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Why Does My Cat Lick Me?

Cat licking

Featured Image: iStock.com/cunfek

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If a typical night of snuggling with your beloved kitty quickly turns into your cat’s scratchy tongue on your skin, you likely have wondered, “Why does my cat lick me?”

Does your cat think you are a tuna steak? Or perhaps he thinks you smell funny and need some tips on proper grooming habits?

Some cats don’t stop at licking, but also gently nibble on that spot. The sandpaper-like kisses and nibbling aren’t exactly the most pleasant feelings in the world.

If you’ve ever wondered just why your cat licks you, you are not alone. As kooky as it sounds, there are very logical reasons behind your cat’s licking behavior, and some easy techniques to get the behavior to stop.

Why Does My Cat Lick Me: 6 Reasons

The good news is, your cat licking you, whether on your body or you face, is a pretty normal behavior. Below are common reasons why cats lick their humans.

1. Affection and Bonding

Cats show affection in funny ways. Licking your face might be one of them.

This grooming behavior promotes social bonding between cats who live together. Called allogrooming, it is only done among cats who get along well or who are related to one another.

When your cat licks and grooms you, this means you have been accepted into his inner sanctum. (Yes, you are the cat’s meow!)

2. Marking Territory

Another reason your cat may be licking you is to claim you as part of his territory. As your cat licks you, he is depositing his scent onto you, letting other cats in the household or neighborhood know that you belong to him.

If you have cats who seem to rival for your attention, you may find yourself being licked and groomed constantly, as they each try to claim you for themselves.

3. Protection from Predators

Allogrooming plays an important part of a cat’s survival in nature. Your cat might be licking you to de-scent you from the day’s catch and mealtime to keep predators from finding you (and him).

This is why cats tend to bathe after mealtime. Because cats are prey animals, cleaning up is essential for their survival in the wild. This behavior is a deeply rooted instinct in every single cat.

4. You Smell/Taste Good (or Bad)

Yes, you may be finger lickin’ good. Something about your scent, be it good or bad, may compel your cat to wash you off.

Licking you to remove perfume, creams, scented lotions or even topical medications so you smell “normal” may be his goal. Be careful here, as your cat could get very ill from licking you and ingesting whatever you may have put on your skin.

5. Stress Relief

Stressed cats tend to groom themselves as a way to self-soothe, especially when they’re in a new environment. Called psychogenic alopecia, this behavior can spill over into constant licking as a coping mechanism to soothe his anxiety.

Some cats get so obsessive that they over-lick one spot until it’s raw, so be watchful of your cat licking one spot on you (or him) for too long. If you suspect your cat has psychogenic alopecia and/or is suffering from stress-related behavior issues, a vet trip is in order.

6. Displaced Pain Reaction

Your cat may reach out to lick you if you touch a certain spot that is painful and he cannot reach it himself. I’ve seen this happen when brushing out a cat’s fur when a knot is discovered. I also have also seen it happen with cats who have arthritis and are touched in the exact wrong spot.

Your cat may lick you and then grab your arm to stop you from touching him where it hurts. If he is in too much pain, that gentle lick and grab could turn into a serious bite. If you cannot locate the source of your cat’s pain, a trip to the vet is in order.

How to Stop Your Cat From Licking You

Most people don’t mind a little cat licking, especially if it makes for a closer bond with their cats. But if you don’t like it, it’s too painful or it happens so often that your arms are red and raw, there are ways to control his licking behavior.

1. Take a Time Out.

If you want your cat to stop licking you, put him on the floor and walk away. If you repeat this every time your cat licks you, he will get the message and stop trying to do it. Note: This could take a while so be patient.

2. Distract Your Licker.

Give your cat some treats when you’ve had enough of his grooming or get on the floor to play with him. Your attention may be what he really is really after when your cat licks you. To encourage this bonding time, whip out a toy like the PURRfect wand cat toy.

3. Be Clean of Scents.

If you know that certain perfumes or lotions make you smell irresistible to your cat and encourage his licking behavior, avoid wearing them around your kitty.

4. Use Calming Aids.

If your cat seems stressed, especially if he is new to your home, try using calming remedies formulated to make cats relax and stop his compulsive licking behavior. The Sentry calming collar uses a pheromone that mimics the one mother cats produce to calm their kittens.

If you feel his behavior is because of extreme anxiety, a trip to your vet is in order.

Although the scratchy kisses can be uncomfortable—especially when your cat licks your face!—it’s important to remember that he usually is paying you a very high compliment and wants to bond with you more closely. Even if he is licking you because of stress, your cat is coming to you for comfort; that means he loves and trusts you more than anyone else in the world.


Rita Reimers’ feline behavior counseling and pet sitting services are sought after by many Hollywood celebrities, and she has helped countless cats remain happy and safe in their forever homes. Her feline behavior counseling services are offered through her company, The Cat Analyst. She is also owner and CEO of Just For Cats Pet Sitting.

Featured Image: iStock.com/cunfek