Why do cats lick you? 7 things to know

Today’s Weird Scientific Question covers a question many cat parents have – why do cats lick you? Kendraw says, “My cat is obsessed with licking me. She will tolerate pets, but what she really wants to do when she needs attention is lick me wherever she can get skin. [My cat] I won’t lick my face, thank god, but my arm, elbow and hand are fair game! She will literally hold me in her paws and cleanse me. And it’s not just a couple of licks; she gets pretty thorough about it. I tried bitter spray. No luck. I know it’s a sign of affection, but is there any way I can gently get her to stop? “

So why do cats lick you? Let’s talk first about why cats lick you, and then give you some tips on how to convince your cat that there are a lot more fantastic ways than grooming until your skin is raw.

Why do cats lick you? Cat licking is a type of bond. Photography by Seregraff / Thinkstock.

1. Why do cats lick you? Cats lick as a means of social bonding

The first step in answering “Why do cats lick you?” is knowing that kittens are grooming each other, and older cats who are not related but get along well with each other also spend time grooming each other. Often times, they get the places that are difficult for a cat to reach, such as the top of the head and ears. Exchanging scents with grooming also increases the bond between a pair of cats.

2. Why do cats lick you? When your cats lick you, they pay you a huge compliment

Another answer to the question: “Why do cats lick you?” Well, bathing your cat with the tongue is an indication that she is completely safe around you. You are truly a member of her family and she backs it up by cleaning you like her mother cleaned you when she was a kitten.

An older looking gray cat licks its paw with its tongue out.

Cat licking isn’t always a positive thing. Photography © sjallenphotography | Thinkstock.

3. Why do cats lick you? Your cats might lick you out of fear

Sometimes the answer to “Why do cats lick you?” but is not so positive. Some cats become so stressed that they start to lick compulsively. (A mysterious condition is called feline hyperesthesia.) Cats who lick their heads often try to comfort themselves because they are stressed. Other compulsive kittens may lick and suckle on cloth, plastic, or even your skin.

4. Ouch! Why does your cat hurt you or feel so rough?

Now that you have a few answers to the question, “Why do cats lick you?” You probably have a few more questions – like, “Why does it hurt when my cat licks me?” Your cat’s tongue feels like sandpaper because it’s covered in papillae – rearward-facing hooks made from keratin, the same material your cat’s claws are made of. The papillae help cats scrape meat off their bones, and they also help groom by acting like a comb to pull out loose fur and dirt.

5. To prevent your cat from licking you, distract him

Learn the signs that your cat is about to start licking. Before she starts washing your arm raw, use a toy to divert her attention. If your cat likes catnip, slide a catnip-filled foosball toy in front of him when he wants to lick you. If she’s not a catnip fan, try a treat-dispensing toy instead.

6. Relieve your cats through interactive games

Healthy play is always good for your cat. It keeps your cat fit and slim and strengthens the bond between you. In addition, the chemicals released during exercise will help your cat relax and feel satisfied.

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7. Be patient when your cats lick you

It is not easy to retrain a cat that has become accustomed to performing habitual behavior such as licking. Remember to stay gentle and avoid screaming or intense physical reactions such as pushing your cat or throwing it off your lap. And never hit your cat.

Tell us: Have You Rehabilitated a Compulsive Licker? Please let us know in the comments how you did it.

Thumbnail: Photo: ajr_images | Getty Images.

This piece was originally released in 2015.

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