Why Do Cats Lick You? Let’s Unpack It

person working on laptop wonders why do cats lick you?

Why do cats lick you? Is it because you taste interesting (a bit salty perhaps)? Or that they feel you’re not as clean as you should be? Is it because they think you’re a cat?

As usual our feline friends present us with a question for which the answer seems a mystery.

However, in this article we’re demystifying why cats lick you. That way you don’t have to be on tenterhooks about whether it’s one thing or another or whether the thing is perhaps body odour. After all your cat loves the way you smell. Which BTW is the smell of freshly showered anyways…

4 reasons cats lick you

It turns out there are not one, but four possible reasons your feline friend licks you. While all of these reasons involve a form of affection, some indicate your cat is trying to tell you something’s up while others just mean he or she is happy and loves you loads.

In no particular order, here they are:

1. Acceptance

You know all those scenes from wildlife documentaries of baboons grooming one another? Yep, that’s what your cat’s doing. Basically they see you as a cat. Or at the very least, as cool as a cat. This type of mutual grooming is generally done within a species and has many names from allogrooming to social grooming.

Whatever you choose to call it, the purpose (besides staying clean) is to bond. Your cat is bonding with you to show you how much they care and you’ll probably pat or stroke them back without even thinking about it to show you love them too.

Cats first get this behaviour when they’re small and their mummy cat licks them. By extension, adults groom one another to show acceptance and strengthen bonds.

Here’s a classic example of social grooming:


2. Territory

Your little housecat may not be a lion on the savannah, but they’re just as territorial. And of all the things they call theirs, you might just be top of the list. In short, they’re your cat and you’re their human.

You may say they’re just trying to level things out, you know, remove any sort of hierarchy from the relationship by showing they’re more than just a pet. They’re also a cat who manages and marks their very own person.

If you’re pondering why cats would lick you to show you’re their territory, it’s because not only do they love you, they want you and other cats to know it.

3. Comfort (theirs and yours)

We all know two glaring facts about cats: a) they love cleanliness, which is why they groom so often and b) they’re creatures of comfort. When you splice these two simple facts together and add a pinch of anxiety your cat will groom to comfort themselves to stop feeling anxious.

Because they love you and you’re their territory, extending their raspy tongue to you is just an extension of this behaviour. And if you’re ill, you may find an added dose of licking because of your cat’s attentive affection and keen sense of when something’s wrong with a loved one.

If your cat licks you a whole lot and it seems a bit OCD, they may actually be showing high levels of stress that indicate something more is at play. Check to see they’re not also overgrooming themselves – this can lead to bald patches and itching skin. In cases like this you may need to book a visit to the vet as your cat may be trying to tell you something is wrong with how they’re feeling.

You may also want to rule out separation anxiety in pets as the reason. And if you’re a dog owner, read what obsessive compulsive disorder in dogs can mean.

Why do cats lick you? One reason is taste.

4. Taste

For cats everything sounds clearer, looks sharper and tastes that much more. Some of their senses are equivalent to Superman’s and they experience a much more magnified sensory version of things than us peeps.

So if you’re wondering why cats lick you, one simple reason is just to taste you. That’s right, your cat is getting the measure of your biochemical scent.

And yes it could be that added hit of salt you taste of. Or it might be the scent of cheese from the cheese croissant you just ate. And of course, any moisturizer worth its weight is full of edible and potentially enticing ingredients. Like almond, coconut and grapeseed oils to shea butter and such.

Now we’re not saying any of these are things your cat should be eating, just that your cat wants to investigate what they are. And for cats and dogs, investigation can involve the odd lick or two.

Be sure to make sure taste tests don’t get out of hand. For example, salt lamps are one of the things that are bad for pets and can land them in hospital in need of urgent medical attention.

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Having a quality, affordable cat insurance plan in place for when things do go wrong can provide you with peace of mind that vet visits, prescription medicine, hospitalisation (and more) won’t break the bank. And because kitty is so keenly tuned into your feelings, they’ll then also know things will be OK.

You only need to spend a little each month to get a lot out when your pet really needs it. Click below to find out about our cat insurance plans and discounts.

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