Why Do Cats Lick You? The Answer May Surprise You

Picture of a black cat with its tounge out - why does he lick you?

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Licking is a standard action for cats, from grooming their fur to tasting their surroundings. But it’s also common for them to lick others, from humans, other cats, and even other pets you may have.

Licking comes naturally to cats, and your cats may lick you for various reasons, from the fact that they care about you to, yes, you taste that good.

So Why Do Cats Lick You?

Cats lick humans for a variety of reasons, the most common being: showing affection, because your skin tastes good, because they are stressed, or to mark their territory.

Licking is ordinary for cats as they groom and interact with others, so don’t be too surprised if your cat licks you. They’re likely doing it for one of the following reasons.

Because They Love You

Grooming is a social action for cats; grooming each other is how they show love and affection. It begins when a mother cat gently licks her kittens clean while caring for them, and over time cats associate licking with love and affection. You can easily see this by examining a group of friendly cats, but it doesn’t end there.

Cats lick humans, other pets, toys, and whatever else they consider a part of their social circle and on friendly enough terms to groom. Not unlike with behaviors like purring or making biscuits on you. So don’t worry, your cat is just bathing you out of love and affection!

Because You Taste Good

Yes, you can taste very good to cats. But not your meat, just the surface of your skin. Your cat instinctively knows it needs various nutrients, including salt, which is crucial to its diet. When humans sweat, water evaporates and leaves behind salt, making the skin’s surface salty.

So, sometimes when your cat licks you, it’s because you have a tasty nutrient they need right on your skin. We also love salt, so it’s a similar snacking sensation to cats. After all, can you ever stop at just one potato chip?

Because They Are Stressed

If you’ve ever seen a cat aggressively lick itself after being frightened, it’s because they are trying to calm down. If they stay stressed and anxious, this can result in aggressive licking, so if your cat licks you constantly, you may want to take it to the vet to check their health to see if they have a cold.

Alternatively, you can try and find stressors in the cat’s environment and do your best to either remove them or make the stress easier for the cat.

To Mark Their Territory

Cats mark their territory through scent. No, not urine scent, although some cats use that too. Scent markers in their saliva stick to objects and people, telling everyone who can smell it that it belongs to the cat.

So when a cat licks you, it may be trying to mark you as “theirs.” It’s also the reason cats headbutt you and why they rub their cheeks on you. They’re making you smell like them, so other cats know better than to mess with you.

Territorial behavior in cats can be destructive when it goes to extremes. Still, all cats are somewhat territorial, so unless they begin exhibiting less desirable behaviors or the licking becomes excessive, some territorial licking is fine.

Tips from Our Vets

Cats make excellent companions and bring so much joy to our lives. Unfortunately, however, they cannot speak to us.

If your pet exhibits odd behavior, it can be worrisome and difficult to know if the behavior is normal or a reason for concern.

Not sure why your cat is exhibiting a specific behavior?

  • Some behaviors can seem very odd but may be completely normal.
  • Others could signal illness or injury.
  • Due to the lack of ability for a cat to communicate with us verbally, it is imperative to pay close attention to what the cat is telling us through their behavioral changes.

The most important takeaway is that if you are ever concerned about a behavior that your cat is displaying, your best resource for information is your veterinarian.

In general, a new behavior that is not typical for your cat should be investigated. Examples would be:

  • Not eating
  • Suddenly sleeping more than usual
  • Becoming aggressive or grumpy when interacting with other people or pets

These behavior changes most commonly indicate that something is wrong, and your pet needs to see their veterinarian as soon as possible. It is much easier and more likely to be successful, to treat an illness early in its course as opposed to waiting until the cat is very sick.

Other odd behaviors include:

  • Eating feces or vomit
  • Chasing their tail
  • Sudden bursts of activity

These may be completely normal. However, if you notice a drastic change in your cat, for example, they never exhibited one of these behaviors, and now they suddenly are, it is prudent to have them examined by their veterinarian as soon as possible.

Even if the behavior is normal, it may lead to unintended issues.

For example, young cats consuming their feces or the feces of other cats can be a normal behavior but can lead to gastrointestinal upset as well as intestinal parasitism.

Parasites from your cat can cause serious health complications, not only for your cat, but also for you and your family, as many are transmissible to humans.

Licking of the feet or scratching may seem like normal cat behavior but typically indicates a health issue such as allergies, fleas, or skin infection.

Left untreated, these issues will worsen and cause additional discomfort for your cat.

Remember that your best source of reliable health information for your cat is your veterinarian. Because cats cannot verbally communicate with us, it is essential to be proactive with any possible health concerns.

Working with a trusted veterinarian as your partner will ensure many happy and healthy years for both you and your cat.

Final Thoughts: Why Do Cats Lick You?

A cat may lick you for a number of reasons, but the most common are:

  1. Because they love you
  2. The salt on your skin tastes good
  3. Due to stress
  4. Territorial marking

Hopefully, you’ve figured out why your cat is licking you!

If you’re wondering about other behaviors of your cat, we have a series of guides that explain why your cat may be doing what they’re doing:

Pet News Daily Staff
Pet News Daily writers are experts in pet care, health and behavior. We are members of Society for Professional Journalists and practice ethical journalism.