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What Does It Mean When Your Cat Licks You?

What Does It Mean When Your Cat Licks You?

By Kathy Blumenstock, Animal Planet

Dogs may lick our faces — remember Lucy from “Peanuts” exclaiming, “Aaack, dog germs!” after a kiss from exuberant beagle Snoopy? — but cats are more refined in their public displays of affection. When your cat licks you, usually after a mock-bite or firm grab with his paws, she’s doing what her mother did during the early weeks of her life: providing a good cleaning that also speaks of caring and belonging. You’ve seen cats licking each other, helping in the grooming ritual, especially around the hard-to-reach ears and top of the head. But why is Kitty inspired to lick your arm or toes — or even your hair? Here’s what we’ve discovered.

Territorial Rights

Being licked is the first tactile experience your cat remembers — that washcloth feeling of her mama cat’s tongue thoroughly rubbing her coat, ears and every part of her little body. A mother cat initially washes her babies to remove the afterbirth fluids and to stimulate the kittens’ breathing. She’ll also clean them whenever they return to the nest, firmly re-establishing her scent on them. For cats both male and female, licking is a social exchange as well as a rite of cleanliness. Cats groom each other to remove debris and share scents, just as cats scratch in a favorite place where the scent glands of their paw pads will mark the territory as their own. When your cat licks you, she’s cleaning you up and claiming you — just as she would for a feline friend or litter mate.

What Licking Feels Like to a Cat

Some experts believe that orphaned kittens or those weaned too early from their mothers and litter mates develop oral behaviors such as suckling and licking, and exhibit these babyish habits into adulthood. But as with so much about cats, that’s a generalization. The favorite hobby of Kelsey, a 6-year-old tabby who shares a household with her mother cat, is washing people — and Kelsey’s mother still scrubs her every day. Licking is a comforting, soothing sensation to cats, and feels like the gentle stroking of your hands petting them. If a cat licks you, she’s returning that favor: She figures, who wouldn’t enjoy being petted and assured of affection?

Excessive Licking

If an older cat who’s never shown such affection suddenly begins licking you or suckling at your clothing, pay close attention to this change in behavior. Cats that start vigorously licking themselves may be seeking relief from a skin irritation, fleas, an insect bite or an infection. Help soothe Kitty by examining her skin and fur for problems, and ask your vet to recommend the right treatment.

If your cat’s licking is not linked to illness and you simply cannot tolerate the ticklish feeling of her tongue, do not punish her for this normal behavior. Try gently discouraging your cat by moving away from her when she starts licking. Spritz your arms or hand with lemon juice, an immediate feline turn-off. Offer her a stuffed terrycloth toy to lavish her affection on instead, or just turn the tables and pet her lavishly, assuring her that you love her even if you don’t like the licking.

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Read more: Behavior & Communication, Cats, Pets,

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9:03AM PDT on Aug 20, 2014


10:52AM PDT on Aug 19, 2014

Whenever I come in the room, little Isis licks my feet. I see it as a 'welcome home' greeting. We also play together, where I get the bite and the licks. I love it when she kicks with those back paws of hers. :-)

5:08AM PDT on Aug 18, 2014

thanks for sharing

5:07AM PDT on Aug 18, 2014


3:33AM PDT on Aug 18, 2014


4:10AM PDT on Aug 17, 2014

Moi qui aime les chats, merci pour l'article Samantha

11:40PM PDT on Aug 16, 2014

When they're licking your feet, they may be after salt.

My cat enjoys grooming my eyebrows!

9:21AM PDT on Aug 16, 2014

thanks so much for the info!!!

9:28PM PDT on Aug 15, 2014

Thank you for sharing!

9:27PM PDT on Aug 15, 2014

Thank you for sharing!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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