One of the best assets a cat has is her tongue. The tongue of a cat is covered with “papillae,” which look like curved spines, that she will use for grooming. She will actually spend over 30% of her daily time keeping herself clean. So if cats feel the need to clean themselves this thoroughly with their tongues, you might be asking yourself why would they want to lick you too.
Although cats can’t say what they have in their minds, cat behavior specialists, as well as veterinarians and researchers have considered a number of reasons why a cat might choose to lick you from time to time. So let’s go over the most common ones:
Licking is just one of the many different behaviors a cat might use to claim a territory or something she thinks she owns. Other behaviors include spraying, which is the most obnoxious, scratching, and even cheek rubbing.
When this is the case, the cat will use licking as a way of showing other cats that you belong to her and everyone else should stay away.
Most cats use licking not only for grooming purposes, but also as a way of showing you affection. Your cat might try to create a social bon with you, other cats, or even pets, when she starts licking playfully. A big part of this behavior is usually learned while the cat is still a kitty, when her mother would lick her to show her affection and love. Many cats will remember this as they grow up, and when they get really attached to their human owner, they might try to lick them as a way of showing the same feelings.
Although it might sound silly, your cat might also try to lick you because they think your skin has a nice taste. Your cat might taste something you got into contact with or spilled on the skin, which left residues. Your cat might also get the salty taste of your skin when it is hot outside and you sweat.
What’s really interesting though, is that although the tongue of a cat is made for grooming as well, she has a very muted sense of taste when compared to humans. Also interesting is the fact that cats are the only known mammals that can’t taste sweets at all.
This behavior comes very naturally to creatures like cats, although they might not realize that you don’t need to get clean using the tongue. As I said before, the mother cat will often groom her kittens as a way of showing them how this action should be done, as well as creating a bond or showing them affection.
Some certified feline behaviorists and training consultants also talk about a group of cats living together that set an “allo-groomer”, which is basically a cat that grooms and licks all of the other cats in her group.
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This means that your cat licking you might just be because she tries to fulfill the role of “allo-groomer”, considering you a member of her group and cleaning you.
Cats might also lick you as a way of getting your attention. Regardless of whether she wants you to pay attention to her, feed her, or pet her, she might try to get your attention by licking you.
This is when she will use licking just like she’d use meowing at you, pawing at you, or other behaviors that would show her need for attention.
Another reason for a cat licking you might be that she is either stressed or anxious. There are some occasions in which excessive grooming or licking could point to a medical problem, most of the time a cat will lick you or even herself as a way of coping with anxiety and stress.
This is especially true if your cat starts licking you after a big change in her life or environment, like moving into a new house. Most of the time, there is no reason to worry about this type of behavior, unless you notice the cat grooming herself so intensely that she starts to develop bald spots or the skin becomes raw. Otherwise, it might be time to talk to a vet and figure out a course of treatment as soon as possible.
Along with asking why is their cat licking them, a lot of people also ask about why it hurts when cats lick them. The answer to this question is pretty simple:
As I said above, the tongue of a cat is filled with papillae, which are little spines. And these papillae aren’t as soft as you might think. They are actually made from keratin, the same substance that can be found in human fingernails. Cats are self-grooming, which makes that the tongue should be strong enough to get saliva down her skin, but also detangle the fur and remove any oils and dirt.
This is why, when a cat will lick you, she will rub these spines repeatedly against your skin, which might hurt a little. This is why some people actually compare the tongue of a cat with sandpaper.
Keep in mind that your cat grooming or licking you is nothing out of the ordinary, as long as this isn’t excessive. Even so, at some point, this rough lick might become pretty annoying and you might want them to stop.
The best thing you can do to stop this is to redirect their attention to something else. When you need to distract them from licking you, if you have a cat that likes to be petted, just start petting it. YOu might also try to divert her attention with the help of a toy or some other fun activity. If nothing works, then you can just walk away and come back when the cat has stopped.