Cat Articles: Behavior

Why Does My Cat Lick Me? 

Understanding what it means when your cat gives you sandpaper kisses.  

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image of a cat licking it's owner

Cats have many endearing behaviors that sometimes surprise us. Though we might think dogs are the resident licking champions, any Pet Parent of a feline knows cats lick too! Let’s look at a few reasons why your cat may lick — and learn how you can intervene when it turns into a tongue bath.

She likes you!

Cats seal their bond with each other by licking. If your cat licks you once or twice like a kiss, it could be a show of affection towards you — a sign she’s comfortable and loves her family.

She’s “grooming” you.

If your cat licks you over and over again, it might mean she’s attempting to teach you how to groom yourself (don’t take it personally!). Tongue baths are something kittens learn from their mothers as a way to keep clean or find comfort.

She has a thing for your hair.

Your cat companion may even lick your hair because she detects a particular taste or scent in it that she likes. Try not to encourage this behavior — human hair and hair products can be dangerous for cat consumption.

She’s saying, “Hey, you’re part of my pack!”

While it’s common for cats to mark their territory by urinating on things, licking also distributes pheromones to indicate: “This is mine, and I want everyone to know.” If your feline friend licks you, she may be marking you as part of her pack. If other cats sometimes shy away from you, it’s possible they smell that you belong to another cat.

She’s trying to soothe your nerves.

“Cats are super-attentive to their owner’s mood, so you might find your fluffball is more affectionate when you’re stressed or sick. She may be attempting to calm your anxiety the same way you would pet your furry feline if she seemed nervous.”  
— Dr. Vickie Carmella, Director of Veterinary Scientific Affairs at Blue Buffalo

Don’t dig it? Here’s how to stop a licking spree.  

Though your cat may be trying to comfort you, sometimes being licked by a cat may feel uncomfortable. This is because a cat’s tongue has tiny, backward-facing barbs called papillae. Papillae move through a cat’s fur like a comb when she licks, and they have about the same hardness as human fingernails — which can make their tongues feel like sandpaper. 

To discourage your feline friend from licking you: 

  • Don’t talk, pet, or engage with her when she licks 
  • Move to another part of the room
  • Put a barrier between you and your cat
  • Distract her with her favorite toys

Most of the time, when your cat licks you it means she’s showing you a little love! 

So enjoy those sandpapery kisses if your favorite feline happens to be the kissy kind.