Why Does My Cat Lick Me?

Why do cats lick people?

Are they secretly harbouring a mountain of affection for us? Perhaps they need a good taste to determine whether we’re trustworthy. Maybe they’re just hungry, and we humans are too big to eat in one meal.

Many cat owners often find this behaviour baffling. Cats, known for their mysterious and often incomprehensible behaviours, have a unique way of showing affection and communicating with their companions. To understand this endearing feline habit better, we must delve into various aspects of these actions.

In this article, we'll explore the multitude of reasons behind questions like, ‘Why do cats lick us?’, offering insights into the complex social dynamics and instinctual behaviours of our feline friends. We will also address practical concerns, such as the safety aspects of letting your cat lick you and effective strategies to manage this behaviour. 

Woman playing with orange cat's mouth.
Woman playing with orange cat's open mouth.

Why Do Cats Lick People?

When cats lick you, the behaviour stems from instincts buried deep within feline psychology and their social dynamics. Understanding why cats lick people not only enhances our knowledge of feline activity but also helps us build stronger, more empathetic relationships with our beloved pets.

Common reasons include:

Affection and Social Bonding

One of the primary reasons why cats lick us is to express affection. See it as a form of social bonding that can transcend beyond species – a trait inherited from their early life when their mothers groomed them. It was not only a cleaning mechanism, but also a way of nurturing and showing care. As your cat licks you, they extend this familial gesture, welcoming you to their family.

Marking Their Territory

Both wild and domestic cats are highly territorial creatures. Licking might be another way of marking their territory. It might sound surprising, but when a cat licks you, they leave a subtle trace of their scent to claim you as their own. It's why cats lick each other, too. They’re identifying members of their group and establishing a communal scent.

Seeking Attention

Another common reason why cats lick people is to seek attention. Cats quickly learn that their actions elicit responses from their human companions, and when they realise licking results in affection or interaction, they might use this behaviour to gain your attention.

Signs of Anxiety or Stress

Just like humans exhibiting certain behaviours when anxious, cats may resort to licking as a coping mechanism. If you notice an increase in licking, especially if it seems compulsive or obsessive, it might be worth investigating if your cat is experiencing stress or anxiety. Consult with a vet to ensure you’re maintaining proper cat care.

Displaying Kitten-like Behaviour

Some cats exhibit licking behaviours reminiscent of their kittenhood, especially when weaned early or separated from their mothers at a young age. Such cats might lick to seek the comfort they associate with nursing.

Investigating Tastes and Scents

Cats are curious by nature, and similar to young human babies, they use their tongues to explore different tastes and textures. If you've applied a lotion, cream, or any other substance that has an intriguing scent or taste, for example, your cat might lick you out of sheer curiosity.

Is It Safe to Let Your Cat Lick You? Evaluating the Health Aspects

Now that we have provided some answers to the question, ‘Why does my cat lick me and other people?’, we should also consider any safety and health implications of this behaviour.

For the most part, a cat's lick is harmless, but their mouths, like any animal's, contain an array of bacteria which may be harmful. The risk of transmission of any disease from cat to human through licking is quite low, though it is still prudent to exercise caution, especially if you have any open wounds, scratches or a compromised immune system.

On the other hand, any topical products you might have on your skin, such as lotions, creams, or medicinal ointments, can be harmful if ingested by your cat. If you've recently applied any such products, it's advisable to deter your cat from licking those areas.

How To Stop a Cat From Licking You

It’s cute at first, but if you’re asking, ‘Why do cats lick me over and over again?’, it helps to have a few ways of stopping them, especially when that turns into a bite.

Here are several effective methods to gently deter your cat from licking you:

  • Use toys to distract your cat from licking, enhancing your bond through play.
  • Offer treats to divert attention, but avoid overuse to prevent reinforcing licking.
  • Show alternative affection like petting or cuddling to fulfil your cat's need for closeness.
  • Walk away calmly if your cat licks you, teaching them that licking results in less attention.
  • Cover your skin with long sleeves or a blanket to deter your cat from licking.
  • Praise and reward your cat when they interact without licking to reinforce non-licking behaviour.
  • Provide a stimulating environment with cat trees, perches, and toys to reduce boredom-induced licking.
  • Speak with your veterinarian regarding excessive or sudden changes in licking behaviour to rule out underlying issues.


  • Should You Let Your Cat Lick You?

    Deciding whether to let your cat lick you depends on several factors. In general, occasional licking is safe and can be a part of your bonding experience. However, consider the following:


    • Avoid letting your cat lick open wounds or cuts, or areas around the mouth, nose, or eyes as this can increase the risk of infection.
    • Be extra cautious if you have a compromised immune system.
    • Ensure you practice good hand hygiene after patting your cat, particularly if they have licked your hands.
    • Ensure your skin is free from topical medications or lotions that could be harmful if ingested by your cat.


    Ultimately, it's about finding a balance that works for both you and your cat, keeping safety and the emotional connection in mind.

  • Why Does My Cat Lick Me Then Bite Me?

    Cats use their mouths to explore their environment and may gently bite to express affection or playfulness. Many refer to this as ‘love bites’, but it could be a sign of overstimulation or stress if the biting is hard or aggressive. Try to observe your cat's body language and context to understand their specific motivations.

  • Do Cat Licks Mean Kisses?

    While cats don't ‘kiss’ in the human sense, licking can be considered the feline equivalent. When your cat licks you, it can signify affection, comfort, and trust. They might be trying to groom you, as they would do to a fellow cat they're bonded with. So, in a way, cat licks can be interpreted as their form of 'kisses', showing love and affection in their unique feline way.

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