all the best for your future, and hope your Pipo have a fun time with the dogs when you aren’t there for him 🙂

      Rachel

  2. Your post brings back such fond memories: I used to spend a lot of time at my grandma’s house when I was a kid, there were always a few cats hanging around, stray ones whom they ultimately adopted. The kittens would always lick me with their sandpaper tongue. And the suckling on my clothes, I so loved that feeling. It didn’t occur to me that they would do it out of anxiety, so I guess it’s more likely for taste and affection. 

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Joo.

      Some people aren’t that fond of being licked by sandpaper tongues or having their clothes suckled, so I’m really glad to see that you love that feeling – it would have passed to the kittens, and made them felt comfortable around you.

      Indeed, they might have done it more out of play and affection – it is usually only excessive licking that is a sign of anxiety.

      Rachel

  3. Great article and good information.

    We have 2 cats, and one of them loves to licks us all the time, especially my hair, and for us it is a sign this cat really loves us.

    Then she starts to miauw, which means she wants to be taken like a baby and be cared like one.

    Sometimes my dad is like: This cat has a weird behaviour.

    I will show him your post and so he can understand the cat loves it, not hate us.

    Thanks to share it with us!

    1. Thanks for sharing, Emmanuel!

      My cats will meow and paw me as well when they want to be taken like a baby. When they start doing that, we have to give them the attention, or they’d start giving us little nips on our legs!

      Do show it to your dad so that he can understand your cats better. I’m really glad to be of help 🙂

      Rachel

  4. Oh my goodness I was just talking about this the other day because my cat loves licking me and I knew it was because she loves me but now that I read this I can see that I was right. I love my baby girl. She wakes up every morning licking me and making sure I know she is up. Its just adorable. She even acts like a dog because I have dogs at home and she will behave like one. Adorable article thanks.

    1. Thanks for sharing about your cat, Andrea!

      Indeed, cats will copy dogs’ behaviour if they are around each other for long periods of time – and even more so if they are brought up by a dog. My cat Jaguar who is brought up by my dog behaves sometimes like a dog, while my cat Monkey who isn’t behave more like a cat most of the times.

      Rachel

  5. Those kitty pictures are absolutely precious, and I am just in love with all those kitties.  I love your site – thanks so much.  I have to say, my cat licks me all the time, and so does my dog.  Geesh, I hope they don’t have anxiety.  LOL.  No, they are pampered beyond belief and sleep with me, and somebody is usually home, so I don’t think that’s it.  I think they just want me cleaner?  No, lol.  Such an interesting article.  I never really thought about it before, why they lick.

    Babs

    1. Hi Babsie!

      Thank you for your kind comments. There are many reasons to why a a pet will lick you. My cats will lick me when they’re really pampered too, or as a way to show me affection I feel. (And maybe the cat thinks that I stink of another cat’s scent after petting a stray and wants to give me a good cleaning :P)

      From what you describe, it’s probably not anxiety, so it’s perfectly fine. In the case of anxiety, it’s more of excessive licking. As long as it is not excessive, it should be fine 🙂

      Rachel

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