Why Do Cats Lick Their Owners? Are We Delicious?

If your cats are anything like my cats then from time to time they decide to lick you. Now this feeling isn’t anything like that of a dog, dog licks are generally a little bit wet and sloppy and afterward you’re thinking to yourself ‘Thanks, but that was kind of gross.’  Cats on the other hand have their own bag of tricks and have an equally perplexing lick, one that is instead dry and feels a little bit like sand paper.

So when your cat licks you is she rewarding you? If she punishing you? Is she doing this because she likes you? Let’s take a look into and look at why cats lick in general and then figure out why do cats lick their owners! We’ll also discuss a few options you can consider if you’re not a fan of cat licks and you’d like to modify this behavior.


cat grooming a friendWhy Do Cats Lick In General?

There are a couple of major reasons that cats lick, but they are mostly related to cleanliness.  The two biggest reasons cats lick themselves or each other are:

  • To clean themselves: When a cat licks herself it is pretty general grooming behavior. Cats spend a hefty chunk of their day, every day, cleaning themselves. A little vain don’t you think? While it may sound odd how much time they spend grooming it is primarily a survival mechanism. Not only does it keep them clean but it also removes the scents that would historically be left on them from hunting. This ensures other predators can’t track them as easily which keeps them safe and sound.
  • To clean their close friends: When cats feel incredibly comfortable with each other they’ll often go through the process called bonding. What this essentially means is that these cats are best buddies. You’ll see them do everything from sleeping on top of one another to wrestling to you guessed it, licking each other to groom one another. This is a very positive behavior because it helps cats reach places that are difficult to reach on their own like their ears and the top of their head.

cat tongue close upDoes the Tongue Do a Good Job?

Cat’s tongues are actually quite a bit different than that of a human or a dog.  Your cat’s tongue feels like sandpaper because it’s covered with a boatload of these little things called papillae. These are made of keratin (the same stuff a cat’s nails are made of) and they resemble little hooks that face the back of the mouth.

Why you might ask? They likely evolved this way because they help cats pull meat off bones, a pretty handy skill when cats weren’t fed boneless wet food or crunchy dry kibble.

More importantly for this article, those papillae also assist in grooming. They mimic a comb or a brush and every time your cat drags her tongue across her body they do things like pull out loose fur and dirt.  Now you can also see why your cat might end up with hairballs, she is basically combing herself with her tongue and ends up swallowing a lot of that hair. This is the reason brushing your cat often helps you stop your cat from vomiting.


So Why Do Cats Lick Their Owners?

At this point you’re probably saying to yourself “But I’m not dirty, I don’t stink! I don’t need my cat to clean me.”  But let’s be honest, we all know you only shower once a week and that you likely could use a little extra help….Just kidding! Honestly though, if your cat is licking you they aren’t necessarily telling you that you smell bad or that you’re not clean, they’re doing it because they look at you as an incredibly close friend/companion.

Generally speaking, cats only lick people they feel 100% comfortable around.  There are of course exceptions to the above, but the bulk of cats will only lick people they consider near and dear to them. So take this as a really positive sign!


What If My Cat Won’t Stop Licking Me

cat playing outsideWhile not the most common problem in the world, it does surface from time to time. Some cats simply won’t stop licking their wonderful human. This is typically not considered normal behavior and is likely driven by anxiety of some sort. Cats get anxious from a lot of different things, but some of the most common are: new people in the house, a new pet in the house, a recent move, and the list goes on.

If none of the above have taken place recently but your cat is still constantly licking you then she might be stressed for a variety of other reasons. One of the best ways to help a cat destress is to provide structured play sessions every single day.

This means taking time to specifically interact with your cat and ensure she gets to spend some of her pent up energy! A wand, a laser pointer, a piece of string, any of these make a great toy to play with your cat.  If you’re not sure what to do then check out other my article for a few ideas on playing her.

If you’ve already been playing with your cat but you aren’t having any luck then you should consider trying to redirect your cat’s attention when she comes to lick you. This can be done in a variety of ways, but the most common is with a cat nip toy of some sort or perhaps a puzzle toy with treats inside it. When she comes to lick place the toy near her mouth instead or shake the puzzle toy and roll it on the ground so she can go after it.

If structured play and redirection fail to do the trick then it might be worth a vet visit to see if your feline friend has a potential health issue.


Wrapping Things Up

There’s quite a bit to read here, so if you don’t have the time and you just want to know why do cats lick their owners then read the summary below! I’ll quickly recap the article:

  • Cats lick for a variety of reasons, but if they are licking you it is because they like you! Take it as a compliment.
  • If they are licking you or themselves too often they might be overly nervous or anxious.
  • You can try to distract your cat by playing with her or putting a toy in her mouth when she licks you.
  • Last but not least, per usual, yelling at your cat or scaring her when she licks you or herself is not going to help change her behavior. In fact, if anything it will likely result in encouraging the bad behavior. Be sure to be patient with your furry friend while you figure out the problem and resolve it!

If you have any other thoughts or stories on cats that have been persistent in licking you or cats that have needed some help to stop licking themselves then please leave a comment below or send me an email at Craig@StuffCatsWant.com so I can update this article.

StuffCatsWant.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

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17 thoughts on “Why Do Cats Lick Their Owners? Are We Delicious?

  • August 11, 2017 at 3:19 am
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    Interesting. I just learned something new. What about cats that don’t lick anyone? Like they are just rather stand offish even tho’ they love their human? I have another question which I hope is okay to ask as it does not pertain to licking but to your neighborhood cats using your garden as their private out house. How can you deter them without hurting them?
    We have several across the street and I am not sure if they just like to come over because they know my dog who is Laso and Shiatzu can’t reach them on her lead. Yeah, they like to sit at the edge of their yards and just look at her too. Gotta love the feline creatures tho’.

    Reply
    • August 13, 2017 at 2:49 am
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      Hi Merry, that is a wonderful question. I actually have an article in queue to get written regarding stopping this kind of behavior. I’ll be sure to update you here as soon as I get it posted. It’ll probably be in the next week or two!

      Reply
  • August 11, 2017 at 4:34 am
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    Hello I generally scan through most website like all other people. But this article did not stop me from reading all the way till the end. Very interesting and well written. It is surprising that’s cats can be so self conscious to keep themselves clean and that animals can be stressed too. Thank you for sharing.

    Raman

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    • August 13, 2017 at 2:50 am
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      Glad you found it helpful, thank you for your compliments!

      Reply
  • August 11, 2017 at 10:45 am
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    This is good information to know. My cat only licks me every so often and when he does I don’t correct him. He isn’t very affectionate so when he decides to give me some attention I melt and take all I can get. He will also lick my dogs ears in passing. Its quite comical because it freaks my dog out. I would assume excessive licking would get annoying. Thanks for the reminder that cats can get anxious too. We sometimes forget that “bad behavior” can just be a response to something environmental.

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    • August 13, 2017 at 2:50 am
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      I don’t stop it with my cats either because it is a rather rare occurrence from mine, but I’ve definitely run into people at the shelter I volunteer at that have had this concern so it is helpful to know that there are ways to help relieve the stress!

      Reply
  • August 11, 2017 at 10:55 am
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    I don’t have a cat, but I was interested in the headline of your article because my sweetheart has a little one and it has a “thing” – it licks my feet. Constantly. She says it doesn’t do it to anyone but me. Good sign? Lol. He seems to like me well enough, but I’ve had to wear socks the last couple times over just to get a little peace.

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    • August 13, 2017 at 2:52 am
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      Haha, too funny! Sounds like a good sign to me! 🙂

      Reply
  • August 11, 2017 at 11:23 am
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    lol 🙂 I’m so happy to come across your article. I never understood cats licking issue, and to know that cats only lick people they feel 100% comfortable around make me feel more comfortable around them :)) Now I look at cat’s licking differently thanks to you!

    Thanks again for sharing.

    Reply
    • August 13, 2017 at 2:51 am
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      Glad you found it helpful B. Thank you for stopping by and reading!

      Reply
  • August 11, 2017 at 1:05 pm
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    I might say, your post was riveting. I am not a cat lover. If I were to ever get a pet it would probably be a rock or something like that (*_*). That being said, I couldn’t stop reading your article about why cats lick their owners. I don’t think I would be too comfortable with a cat or dog or any animal or person licking me. But that being said, I do appreciate that it is a sign of affection and bonding.

    Reply
  • August 11, 2017 at 2:23 pm
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    I always wonder why cats lick and I find it interesting that you also lick to get their scent off of them. It’s interesting how cats can feel anxious and exhibit symptoms like licking. But thank goodness it is a symptom so as an owner we can address the anxiety. Great article.

    Reply
    • August 13, 2017 at 2:48 am
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      Cats are indeed curious little creatures! I was glad to find out it is something that we owners can address to some extent as well :).

      Reply
  • August 13, 2017 at 3:02 pm
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    Hey Craig! Your site looks great! It’s very well layed out, informative and pleasing to look at. Glad to see that there are more conscious cat owners out there like yourself. Well done!

    Reply
    • August 13, 2017 at 4:51 pm
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      Thank you for the compliments on the site. If you ever have any questions regarding cats please let me know!

      Reply
  • June 27, 2018 at 4:22 pm
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    It’s good to know that my cats like me – and each other (for the most part anyway)! I’m also glad that they lick themselves too otherwise they would be so stinky! lol

    The part about a cat’s tongue is really interesting. I know they feel like sandpaper, but I didn’t think of them like little combs. Is this why they often get hairballs? Is there a good way to prevent those?

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    • June 27, 2018 at 6:41 pm
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      You got it! The hooks actually pull hair off of them and then they end up swallowing it. Most of the time it just passes through their system naturally, but if they get too much in a short period it may end up causing a hairball.

      There are things you can put in cat food to help break the hair down, but for those that dislike chemicals the best method is to brush your cat frequently.

      Reply

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