Why Do Cats Lick Their Owners? Are We Delicious?

why do cats lick their owners

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.

About the author



    Leave a comment: