What Does It Mean When a Cat Licks You? Understanding Why Cats Lick

If you are a cat parent, then you must have been licked by your cat at least once. Cats are known for their grooming habits, and licking is a significant part of it. However, have you ever wondered what it means when a cat licks you? Is it just a sign of affection, or does it signify something else? In this article, we will explore the reasons behind why cats lick their owners and what it means.

What Does It Mean When a Cat Licks You? Understanding Why Cats Lick

Why Do Cats Lick?

Cats are natural groomers, and they spend a considerable amount of time cleaning themselves. They use their tongues to remove dirt, debris, and loose fur from their coat. Licking serves several purposes for cats:


Like other animals, cats spend a good amount of time licking themselves to groom their fur and keep clean. Their tongues are covered in backward-facing barbs that act like a comb or brush to remove dirt, distribute natural oils, and keep their coat smooth and tidy. When a cat licks you, they are essentially grooming you as they would groom themselves or another cat.

Social Bonding

Licking among cats is a social activity that strengthens bonds within cat families and colonies. Cat parents lick newborn kittens to groom them, get them to urinate and defecate, and comfort them. Grown cats continue licking behaviors to reinforce social hierarchies and relationships. When your cat licks you, it signals their acceptance of you as a trusted companion.


Cats also lick as a way to gather information. Their tongues are covered in scent receptors that allow them to pick up chemical cues from objects and people. Licking provides cats with a rich source of sensory information about their environment. Your cat may lick your hand or arm when you get home to get familiar with smells you’ve encountered throughout the day.

What It Means When Your Cat Licks You

Now that you know why cats lick in general, here is a look at some specific meanings behind a cat licking its human companion:


As a cat owner, you may have experienced your feline friend licking you at some point. This behavior can sometimes seem strange or even uncomfortable, but it’s actually a sign of love and affection.

Cats are known for their independent nature, but they also crave social connections with their human companions. When a cat licks you, it’s a way of communicating their trust and affection towards you. It’s a bonding behavior that helps to reinforce the social connection between you and your cat.

The area of your body that your cat chooses to lick is also significant. If they’re licking your face, it’s a sign that they consider you part of their family. Cats groom each other in this way as a form of social bonding, so when they do it to us, it’s a clear indication that they view us as one of their own.

When your cat licks you, they’re also communicating their sense of comfort and security around you. Licking is a self-soothing behavior for cats, and they’ll often engage in it when they feel relaxed and content. So, if your cat is licking you, it means they feel comfortable, safe, and happy in your presence.

It’s important to note that excessive licking can sometimes be a sign of anxiety or stress in cats. If your cat is constantly licking themselves or other objects, it’s worth speaking to your vet to rule out any underlying health issues or behavioral problems.

In summary, when your cat licks you, it’s an expression of love, trust, and comfort. It’s a bonding behavior that reinforces your social connection and helps to strengthen the bond between you and your furry companion. So, the next time your cat gives you a lick, consider it a feline kiss and enjoy the affectionate gesture!

Attention Seeking

Cats are known for their unique behavior, and one of the most common things that cat owners often experience is when their feline friend licks them. For many cat owners, this can be both a pleasant and confusing experience, leaving them wondering what it means when their cat starts to lick them.

Firstly, it’s important to understand that cats do not communicate in the same way as humans or dogs. They use various body language, vocalizations, and behaviors to express themselves. Among these behaviors, licking is a significant one. When a cat licks you, it could indicate several things depending on the context and the cat’s personality.

One reason why your cat may lick you is to get your attention. Cats are social animals and crave interaction from their human companions. If you have been busy doing something else and have not given your cat any attention, they may start to lick you to say, “Hey, I’m here, pet me!” This is their way of saying that they want to connect with you and spend some quality time together. Therefore, you should take some time out of your day to give your cat some playtime or affection when they try to lick you into action.

Another reason why your cat may lick you is that they want to groom you. In the wild, cats often groom each other to bond and show affection. When your cat licks you, it could be an indication that they consider you as part of their family and want to groom you as they would another cat. This behavior is more common among cats that have a strong emotional attachment to their owners.

Moreover, cats may also lick you to mark their territory. Cats have scent glands located on their tongues and paws, which they use to mark their territory. By licking you, your cat is leaving their scent on you, indicating that you belong to them. It’s their way of claiming you as their own and letting other cats know that you are off-limits. However, this behavior is more common among cats that live in multi-cat households.

In conclusion, when your cat licks you, it’s their way of expressing various emotions, including affection, attention-seeking, and territorial marking. It’s essential to understand your cat’s personality and the context in which they are licking you to determine their intentions accurately. As a cat owner, you should always reciprocate your cat’s affection and give them the attention they crave to strengthen your bond and maintain their emotional wellbeing.

Scent Investigation

Cats are known to have a variety of behaviors that can often leave their owners puzzled. One such behavior is when your cat licks you, and you may be wondering why they do that. Cats communicate through various means, including body language, vocalizations, and even through the use of scents. Licking is one of the ways that cats gather information about their environment, and this includes licking their owners.

If your cat licks you after you return home from being out or when you’re sitting together after a long absence, it’s likely because they are trying to re-familiarize themselves with you. Cats have an excellent sense of smell, and they use their tongues to collect scent information. When a cat licks you, they are essentially gathering information about your scent, which helps them remember who you are and what you smell like. This behavior is particularly common if you’ve been away for an extended period, and your cat has missed you.

It’s important to understand that when your cat licks you, it’s not necessarily a sign of affection. Instead, it’s more of a natural instinct that they have developed over time. By licking you, they are satisfying their curiosity and re-establishing a bond with you. So, if your cat starts licking you, let them do so, as it’s part of their natural behavior.

However, there are times when excessive licking can become a problem. Some cats may develop compulsive licking habits, which can lead to skin irritation and other health issues. If your cat starts to lick excessively, it’s essential to take them to the vet for a check-up. The vet can help identify any underlying medical conditions that may be causing the behavior or offer advice on how to manage the behavior.

Medical Concern

Cats are known for their grooming habits, and licking is a significant part of that. It is not uncommon for cats to lick themselves extensively to keep their fur clean and healthy. However, when your cat starts to lick you more frequently than usual, it may indicate an underlying medical condition.

Excessive licking of their own fur or your skin can be a symptom of various health issues in cats. Some common medical conditions that can cause obsessive licking include allergies, parasites, infections, and anxiety. Allergic reactions from food, fleas, or other environmental factors can make a cat feel itchy and uncomfortable. In response, the cat may lick excessively to relieve the itchiness. Parasites like mites or ticks can also cause skin irritation and discomfort, leading to excessive grooming behavior.

Infections can also cause your cat to lick excessively. Cats with dental or gum disease may lick their paws or other areas of their body because of the pain and discomfort caused by the infection. Urinary tract infections or kidney problems can also cause excessive grooming behavior as the cat tries to alleviate the discomfort in those areas.

Lastly, anxiety can be a possible reason for excessive licking behavior. Cats may develop anxiety due to several reasons, such as changes in their environment, new family members, or other pets in the house. When they feel anxious, cats may groom themselves more frequently, causing bald patches on their skin.

If you notice that your cat is licking themselves or you excessively, it is essential to take them to a veterinarian for a check-up. Your vet will examine your cat thoroughly and perform tests if required to determine the underlying cause of the licking behavior. Once the cause is determined, appropriate treatment will be prescribed to address the issue and prevent it from recurring.

Grooming You

Cats are one of the most interesting and mysterious creatures on the planet. They are independent, curious, and affectionate in their own way. One of the ways that cats show affection is through licking. While it may be cute and charming when your furry friend licks you, there are some important things you should know.

Firstly, why do cats lick humans? When a cat licks you, it’s actually showing you love and affection. In the wild, cats will groom each other as a way to bond and show affection. When your cat licks you, they are treating you like a fellow cat, and they are trying to make a connection with you.

However, while it may be adorable to see your cat grooming you, it’s important to remember that a cat’s saliva contains bacteria that can infect human skin. So, while a little bit of licking may not be harmful, too much licking can increase the risk of bacterial infections.

If your cat is licking you excessively, it’s important to discourage this behavior. You can gently move them away and redirect their behavior by giving them a toy or providing them with something else to focus on. This way, you can still bond with your cat without having to worry about potential health risks.

In addition to being potentially harmful to human skin, excessive licking can also be a sign of anxiety or stress in your cat. If your cat is showing signs of excessive licking, such as bald patches or raw skin, it’s important to have them evaluated by a veterinarian to rule out any underlying health issues.

Biting Precursor

Cats are known for their unique behavior and communication. One of the most common behaviors that cats display is licking, which can be a sign of affection or communication. If you have a cat, you may have noticed them licking you at various times, whether it’s your hands, feet, hair, or face. But what does it mean when your cat licks you?

First and foremost, cats use grooming as a way to bond with other cats or humans. When cats groom each other, they are not only cleaning themselves but also showing affection and trust. Therefore, when your cat licks you, they are displaying their love and trust towards you. It’s their way of saying “I like you,” or “you’re my family.”

Moreover, licking can also be a sign of respect. Cats are territorial creatures, and they are known to mark their territory by scent. By licking you, your cat is leaving their scent on you, indicating that you are part of their territory. This is especially true for cats who live in multi-cat households where they need to establish their territory and hierarchy.

Furthermore, cats may lick you because they enjoy the taste of your skin or hair. Your skin may have a salty taste, which could be appealing to your cat. Additionally, if you use any products with a fragrant smell, such as lotion or shampoo, your cat may be attracted to the scent and want to lick it off.

However, licking can also be a sign of stress or anxiety. If your cat is excessively licking themselves or you, it could be a sign that they are stressed or anxious. In this case, it is important to observe their behavior and try to identify the cause of their stress. If necessary, consult with a veterinarian or animal behaviorist.

It’s worth noting that sometimes a gentle lick may turn into a nip or bite, especially with playful kittens who don’t know their boundaries. If you feel teeth against your skin, it’s important to withdraw contact and discourage biting behavior. Redirect them to appropriate toys instead.

In conclusion, when your cat licks you, it’s a sign of love, trust, respect, or even attraction to your scent or taste. However, be attentive to their behavior and any changes that may indicate stress or anxiety. With proper observation and care, you can strengthen your bond with your feline friend and understand their unique communication style.

Marking Territory

Cats have always been known for their unique mannerisms, and one of them is their tendency to lick humans. While some may see this as a display of affection or an attempt to groom their owners, there is actually much more to it than that. When cats lick their human companions, they are marking their territory and claiming them as their own.

This behavior can be traced back to the fact that cats have scent glands in several parts of their bodies, including their paws, cheeks, and mouth. These glands produce pheromones, which are chemicals that cats use to communicate with each other and mark their territory. When cats lick objects or people, they leave behind traces of these pheromones, which serve as a way of saying, “this is mine.”

When a cat licks their owner, they are essentially doing the same thing. They are marking their human companion with their scent, which signifies that the person belongs to them. This behavior is especially common among cats that live in multi-cat households, as they need to establish and maintain their social hierarchy.

It’s worth noting that while licking is a sign of affection for cats, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they love their owners in the same way that humans love each other. Cats are independent creatures that value their personal space, so they may be showing affection in their own unique way.

Additionally, licking can also be a form of grooming for cats. In the wild, cats would use their tongues to clean themselves and remove excess fur or debris from their coats. By licking their owners, cats may be attempting to groom them and keep them clean.

In conclusion, when your cat licks you, it’s not just a simple display of affection. It’s a way for them to mark their territory and claim you as their own. It’s also possible that they are trying to groom you and keep you clean. Understanding this behavior can help you better understand your feline companion and strengthen your bond with them.

Stressed or Anxious

One of the most common reasons why cats lick their owners is because they’re showing affection. Cats are known for being independent creatures, but that doesn’t mean they don’t crave attention and love from their owners. When your cat licks you, they’re essentially grooming you. This is a sign of trust and love, as cats only groom those they feel comfortable with. It’s also a way for your cat to mark you as their own, as cats have scent glands in their mouths, so when they lick you, they’re leaving their scent on you.

Another reason why cats lick their owners is because they find it comforting. Licking releases endorphins, which can help reduce stress and anxiety. So, if your cat is feeling anxious or stressed out, they may turn to licking as a way to calm themselves down. This is especially true if your cat has suddenly started licking you more than usual. It could be a sign that something is bothering them, and they’re using licking as a coping mechanism.

However, excessive licking can also be a sign of health issues. Cats that suffer from allergies or skin conditions may lick themselves excessively, leading to hair loss, rashes, and other skin irritations. In some cases, cats may also develop compulsive behaviors, such as excessive licking or grooming, due to medical issues like hyperthyroidism or feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD). If you notice that your cat is licking themselves excessively or showing other signs of distress, it’s important to take them to the vet for a check-up.

In conclusion, there are various reasons why cats lick their owners. It could be a sign of affection, comfort, or even stress and anxiety. If your cat has suddenly started licking you more than usual, it’s important to pay attention to their behavior and look for any signs of distress. While licking can be a normal behavior for cats, excessive licking can be a sign of health issues or other underlying problems. As a responsible pet owner, it’s crucial to monitor your cat’s behavior and seek professional help if necessary.

Examples of Cat Licking Behavior

To better understand the possible reasons behind your cat licking you, here are some examples of what cat licking communication looks like:

  • When you come home, your cat rubs against your legs and gives you a few licks on your hand. This shows their happiness at your return and desire to reconnect with your scent.
  • Your cat softly licks your cheek while you’re petting them. The licks are an affectionate gesture thanking you for the attention.
  • You’ve been busy working and haven’t played with your cat all day. They approach you and insistently lick your arm. Your cat is communicating a desire for playtime and interaction.
  • A new visitor comes to the house and sits down, and your cat curiously comes up and licks their shoe a few times. Your cat is investigating the interesting new smells.
  • Your cat excessively licks a wound on their leg to the point of fur loss and irritation. This signals a medical issue requiring veterinary attention.
  • During lap time, your cat gently licks your shirt sleeve or hand while contentedly purring. Their licking reflects a bonding moment.

Advice for Cat Owners

If your cat licks you, it is usually nothing to worry about. However, if it is excessive or accompanied by other unusual behaviors, it is best to consult with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical conditions. Here are some tips for cat owners: 1. Pay Attention to Context: As mentioned earlier, paying attention to the context in which your cat licks you can give you a better idea of what it means. If your cat only licks you during playtime or while cuddling, it is most likely a sign of affection. However, if it starts licking you out of the blue or excessively, something may be bothering it.

  1. Don’t Punish Your Cat: While excessive licking may be annoying, punishing your cat is not the solution. Instead, try to identify the underlying cause and address it accordingly.
  1. Encourage Other Positive Behaviors: If your cat’s licking behavior is bothering you, try to encourage other positive behaviors instead. For example, if your cat is seeking attention, engage with it in other ways, such as playing or petting.
  1. Provide a Calming Environment: If your cat is licking due to stress or anxiety, providing a calming environment can help. Make sure it has a comfortable and safe space to retreat to and consider using pheromone sprays or diffusers to promote relaxation.
  2. Show Your Cat Love and Affection: Cats thrive on love and affection from their owners. Make sure to spend quality time with your cat, play with it, and provide plenty of cuddles and pets. This will strengthen your bond and reduce the likelihood of obsessive licking.


In conclusion, cats lick their owners for various reasons, including showing affection, marking their territory, seeking attention, and tasting. Understanding why your cat licks you can give you valuable insights into its behavior and help you strengthen your bond. However, if your cat’s licking behavior seems excessive or unusual, it is best to consult with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical conditions. Remember to show your cat plenty of love and affection, as this will reduce the likelihood of obsessive licking and other negative behaviors.

Emma Carole Paradis

We’re Emma Carole Paradis and Kimberly Carole, the owners and designers of Impeccable Nest, based in Bedford, New Hampshire. A mother-daughter team with a love of design. Originally from Manhattan Beach, California, now based in Bedford, New Hampshire, we bring a Southern California cool and New England tradition to our design. Not only do we work together…we also live together in a multi-generational home…and a home that they are known to design for others.

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