What does it mean when my cat licks me?

By Dr. Sarah Wooten

Typically, when cats groom or lick their pet parents, it’s a sign of deep trust. While the nurturing behavior may comfort and warm the hearts of some, the sensation may feel rough and somewhat abrasive to others. Furthermore, some cats can really go overboard when it comes to licking, and it can even lead to a bite. If this has happened to you, then you are likely wondering, “Why does my cat lick me so much? Or why does my cat lick and then bite me? And how can I make it stop?

What does it mean when my cat licks me?

When cats lick people, it can be for a variety of reasons.

  1. There is something interesting on your skin that tastes good to your cat. If you find that your cat licks your hands after you have been eating, they’re likely enjoying the delicious taste of ‘leftovers’ or anything left on your skin from a recent meal. But foods aren’t the only tastes that appeal to cats. You may find your cat licking you after a workout or when you’ve applied lotion because they like the taste of salty sweat or moisturizing oils on your skin.
  2. Your cat wants to groom you. In a group of cats, there is often one cat that takes on grooming responsibility for all the other cats. This role is called ‘allo-grooming,’ and it’s common among groups of cats, as well as when mother cats groom their young. It is considered a natural bonding feline behavior, so your cat may be signaling that you’re officially part of the family.
  3. Your cat is marking their territory. Even though we may not like to admit it, our cats consider us their property; and they will mark us to prove their point. Cats mark their territory in many ways, including scratching, rubbing scent glands in the cheek and tailbase on us, and, you guessed it, licking us. (They also spray to mark their territory but that is for another article!)
  4. Your cat wants your attention. Licking may also be simply an attention-seeking behavior. If you find your cat is licking you when they want petting, food, play, or to go outside, then it could be that licking is the most effective way for your cat to communicate that they want something from you.
  5. Your cat could be stressed or anxious. There are plenty of reasons your cat might be feeling stress — not getting along with another cat, moving to a new home, renovations, underlying pain or medical issues, visitors, or even when you suddenly and unexpectedly begin staying at home for months at a time! When cats lick you under these circumstances, it’s called displacement behavior. Oftentimes, cats that are stressed will not only lick their humans excessively, they will also over-groom themselves and create bald patches. In these cases, a trip to the veterinarian is required to determine the cause and address the issue.
  6. Your cat loves you. This is the best reason for licking. Kittens are licked by their mother when they are young, and many cats will continue this behavior into adulthood, licking other animals and people that they are bonded with to express love and connection.

Cat licking woman

When is cat licking a problem?

How much licking is too much licking, and are there any other dangers associated with cat licking?

The simple answer is that any amount of licking that annoys you or feels excessive is too much. And like any other problematic behavior, there are steps you can take to correct and minimize the behavior so you and your cat can live in harmony.

But because there are so many reasons why your cat may be licking you, it’s important to be aware of signs or situations that could indicate a larger issue, so you can get proper help. These include:

Licking that’s a problem for cats

Cat licking paw

Licking that’s a problem for others

How to stop your cat from licking you

If the licking is excessive or bothersome to you, there are things you can do to minimize and even halt the licking behavior.

Cat licking human finger
What you shouldn’t do when your cat licks you is yell at your cat or overreact. This will create conflict in the relationship between you two, will escalate stress and anxiety and potentially make the situation worse.

Now you no longer need to wonder, “Why does my cat clean me?” With a little detective work on your part, you can get to the bottom of why your cat licks you, provide other ways for your cat to express love and connection, determine whether your cat needs some professional help, and, ultimately, if you want, reduce the licking while keeping the special bond you share with your cat.

The information provided and contained herein are the opinions of Pethealth Services (USA) Inc. which are based on external publication. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice specific to your pet. Pethealth Services (USA) Inc. assumes no responsibility or liability for any loss, claims or damages arising out of the within content.