LIFESTYLE

What Does It Mean When a Cat Licks You: Unraveling the Secret Saliva Wash

cat licking a woman
Stella Noble
Written by Stella Noble

There are several ways in which your cat will behave towards you. Headbutting and rubbing against your body are very common. Others include love biting, bringing you surprise gifts, kneading you, purring, and keeping you company everywhere you go. All these are interpreted as his way of telling you ‘I love you.’ Having established that, what does it mean when a cat licks you?

We investigated and researched much on a cat’s licking behavior, and as you already know, licking is a part of a cat’s daily routine. Your cat does it to him/herself, fellow cats, and then may extend it to you. This sequence forms the basis of the behavior. Why does your cat feel the need to incorporate you into this intimate business? We found several meanings attached to it.

We have explained them in details below. Should you feel uncomfortable about it, is there anything you can do to make your cat stop? We have also addressed that. Here is all you need to know.

8 Reasons Why Your Cat is Licking You

There are many reasons why your cat would feel an impulsive need to lick you, but the most common of them are explained below.

#1: Social Bonding

cat licking another cat

Parents with a multi-cat household will attest that their fur babies spend considerable amounts of time licking each other. Such behavior is common among kittens and old kitties. This kind of playful and gentle licking is a means of social bonding.

Felines also use the same behavior to bond with their owners. A cat will endeavor to lick your skin as a means of feeling close to you and to reciprocate your love. The habit is most evident when your fur baby is well fed, happy, and feeling playful.

He will try to initiate play or petting by licking your clothes or exposed skin. You will observe such behavior when you are engrossed in your work and not paying attention to him. It’s a gesture to snap you back to his presence; all he wants is a more attentive parent and a friend to bond with.

#2: To Groom You

Grooming is one of those innate behaviors that several animal species exhibit. The behavior is observed in all cats including ones that are separated from their mothers right at birth. Tongue bathing occurs in felines of all ages. Kittens get used to tongue cleaning at a young age and with time they start grooming their mates.

Cats extend the same treatment to their owners. This happens after they have become used to their human counterparts. While you go for soap and water to bath, cats have lots of saliva, and they know how to use it! Your fur baby will lick you thoroughly be it your hair or toes. All he wants is to see you clean.

The behavior is similar to allo-grooming. This refers to social grooming which occurs between members of the same species, as seen in families of cats or baboons. It signifies recognition of family links between animals.

Animals use it to solve conflicts and strengthen social units. Your furry friend will do it as a good-hearted attempt to induct you into his family. He may also be trying to teach you how groom yourself because he knows how to do it better than you! You may also want to return the favor.

See Also: How to Groom a Cat

#3: To Own You

cat licking a man

Cats are territorial and, as such, have to mark what they feel belongs to them. When a mother is grooming her kittens, she imprints scent on every part of their body. This makes it easy for her to find them when they wander off. It also makes it easy for the kitties to find their way back to their nest.

Marking territory is so important that they will do so by any means necessary. This includes rubbing against things to spread pheromones. The same goes for urinating on their favorite blankets, toys, and even around the backyard. If they love you enough, they will want to own you too!

The usual way of marking a human is by rubbing against them and, to some extent, licking them. When they spread their saliva on you, they reaffirm how valuable you are to them. It’s a sure sign for other cats to keep off you.

#4: You are Tasty

cat licking man's fingers

Cats like to have a go at tasty things. So don’t be surprised if your fur baby licks your skin and probably clothes. Traces of food that find their way on you will attract them due to their heightened sense of sight and smell.

You already know that there doesn’t have to be anything spilled on you to get a good licking; your skin is tasty. Cats might enjoy tasting the salt that builds up on your skin. The same goes for some body creams or hair products that have a fragrance that your furry friend might find sweet.

#5: To Clean Their Tongue

cat's tongue

Not every gesture from your feline is meant to show affection. Some actions are attempts at compensating for things that people find commonplace. While you get to brush your teeth and tongue anytime you wish, your cat has to find a way to maintain dental health.

Cats have very rough tongues which comes in handy when grooming themselves. However, fur and dirt get stuck on their tongues in the process. To get rid of these tiny particles, they have to make do with what is available. Sometimes that means you; they will rub their tongue against your skin to clean it.

#6: To Calm You Down

cat licking a girl

Cats have been known to behave towards their owners the same way they would to their kind. After a long stay with felines, they start treating you like a kitten or a mate. Some of these peculiar behaviors include survival tactics like teaching their owners how to hunt by leaving them live animals.

In general, this relationship makes your cat very attentive to you, and so he will easily know when you are anxious or stressed. It’s during such times that he will lick you affectionately. Female cats usually do it as though they were doing it to their kittens.

#7: To Alleviate Anxiety

cat licking woman's hand

Cats suffer from anxiety for a number of reasons. Kittens who have been separated from their mothers a little too early can grow up to be fearful every once in a while.

Anxiety can also be caused by sudden changes in a cat’s environment. Moving to a new neighborhood or having guests over can be troubling. Stress can also be caused by the arrival of a new pet that may be seen as a rival for your affection.

Your feline may take to licking you or suckling on objects as a way of alleviating the anxiety. This kind of oral fixation is similar to that of babies who suck on their mom’s thumbs to reassure themselves. Licking can be as comforting as a pacifier in soothing a baby.

See Also: How to Help a Depressed Cat

#8: Affectionate Kisses

orange cat licking a boy

Cats are intelligent creatures. Once they get used to a person, it’s easy for them to mimic certain behaviors. Handshakes can be reciprocated with raised paws. They will coil their tails around your neck when you give them a hug. Soft head-butting and even kissing are among many other manners that they can acquire from their owners.

They may, however, not be able to kiss you back as you would expect. Theirs will involve lots of tongue and saliva. They may not lick you while you are kissing them but be sure they will return the favor at some point.

They will shy away when you are giving them too much attention, but ignore them, and that’s when you will receive licks, bites, and nibbles.

Is Your Cat Licking You Too Much?

While licking is pleasurable for cats, it might not be so enjoyable to you. This is due to the anatomy of a cat’s tongue. The organ is adapted to meet some specific survival needs. Among this is stripping meat from bones. It’s also effective in removing the scent from fur and paws after a kill or just routine grooming.

To achieve these, your feline’s tongue has barbs that face slightly backward. These are opaque and keratin-hardened spines. They are longest towards the center of the tongue and diminish in size towards the tip and sides. This unique configuration allows cats to devour their prey as well as afford soft licks if need be.

Think of sandpaper being scrubbed along your skin. Your cat’s licks can be painful especially when he overdoes it; he can even draw blood. For whatever reason that your fur baby licks you, there may come a time when you need him to stop. This can prove quite difficult especially if you have tolerated it for a while.

The idea is to dissuade him from licking you but still keep him as a friend. The following measures have been proven to work.

#1: Do Not Reinforce the Behavior

taking a cat away

Talking, petting, or massaging him whenever he licks you will encourage him further. You have to send a clear message that the behavior won’t be tolerated. This does not, however, mean that you yank, yell, or worse, beat him!

Putting a barrier like a pillow between you can act as a deterrent. You can also move to a different seat or room away from him every time he starts to lick you.

If your cat has developed a pattern of, let’s say, licking you after he has taken his meal, break the habit by withdrawing from his presence during and after his meals.

#2: Pay Attention to Stressors

cat sleeping on couch

Cats spend most of their day sleeping, with the waking hours being between meals and grooming. Lack of enough sleep can lead to stress, which may result in such obsessive behaviors like licking you.

Scheduling extra playtime can tire him quickly, leading to longer naps, leaving him with no time to ‘groom’ you.

Stress may also arise from having several cats in your house. Those that feel snubbed by others may be the ones heavily affected by the behavior. In such cases, try to engage all your cats in mutual games. This will encourage all the members to bond more, leaving you without any attention-seekers.

See Also: How to Play with Your Cat

#3: Distract Your Cat

playing with a cat

The act can be similar to nail biting in humans, and that can be resolved by engaging in activities that will keep his mind off of it. Observe his behaviors to know the signs that preceded the licking.

With that in mind, you can distract him with toys or games whenever he is about to give you a saliva wash. You can also give him something to chew on to keep him occupied. If you are consistent enough, he will eventually forget.

#4: Consider Changing Beauty Products

angry cat

If you can establish which hair shampoos or skin lotions attract him, then consider using repellant ones.

You can go for scentless ones or those that leave you with a lemon smell. Lavender and banana smells will also repel your cat. Spraying or rubbing some of these scents on his favorite licking spot can act as a negative reinforcement.

Wrap Up

cat kissing a girl

There you have it! If your cat is licking you, he is probably trying to get closer to you, treating you like a fellow cat or just letting off some stress out his system. While all these don’t sound ill-intended at all, it doesn’t always end up with a good feeling. You may end up being hurt to the point of bleeding.

If not dissuaded, the behavior becomes a habit, and it becomes harder and harder to stop him. It is never too late to stop him and still keep his affection. You may be required to interrupt your bonding time, be on the lookout for any stressors and be more proactive. The idea is to start early and combine this with patience and persistence.

Have you tried to stop your cat from licking you using any other way not included in our list? We would love to hear all about it. We would also like to hear if you have associated the licking behavior with anything else. For this and more, do not hesitate to leave us your feedback below. You may also want to take a look at our article how to freshen cat breath just in case the smell is what bugs you about your cat licking you.

About the author
Stella Noble
Stella Noble

Stella Noble lives in Warren, Michigan with her family and three cats. She is a Certified Cat Trainer and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

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